After being released on October 25, Kanye’s ninth album entitled Jesus is King was an instant success. It debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and had 197 million streams in the week following its release. However, as I listened to the album for the first time, I heard only whispers of Kanye’s unparalleled production talent. Furthermore, I felt he failed to deliver as much of a coherent and emotional message as he has in previous albums.
I would consider myself a Kanye fan, having listened to every song in his nine main albums at some point, and many of his features. In my opinion, the thing that sets Kanye apart from any other producer is his remarkable ability to take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster with his crescendoing choruses and powerful poetic verses. As a result, I expected the album in which he describes his religious revival to lead me on a similar journey.
When I heard the first song called Every Hour, I was instantly thrown off by a loud and repetitive choir proclaiming that they had to “sing until the power of the Lord came down”. While in the context of the album as “gospel rap” it made sense, it did not connect with me emotionally in the same was a song like Ultralight Beam, the first track in Life of Pablo. The second song is entitled Selah, a Hebrew word with unknown meaning that can be found in the Book of Psalms. As Kanye fashioned one of his most powerful crescendos with chants of “Hallelujah” multiplying in intensity and pitch by the middle of the song, Selah grew to be my second favorite of the album and drew me back. However, again, his lyrics felt underdeveloped emotionally as, much like Every Hour, Kanye only traveled on the light side of his faith in order to create a catchy anthem. The third song Follow God, the most popular track on the album, was a catchy song that was well produced and featured one of Kanye’s better rapping performances, but it was nothing more than that in terms of emotional significance.
The fourth song in the album, Closed on Sunday, begins with a contemplative and slightly melancholy guitar riff that made me believe that the album had finally reached some depth. However, my hopes were quickly dashed once Kanye began to sing “closed on Sunday, you my Chick-Fil-A”. In the worst song on the album Ye spews confusing and somewhat contradictory religious rhetoric by saying, “We ain’t nobody’s slave” to fifteen seconds later saying “I give my life to God it is no longer my own”. While the music would be impressive for any other producer, it is the kind of beat that Kanye can make in his sleep and did not stand out in any way.
The fifth song On God I enjoyed only because underneath the high pitched synthesizer I heard a song that was reminiscent of the old Kanye. In the best way possible, he arrogantly gives the listener a view into his life with a memorable “and that’s on God” after every line. The sixth song Everything We Need has a strong melody and solid features from Ty Dolla Sign and Ant Clemons, however, it could be removed from the album narrative and make no difference. The seventh song in the album entitled Water is sure to be a hit for die-hard Kanye fans, but for the general public it was buried on purpose. In my opinion, the slightly psychedelic tones and what I interpreted to be the greater metaphor of baptism and rebirth give the album much more character than any of the previous six songs. In the eighth song God Is, Kanye pushes himself out of his comfort zone by singing the whole song. This move certainly pays off as he is finally able to give the listener a glimpse into his raw emotions and how important the message is to him. In Hands On Kanye devolves into his more experimental, late-album self as he describes his own differences from many of his fellow Christians.
In his second to last song, entitled Use This Gospel, Kanye creates a masterpiece that, for me, was his best track. Kanye raps only the chorus, and then gives up the verses to the reunited rap group Clipse, comprised of Pusha-T and No Malice. In this song, Kanye finally made me feel the emotional rollercoaster I had waited for and his views of faith are finally well explained. As the song begins with a single note and Kanye humming a tune that can only be described as mournfully optimistic I felt connected to his struggle, his first lyric, “Use this gospel for protection. It’s a hard road to heaven.” ******* With the Kenny G saxophone solo at the end, I thought the album was going to peter out and leave me in a contemplative mood. However his final fifty-second song, a trumpet heavy hymn entitled Jesus is Lord, ended the album on a sour note, cheapening what could’ve been a powerful ending with Use This Gospel.
While Jesus is King was certainly powerful in parts and unforgettable in its uniqueness, Kanye could have done a better job. The depth of the album was too little too late and while I could feel that he was incredibly passionate about religion, his message was ambiguous and not in an artistic way. In terms of actual musical construction, while he used many interesting and unique techniques, he failed to tie them together effectively in a couple of the songs. Ultimately, I enjoyed this album and I would give it an 8.5 out of 10 by the standards I hold for most artists. That being said, by Kanye standards, this was a 5.