By Felipe Ramos
Kanye West’s much anticipated ninth studio album, Jesus is King (Def Jam/GOOD),has arrived. The album developed from his Sunday Service concerts, which is a product of his commitment to Christianity. The 27 minute long LP is comprised of eleven tracks, all about Jesus and God. This isn’t the first time Kanye West’s music has revolved around religion, as gospel and Christian symbolism has been quite common in West’s music since “Jesus Walks,” which was on his very first album, College Dropout (2004).
During a talk with radio host Big Boy in 2016, West described his seventh album, The Life of Pablo, as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing.” Unlike Kanye West’s previous works, Jesus is King contains no explicit language. This album is undoubtedly West’s most spiritually driven project.
In a recent interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, West described himself as a “Christian Innovator” and continued to say: “Now that I’m in service to Christ, my job is to spread the gospel. To let people know what Jesus has done for me.” Earlier this year, Kanye West started a musical worship gathering group called Sunday Service, which headlined Coachella in April and is currently touring alongside him.
Jesus is King opens up with the Sunday Service Choir singing “Every Hour,” a vibrant and uplifting praise to God. The album is followed by “Selah,” with sonorous organ chords and roaring percussion as West preaches bible verses. The middle of the song features 42 seconds of the choir chanting “Hallelujah” in a crescendo dynamic that brings a glorious intensity to the powerful worship.
Throughout West’s career, one of his most remarkable skills in production has been his abilities in music sampling. In “Follow the God,” which is currently leading the Spotify streams out of all the tracks in the album, West uses a sample from Whole Truth’s 1974 Christian soul song, “Can You Lose By Following God.” Kanye West never fails to incorporate unique styles into his music, as seen in the song “Use this Gospel” featuring hip hop duo Clipse, and the smooth-jazz saxophonist Kenny G.
It is clear that Kanye West consistently fills his music with incredible musicians and collaborators, all of whom provide their sound and approach. Kanye West’s musical legacy has been built around creating genre-bending music. Even though Jesus is King is categorized as a Hip-Hop/Rap album, there are multiple elements from Gospel, Jazz, R&B/Soul, Electronic, and more. When it comes down to it, it’s hard to describe Kanye West as just a rapper, as his music pulls influence from such a wide array of styles.
The song “Closed on Sunday” is one of the catchiest songs on the album with the lyric “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A,” relating to the fast-food franchise that is closed on Sundays, the Sabbath day. Apart from that, most of the lyrics of the album are deeply sentimental. In the song “God Is,” West sings about what God is to him. West stays away from auto-tune and vocoders in a raw and imperfect vocal performance which allows the music to carry his true emotions.
In Jesus is King, West steps outside himself to acknowledge his faith, and gives God the credit for his triumphs and successes in life. In the song “On God,” Kanye West talks about God saving him by saying “The Devil had my soul, I can’t lie / Life gon’ have some lows and some highs.” One of the more noteworthy components of this album is the departure from Kanye’s usual, egotistical persona, which has been the premise of many of his past musical works.
Kanye West has been famous not only for his music but for his personality and conviction. Whether by stepping into controversial and political grounds, taking on multi-industry businesses or by breaking barriers in art forms, he has never been afraid to share his beliefs. West’s confidence level is boundless; he has never been afraid to take risks and has always fought against what’s expected of him.
Kanye West is a major influence in pop culture and has always been a musical trendsetter. However, it may take some time for fans to digest this album, along with Kanye West’s new “Christian Era.” The album is not one of his most commercial works, but it’s too early to know Jesus is King’s place within his discography.
Kanye West also released a documentary film along with the album, which is screening in IMAX theatres. West said that his Sunday Service Choir album, which will be named Jesus is Born, will be released during Christmas time. Jesus is King is only one piece of a greater project. Perhaps, with more context, Jesus is King will become one of his most iconic works. West said that he will only be releasing gospel music from this point forward; what could that mean for the future of Kanye West albums, and gospel music?