Faith has always been an influence on Kanye West.
It started early -- “The College Dropout” boasted “Jesus Walks,” a bold declaration of faith that garnered mainstream attention for a young West. Going through his discography, one can see faith’s impact on West’s career. He prays for his mother on “Late Registration,” talks about his perceived similarities to “The Most High” on Yeezus, and asks for God to deliver him serenity and peace on “The Life of Pablo.”
Through this, we gained somewhat of an insight into the religious makeup of West. West, as with all things in his life, demonstrates his faith through grandiose gestures that honor God by placing Him on a pedestal. “Jesus Walks” is a declaration of belief so aggressive and mired in conviction that record labels shied away from it at first.
“Fire” concludes with Kid Cudi praying for heaven to lift him up. “Father Stretch My Hands” flips a sample of pastor T.L. Barrett asking God for help into a Metro Boomin produced heavyweight of a bass drop that still rattles speaker systems to this day. Some artists tackle faith through ruminations on doubt and belief that are subtly stated and oftentimes meek in delivery. Not West. His faith is bold, confrontational, and out in the open.
After a tumultuous 2018, and a brief stint recording in Chicago with Chance the Rapper, West rediscovered his faith, and in turn, his love for Gospel music. His Coachella performance on Easter 2019 was classic West. It was a church inspired Sunday Service that featured West performing songs in development and gospel versions of old songs, as well as selling extremely expensive Sunday Service merchandise to the denizens of Coachella.
Fans had seen West perform Gospel inspired fare before, however, this felt slightly different. His performance of Jesus Walks stood out. West’s age showed, but compellingly so. Lines like “I don’t think there’s nothing I can do now to right my wrongs / I wanna talk to God, but I’m afraid, cause we ain’t spoke in so long.” just had a different urgency coming from a 42-year-old father of four, as opposed to an up and coming producer. This insight to the new, faith-based West led to intrigue as fans awaited his new Gospel album “Jesus is King”. After a few postponed release dates, the album dropped on the morning of Oct. 25.
The album opens with frantic gospel piano and a chorus chanting out the song’s refrain. Right away, we are welcomed into the church of West. Religion to West is occasionally more aesthetic than spiritual, and this song hammers that home right away. Gospel trappings adorning the song, but not much is said apart from the refrain of “sing till the power of the Lord comes down.”
The rest of the album follows this trend. Pieces of Gospel are used -- rhythmic chanting, harmonization, organs -- but it comes across as, again, more aesthetic than anything. The album has its strong points for sure. “Water” couples a smooth bassline with West’s signature autotune singing, “Hands On” is chock full of the introspective bars that Yeezy fans are used to, and “Use This Gospel” features both The Clipse and Kenny G, undoubtedly the oddest combination seen on a studio album in 2019.
However, unfortunately, much of the album comes across as heavy-handed, one dimensional, and lethargic. If one wants to find an album where gospel is worked in more fluidly, they can look to West’s earlier work or to “Coloring Book” by Chance the Rapper, a 2016 release that, to be honest, did what “Jesus is King” was supposed to do, but better.
It might not be too far fetched of a claim to say that “Coloring Book” is what Kanye thinks that “Jesus is King” sounds like. This being said, “Jesus is King” is worth a listen. It’s only 27 minutes long, and there’s definitely good material contained through the album. I’d give it a 5.75/10.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.