Kanye West ‘Jesus Is King’: A Visual and Audio Experience

“Stand up for my own. Even if I take this walk alone. I bow down to the king upon the throne. My life is His, I’m no longer my own”

-Kanye West on “Closed on Sunday”, 2019

The ideology of change is something that most people do not cope well with, or accept so openly. People are afraid of those around them changing into someone they never thought they’d see. Some people are afraid of those around them changing to become better than they are doing. Also, people are afraid of change within themselves—in fear of being placed in unfamiliar territories within their life. One area in the culture that change can be extremely neglected and frowned upon can be the music industry.

Kanye West happens an individual who has gone through many changes all throughout his life, musical career, and his overall legacy on this earth.  Retroactively speaking, Kanye started out as the kid in Roc-a-Fella who was just known as the beatmaker of the clique. What came afterwards happened to be one of the most impactful artists of this generation. Had he not wanted that change for himself, he would have painted himself in a box early on as just a producer who has all these ideas bottled up inside, who doesn’t have the voice or the platform to speak for himself. Then came “Through the Wire” and we all aware of the greatness that transpired since then.

What we are witnessing now here as we approach the final months of this decade is everything Kanye West has gone through as an individual up until this point, and we are seeing a newly redefined, born again Kanye West. After experiencing some of the most traumatic and problematic years of his life recently, a drastic change was needed—and Kanye ultimately found that change beginning with coming into understanding with his faith. Tying back to the idea of change, the question always presents itself in my head— why can’t a man change and why isn’t it accepted? The Kanye that we once have known has been washed away, and we are now witnessing man more in tune with his faith and his love for all things Christ on Jesus Is King.

As a fan of music, and a HUGE fan of Kanye West, I’m able to put all bias aside and provide what I believe is the most accurate representation of the album and film that we received. It can be hard to critique the people you love, and even harder to point out their wrongdoings, but we will discuss it all. To begin, let’s start at the beginning of Kanye’s spiritual journey and everything accumulated that birthed the freshly saved Kanye on Jesus Is King.

A New Kanye

By now, we are all more than familiar with Kanye’s outspoken personality. He was always one to say exactly what’s on his mind–completely disregarding any of the repercussions that would follow. Unfortunately, these actions caught up with Kanye. The year of 2018 was a bittersweet moment for Kanye. In the midst of it all, Kanye’s beef with Drake escalated to higher levels, the long delays and eventual cancellation of his album Yandhi, his TMZ rant with his absurd “slavery was a choice” comment angered lots of people, and his support for Trump and the MAGA hat was the icing on the cake for a lot of people. The accumulation of all of those instances in addition to everything else he has gone through in his life is what fuel his decision to become closer to his faith and be reborn again. After such a hectic year, Kanye started off 2019 on the right foot and one tweet would clarify that he would be a changed man going forward. “Love everyone. Start the year clean. Just be. All love.”–the last words we heard from Kanye on Twitter on January 1st, ridding himself of all social media.

Shortly after his disappearance from Twitter, an Instagram story from Kim Kardashian started to circulate, which showed Kanye and a choir performing live renditions of his previous work. At that point is when Sunday Service was born. Every week, Kanye and his choir would meet up in a disclosed location. Many fans speculated that this was rehearsal for an upcoming tour, or possibly for an upcoming live album. After months went by, we all realized that we were just witnessing Kanye in his element and this was nothing more than his way of healing. After all that Kanye has been through, there was no better way than to receive some healing through what started it all–the music.

The Sunday Service journey continued all throughout the year, and even sparked a surprise performance at Coachella 2019. During his Coachella performance, he previewed a snippet of an unreleased track which he called “Water”. At that point is when we knew new music was coming. Knowing how Kanye operates, no one knew when this new music would come. Would it be Yandhi or a completely new project?–no one was quite sure. After many more Sunday Services, Kim Kardashian showed up in August with a surprise announcement of a new Kanye album titled Jesus Is King alongside a tracklist as well. The release date of September 27th was written at the bottom–and anyone who knows Kanye, knows how he is with release dates. As the date approached, Kanye threw surprise listening sessions at various cities for fans to be able to get a glimpse of the album before it’s release. When the release date came, *surprise*–no album dropped. We later found out that these sessions were only for Kanye to get a crowd reaction to the songs. After a four week delay and tweaking the songs, we finally received the album Jesus Is King.

In fact, some of the best pre-promo for the album came from the two interviews that were released before the album dropped. The first interview was conducted by Apple’s own Zane Lowe. Although the interview didn’t feature too much elaboration about the music, we still received a lot of gems on this interview as expected. Kanye touched on his struggles with mental health, his newly found connection with God, and how he ushered in yet another style of Kanye. The second interview, and arguably one of the best he’s done yet, would be with the legendary Big Boy. This interview was special and super relevant to the current times we are experiencing. Kanye spoke about what it means to do things “for the culture”–claiming that we are in fact culture-less. This is true to the extent that rappers do things like buying a bunch of designer, driving a foreign car, signing deal with culture cultures, and we don’t own anything ourselves. Another key point during this interview was the statement that Kanye feels a type of way about people saying he “turned his back” on the culture. He claims that he is done having the mentality of playing the victim, and only wants to do things for Christ.

