Arts and Entertainment

“Jesus Is King” and Kanye’s Rocky Relationship with Religion

“Jesus Is King” is West’s first full embrace of traditional religion and provides a glimpse into his journey as an artist.

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This past year has been a tumultuous one for Kanye West: In addition to the multiple postponements and ultimate cancellation of his album “Yandhi,” West has been caught up in many public relations scandals including proclaiming that slavery was a choice on live TV and publicly supporting Donald Trump, serving as a liaison between the African-American community and the GOP. This turmoil ultimately led West to become a born-again Christian and fully embrace religion, despite fluctuant levels of devotion throughout his career. His journey as a born-again Christian led him to perform at several Sunday services across the country, adapting his existing catalog to be more reminiscent of gospel and performing it weekly. His Sunday services culminated in the production of “Jesus Is King,” a gospel album that, following a hectic and seemingly disorganized weekend of shifting release dates, has yet to be released to the public.

West has had an interesting and often-changing relationship with religion throughout his career. Songs on early albums like “Jesus Walks” on “The College Dropout” (2004) embraced formal religion with common references to God throughout his education-themed album trilogy. Later on, however, West shifted toward a less-traditional view of religion. Following his mother’s death and his newfound stardom, West dissociated from traditional religion and instead started proclaiming himself a god. West’s self-deification reached its height on his sixth studio album, “Yeezus” (2013) with songs like “I Am a God” with the name of the album itself being a portmanteau of his name and Jesus. However, with the help of fellow Chicago artist Chance the Rapper, West returned to formal religion around the time of “The Life of Pablo” (2016) which included songs like “Ultralight Beam” and “Saint Pablo.”

Unlike what we have seen before, “Jesus Is King” is completely centered around religion, rather than faith being a feature or a sometimes touched-upon topic in West’s music. With a tracklist including “Follow God,” “On God,” and “Sunday,” the album is West’s first full musical embrace of religion, coinciding with his announcement that he will only make gospel music in the future. While this decision came as a surprise to many, the shift is not as drastic as it seems: West has always been a gospel artist of sorts. He called “The Life of Pablo” a gospel album, despite its relatively close adherence to traditional hip-hop style.

Like its unreleased but popularly-leaked predecessor “Yandhi,” “Jesus Is King” had a shaky and ultimately nonexistent release. First teased a month before its announced release date on Kim Kardashian-West’s Instagram, the announcement of the album was met with skepticism because of West’s history of missed release deadlines. A week before the announced Friday, September 27 release date, rumors spread about the album not being released. As midnight came and went, fans were once again disappointed by yet another missed release. The following afternoon, reports of a performance titled “The Jesus Is King Experience” in Michigan surfaced. Following the event, Kardashian-West announced that the album would be released two days later following similar listening parties in Chicago and New York. During the events, West played a trailer for an IMAX movie detailing his journey as a born-again Christian as well as his album. Cell phones were prohibited during the event, shrouding the performances in mystery. The album played was unfinished with intermittent verses missing from various tracks.

That Sunday night, fans awaited the highly-anticipated album only to be let down once again. In the days that followed, reports surfaced that there was no updated release date for the album. While fans were certainly disappointed in the album’s absence, it didn’t come as a surprise. Similarly, in 2016, “The Life of Pablo” was released after a year-long delay. West has always been a perfectionist, and just as was the case with “The Life of Pablo,” his perfectionism often comes at the expense of timeliness and punctuality. So, as frustrating as it may be to have such a highly-anticipated album be postponed indefinitely once again, West has proven that his complete disregard for deadlines is what makes his music so great.