Is “Jesus is King” King?
Something is very strange about Kanye West’s 9th album, “JESUS IS KING.”
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“Closed on Sunday, you my Chick Fil-a”
How did we get here?
Kanye West dropped his ninth solo album, “JESUS IS KING,” after a grand total of five delays, two different titles, and a corresponding movie event on October 25, 2019. On that Friday at 12p.m. Eastern Standard Time, millions of West fans like myself tuned in to listen to Ye’s newest body of work. After all that buildup, who wasn’t curious to see what the rapper would do?
After a bizarrely brief 27 minutes, the album concluded. I took my headphones off and squinted my eyes. I was pretty sure that I’d enjoyed it, but I needed one more listen to be certain. Sure enough, just under a half hour later, I’d finished the album once again and still felt bewildered by what I’d just listened to. It seemed like both the greatest album of the year and what might be West’s worst album to date. The album is rife with contradictions, and for every moment of pure genius, there is a corny line about fast food or an undermixed vocal sample that unnervingly blows out the user’s headphones. Nothing about the project makes any sense.
For starters, the production of the album—the vocal and instrumental mixing, the beats, and the musical arrangement—sounds very rushed. Even on great songs like “Use This Gospel” feat. Pusha T, Malice (they form the duo Clipse), and Kenny G, the vocal mixing on the featured rappers’ voices sounds totally wrong. Pusha T’s voice has no reverb, and it sounds like he recorded his part in a closet. What Def Jam executive thought that this sounded finished enough to be released to the public?
In addition to the wacky vocal production, some of the beats sound utterly out of place. On “Everything We Need,” the trap beat that follows Ty Dolla $igns’s harmonic chorus is so jarring it sounds like it belongs to a completely different song.
Even with its glaring flaws, this album is totally enjoyable. It’s actually a surprisingly fresh solo West album, especially coming off of last year’s “Ye” (2018). This album has such a wide range of quality that underwhelming songs like “Closed on Sunday” and “Hands On” can be forgiven thanks to tracks like “Follow God,” “On God,” and “Use This Gospel.” These songs aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but this album wasn’t striving for perfection. West was trying to give listeners a feeling and a vibe, and he succeeded at that.
However, when this album goes high, it is relentless. It gives us tracks like “Follow God” and “On God,” songs so full with zest and energy that one can’t help but tap their foot while listening. West banks on moments like these, as well as Kenny G’s saxophone solo on “Use This Gospel,” West’s addictive falsetto on “God Is,” and the thumping pulse of “Selah” to elevate this album past any controversy or doubts that a listener might attribute to it. Whether he succeeds in this regard or not is completely up to the listener, but I personally think that he pulls it off as well as anybody who's trying to pull off a mainstream, sub-half hour Christian rap album, which is to say: sort of.
Other than the pure musical aspect, there is a lot to unpack with the lyrics. West is trying hard to get us to believe that in a year, he went from “you’re such a f***ing h**, I love it” to “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord!” It may be a stretch, but with all 11 songs on the album focusing on some aspect of the Christian religion, it sure does seem like he’s convinced himself, if nobody else, that he’s a man of God.
However, some of this Jesus-loving mentality inevitably gets a bit lost on listeners in practice. While Ye does deliver some great lines, he also displays a much cornier side on this body of work that the public has hardly seen, at least to this extent. “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick Fil-A” and “what if Eve made apple juice” are lines that can’t just be forgiven overnight. West is asking a bit much of his listeners to totally buy into his completely new mentality and style, but his Christian side is one that is interesting to listen to and explore as a new face of the multi platinum-selling rapper.
“Jesus is King” is a perplexing, seemingly unfinished, undermixed, corny, and jumbled album, but there are still plenty of moments of genius to go around. It may not become a classic like other albums that West has put out [think “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010), “Late Registration” (2005), and “Yeezus” (2013)], but it is a perfectly fun and interesting listen to take up a mere 27 minutes of your day.