Kanye West is pop culture’s most polarizing figure; his latest album, Jesus Is King, challenges all conventions. Some view him as a musical genius, redefining what hip-hop means through innovative productions and rhythmic style. Some consider him nothing more than an egotistical grifter who’s all bluster and no substance, while others see him as mentally disturbed. None of these things really matter to West, though; he’s an impenetrable force and such things won’t stop him from being himself.
Yet his recent return to the Christian faith of his youth over the past year has truly confounded. He started presenting full-on Sunday Service Gospel services, an immersive and impressive old-school Gospel sing that left participants breathless and impressed. In October, he upped the ante with the release of Jesus Is King, an eleven-track gospel album.
Kanye being Kanye, the album is a bit different from what one might suspect. It’s a straightforward record in terms of performance, but the arrangements are quite abstract. Songs flow in and out of each other; some songs simply end abruptly and launch into the next with no transition. He uses his well known tricks of the trade, meaning you’ll find AutoTune here, as well as some extremely clever and intelligent wordplay. The album also features some impressive guest appearances from Ty Dolla Sign, Clipse, Reverend Fred Hammond, and Kenny G. (Yes, that Kenny G–and his appearance is perfect.)
Furthermore, it’s hard to dispute that Jesus Is King offers legitimate and powerful Christian commentary. West’s been to the top of the world–and came away feeling empty. Throughout the album he explores the uselessness of fame, the greater reward of a spiritual relationship, the happiness money cannot buy, and how he feels about life now.
Critics, of course, have hated it. Some suggest Jesus is King is Kanye West committing career suicide.
Don’t listen to them, because they’re wrong.
Normally, in such a situation, my tendency would be to state that if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. But I can’t do that here; Jesus Is King is an album you need to hear, to contemplate, and to consider. West’s conversion is real, and if this is his new direction, then it’s an exciting move for him. He’s already delivered an opera on the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and he purportedly has a new album coming Christmas Day entitled Jesus Is Born.
Purchase Kanye West Jesus Is King: Amazon / G.O.O.D. Music