Kanye West is a man who needs little introduction. A storied musician, rapper, producer, and celebrity figure with loads of controversy, opinions, turmoil and success behind him. After 2018 saw him support then candidate Donald Trump publicly, reveal the state of his mental health on his album “Ye,” and produce numerous projects such as “Kids See Ghosts” with Kid Cudi and Pusha T’s “Daytona.”
Kanye took a (very) slight exit from the public eye as he worked on his ninth studio album, “Yandhi,” which was then revealed to be coming out in late August. It was delayed, and then delayed again, before being entirely scrapped as Kanye returned to the public eye, now as a devout born-again Christian. Going with this shift, the album was remade into the new project “Jesus Is King,” an entirely Christian album with no explicit content, along with an accompanying movie to be released in theaters. So, was all the build-up and drama surrounding this project worth it?
To begin, let’s talk shortly about the movie accompanying the album. Directed by Nick Knight and filmed largely at the Roden Crater in Arizona, the IMAX film is a 35-minute whirlwind of religious quotes, gospel singing and strange and minimal imagery. Most of the film consists of segments of West’s Sunday Service gospel choir inside the crater singing their own gospel hymns or versions of songs off of the “Jesus Is King” album.
This is all interspersed with Bible verses that are shown periodically during cuts. The sound of the choir and the artsy camera work are pretty amazing work that deserve a lot of credit. There’s also a very powerful performance by Kanye near the end of the film of the song “Street Lights” from his 2008 album “808’s and Heartbreak.” Despite all of this, there seems to be little point to the film’s purpose at all. It is entirely unclear if it’s supposed to be a performance film, an attempt to convert people or even an ad for the album. It’s been described as a “documentary” of the making of the album, but that’s simply just not true. Overall the “Jesus Is King” film is an interesting experience, but really doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Moving on to the album itself, it’s likely to be one of, if not the most controversial music he’s ever put out. It seems fairly ironic given it’s lack of any swearing or explicit content in any way, The entire album is Kanye rapping or singing about his new-found faith in God. It still features Kanye West’s iconic creativity when it comes to production and sampling. He also gets a lot of features on the project as well.
Still, many fans will be turned off from the overt religious themes. The opening track “Every Hour” is a cut-out section of the Sunday Service choir singing, which sets the tone nicely of the religious journey that will take place. The song ends abruptly, which is a common occurrence of nearly every track on the album.
The opener leads into the track “Selah” which has some Kanye’s best rapping on the album, a harmonious “hallelujah” section from the choir, and powerful production. It feels bigger than life and is a definite highlight on the project.
The next track, “Follow God” is one of the few moments that old Kanye fans will enjoy as it is a short and simple, fast-paced rap performance by Kanye. The production is outstanding despite its simplicity and adds to the strong start of the album.
Unfortunately, things really go downhill from here. The next track “Closed On Sunday” is a head-scratcher on so many levels. While the production is decent enough, it’s tone is ruined by some of the corniest lyrics Kanye has ever written, which features the line “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-Fil-A… You’re my number one, with the lemonade…” This, paired with Kanye’s awkward singing, make for an awful experience.
“On God” has a synth-like instrumental that mixes awfully with Kanye’s horrible mix of rapping and singing, while the song “Water” is largely boring featuring alright singing from feature Ant Clemons.
The song “God Is” has Kanye’s singing slowly turn from passable to raspy and grating, as if the whole verse was recorded in one take. This ruins an amazing piece of production and instrumental.
Thankfully, not all of the singing is bad on the album. The track “Everything We Need” has a great feature from Ty Dolla $ign as well as Ant Clemons, though Kanye’s rapping is merely okay on the track. Kanye’s singing is actually pretty good on the mega-track that is “Use This Gospel.” It features everything to a car alarm beat, harmonic backing vocals, and features from the reunited Clipse and a great saxophone solo from the one and only Kenny G.
The album closes on a short, 49-second segment of Kanye proclaiming “Jesus Is Lord” over an array of trumpets and other brass instruments. Once again, it cuts off abruptly, and leaves a confusing ending for a controversial album.
This will likely be the most divisive Kanye West project since “Yeezus” between fans and onlookers alike. Some will likely praise Kanye for his move towards religious music, and will find a lot to like on this album. Many though, will be disappointed in both his shift and the overall outcome of this album. “Jesus Is King” will go down as one of the strangest shifts in Kanye’s discography. While it is very unique, is only an okay attempt and effort from Kanye.