By Maki Nientao
Jesus Is King is the latest album from one of popular culture’s most prominent polymaths in the last two decades: Kanye West. After 2018’s ye and Kids See Ghosts, he hasn’t released any new music except for the raunchy Lil Pump collaboration, “I Love It”. However, by early 2019, Kanye had turned a complete 180–he began leading Sunday Services across the country and is now a born-again Christian. After many delays, the album Yandhi became Jesus is King and was finally released in late October. Prominently featured throughout the record is Kanye’s Sunday Service Choir as well as some guest appearances from the rap duo Clipse, saxophonist Kenny G, and singer Ant Clemons. Sonically, the album is incredibly strong, with great production and vocals many tracks. However, the downside of Jesus Is King comes with its lyricism; often, Kanye is either making insubstantial observations, callouts towards all of his “haters”, or jokes which don’t work well within the context of the record, making it an empty experience much of the time.
Jesus Is King usually sounds strong instrumentally. The opener “Every Hour” exhibits the Sunday Service Choir in its fullest form and is easily the most gospel-inspired track of the record. It’s very straightforward in that it really is just the choir and piano, but despite this simplicity it’s a pretty strong song. It’s honestly absurd how fantastic the choir sounds, and the piano blends in perfectly. The track “Selah” fuses the choir in with Kanye’s vocals on an even grander scale with these anthem-like cries of “Hallelujah” in the chorus. Kanye also delivers some of the better lyrics of the album in this song. Unfortunately, these two tracks are some of the only instances where we hear the choir on its own for an extended time, but this could be made up for on the (supposed) next album, Jesus Is Born.
The middle of the album is more mediocre than the starting and closing tracks. “Follow God” features a solid, sample-based instrumental that goes pretty hard, but Kanye’s flow gets repetitive by the middle of the song. “Closed on Sunday”, one of the most well-known tracks from the album, is a stronger, sadder instrumental, but features some of the least thoughtful lyrics of the record (i.e. “closed on sunday/you’re my chick-fil-a”). The beat switch in the middle of the song is nice, but at this point, Kanye still hasn’t sounded interesting or said anything more substantial than “I’m Christian now”. The song “On God” is similar, with a more uplifting synth instrumental, but Kanye once again raps in a very jumbled way, delivering short, disjointed lines and then moving on. Also, the line: “That’s why I charge the prices that I charge/I can’t be out here dancin’ with the stars/No, I cannot let my family starve” is pretty ridiculous (I doubt the West-Kardashian family could starve in a hundred years).
The next two songs feature Ant Clemons, a singer who worked with Kanye on ye; on “Water” he is definitely the highlight of the track, singing over a muted, slower instrumental. In the verse, though, Kanye comes in with these very preachy vocals that intrude the atmosphere of the track. “God Is” is the other more sample-based track, taking from the soul song of the same name by James Cleveland. It’s solid, but definitely not one of the best tracks here.
To finish off the record there is “Hands On”, “Use This Gospel” and the outro “Jesus Is Lord”. “Hands On” is another song with an outstanding instrumental, featuring warped vocals and this deep, cello-ish sound at the end of each bar. Like a lot of songs, unfortunately, Kanye’s vocal performance on this one is very dry, emotionless, and forgettable. Alongside “Selah”, “Use This Gospel” is probably the most all-around strong track of the album, featuring the reunion of the rap duo Clipse as well as a mellow, cheesy (but nice) solo from saxophonist Kenny G. The beat here is also pretty strong, with a metronomic rhythm and synthesized vocals, which are rich and present throughout. Pusha T comes in with a solid verse, No Malice turns up the heat a bit more, and after Kenny G’s solo, the beat returns pretty incredibly.
The picture Kanye has painted of himself throughout the years has been of a revolutionary person ahead of his time. Indeed, it is his ever-changing musical and fashion styles which have kept him so relevant over the course of two decades. His persona is that of being very outspoken and introducing new things to popular media, but with “Jesus Is King”, his message is either very unclear or not present at all. Sonically it’s generally very strong, but Kanye’s new voice as a reborn Christian isn’t very interesting or thought-provoking.