It’d be tempting to begin this review with a recap of controversies surrounding Kanye West. However, not only is it largely irrelevant but we all already know it. The good and the bad, the highs and lows, the artist and the ego. He is undeniably the most resilient musician of his generation, recovering time and time again from controversies that would sink other artists. Then again, he isn’t just another artist. Kanye West is, without question, the most impactful musician of the 21st century.
Impactful doesn’t necessarily mean consistently great though. His previous album ‘Ye’ felt unfinished and forgettable. Even ‘The Life of Pablo’ seemed rushed and incomplete. The good news is that ‘Jesus Is King’ is his most focused solo work since (ironically) 2013’s ‘Yeezus’. As a concept, the new album fits perfectly as part of Kanye’s creative legacy as a boundary pushing artist. The ‘gospel’ and ‘Christian’ labels may imply that the album is heavily sanitised, however it’s as controversial and thought-provoking as any of his previous projects.
This is mainly due to something that God himself can’t seem to control - Kanye West’s ego. Anyone who watched the recent two-hour interview with Zane Lowe will know that the fiery Yeezy spirit is still in full effect. Let’s be clear - this is not a complaint. Any fans fearing an ultra-positive Kanye will breathe a sigh of relief when they hear him rap, “Keeping perfect composure, when I scream at the chauffeur, I ain’t mean I’m just focused” at the beginning of ‘Selah’. Seriously though, who the fuck wants a reined-in Kanye West?
Don’t get me wrong, much of ‘Jesus Is King’ is very evangelical, with this religiosity peaking on ‘God Is’. It’s not bad, as with the rest of the album it’s immaculately conceived, pun intended. But the album shines most when Kanye juxtaposes his faith with his inadequacies. ‘Follow God’ is incredible, with a classic ‘Old Kanye’ soul sample complimenting thudding drums as the rapper discusses his life before conversion and his father calling him out for not being “Christ-like”. Similarly, ‘Closed on Sunday’ and ‘On God’ manage to thematically balance out, as Kanye discusses his life within the context of his new found faith.
The album is relentless and punchy, with 11 tracks coming in at a run-time of just over 27 minutes. This in combination with the soulful production make ‘Jesus Is King’ a very listenable experience, as no tracks outstay their welcome. Aside from a short outro, the album closes with ‘Use This Gospel’, the long-awaited reunion of hip-hop duo Clipse. The song is a magnificent crescendo to an album that feels like it’s been meticulously composed.
‘Jesus is King’ is an album in which Kanye West sincerely celebrates his newfound relationship with God. In it’s strongest moments though, this evangelism collides and contradicts with the insatiable Yeezy ego. Kanye West has always needed a muse, whether that be another artist or his personal tragedies. With this album his muse is his faith, a mirror that he holds up to himself to address his failings and inadequacies. In the past, his obsessively creative nature has often burnt out these inspirations, which is one reason why his music is constantly evolving. However, he has suggested he will only be making Christian-focused music from this point onward.
As a one-off, this album is a fascinating addition to the Kanye West canon. Will we still be interested five gospel albums down the line? And, more importantly, will Kanye?
Words: Will Rosebury
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