“I said George Bush don’t care about black people–as soon as I wear a red hat, I’m a coon. You can’t do enough for nobody out here, so how about I stop.”

Jesus Is King: The Movie

If there’s anything Kanye fans have grown to learn and accept, is to expect the unexpected and expect Kanye. For those who may not know what that means, you never know what you’ll get when it comes to a Kanye production, but you can look anything he does and know that it’s his work. Not much had been said in regards to what this movie would be about, how long it would be, and what the purpose of the film would entail. However, what we received was nothing more or nothing less than Kanye. The 30-minute film was in a nutshell, a Sunday Service film/promo for the album. Directed by James Turrell, the film took place at the Roden Crater in Arizona, where an underground setup was built for Kanye and his Sunday Service Choir. Despite it being extremely short, it was ascetically pleasing to say the least. Fans of artistry and great camera work will enjoy all elements of this movie. Not much to report on and not much to spoil here. To be quite honest, you didn’t miss much if you didn’t catch the film during its one-week exclusive showing.

Jesus Is King: The Album

To begin, this has been by far one of the most confusing album reviews I have done. Going into it, I wasn’t sure quite how to critique it. A traditional rap album, I look at the production, the lyrical content, the story, etc. However, with this album being a rap/gospel hybrid, it put me in a weird place. How can one judge an album about Jesus and give it a negative review? Imagine saying out loud “nah that Jesus Is Lord song is trash”. After thinking to myself, that is when I formed my own theory–that Kanye played it safe by making a gospel album and is using it as a shield so no-one can hate on it. After listening to it countless times over the weekend, my theory was then crushed. I no longer felt that Kanye was deliberately using Jesus as a bulletproof vest to deflect all the hate about his album, and I felt that his transition into a saved man was pure and genuine. Jesus Is King is far from a perfect album, but it is a great album at the same time. There are tons of elements about this project that I love, and a few that I don’t like at all.

My number one complaint and biggest complaint of all would be the length of the album, which was also my problem with 2018’s ye. The entire project is only eleven tracks long, which may not seem that bad considering that his album Graduation was only thirteen tracks long. However, this album comes in at only a mere twenty-seven minutes long. The sad part about that, is the movie is longer than the album itself. Some of the best moments on this album are cut short due to the track only being less than two minutes long. In fact, the closing track is only 45 seconds long. The film featured a longer version of this song during the credits, so I was confused as to why this didn’t see the light of day on the album.

Another major complaint of mine is the mixing. The general listeners may not consider this a problem, and many ay not even notice it. The music nerd in me can’t let it slide though. It’s bearable, but still an issue. It bothered me because the album was pushed back from its midnight release time due to the fact that the mixing had to be altered. The final product we received didn’t sound like the mixes were done correctly. The production mixes were done perfectly, but the vocal mixes all sound like each track was recorded with a different microphone. Nonetheless, it wasn’t so bad to the point where the album wasn’t enjoyable.

Now to speak about the best parts of this album. The opening track “Every Hour” which features the Sunday Service Choir serves as the perfect introduction to the album. Coming in at a little under two minutes long, it is entirely sung and carried by the choir. This sets the tone early on for the album, and even though the choir isn’t featured much on the album, we are shown that there will be a lot of praise on this album. There seemed to be a lot of confusion about whether or not this would be a full-fledged gospel album or a rap album with some gospel elements. Even though the album is so short, Kanye manages to create a perfect balance between the two. Two of the songs that appeared on the Yandhi leak appear here on the album as “Use This Gospel” and “Everything We Need” which features Ty Dolla $ign who adds so much to this song with his vocal talent. Thankfully mixed this time, these songs sound much more profound than they appeared on the leak we heard. This sounds like a Kanye album with lyrics about Jesus. Even back when Kanye said The Life Of Pablo was a “gospel album with a lot of cussing”, this album is more of a gospel album than that.

The production on this album sounds like more of what he have grown to love about Kanye’s production. Additional production on the album is assisted by Benny Blanco, Timbaland, Pierre Bourne, and Ronny J. Out of all eleven songs, there are only a select few that actually have production elements of gospel songs. That goes to show that fans of Kanye can still have lots to enjoy here, since a lot of his legacy has come from his fantastic work production-wise. “Follow God” sounds like traditional Kanye. Should sample in the beginning and all throughout the beat, a memorizing beat pattern to accompany it. Being the number one album on the Apple Music and Spotify charts, it seems to be the fan-favorite on the album. It’s biggest downside is how short it is–coming in at only 1:45. “God Is” happens to be another song that will sound most familiar to day-one Kanye fans, as it features more of his usual soul sample techniques. All in all, if anyone was weary about the production here on Jesus Is King, there isn’t much to worry about and many listeners and fans of Kanye will be satisfied.

The lyrical content of the album is where a lot of fans were skeptical about. Many rap fans don’t wanna hear a gospel album about Jesus from Kanye, or any rapper for that matter. However, I can’t knock him for wanting to speak about his love for Christ. The best part about the lyrical content of the album, is that Kanye doesn’t force his Christianity upon anyone. He is simply speaking about his experience becoming closer with Jesus and not trying to force religion upon anyone listening. One subject here on the album is the initial reception he received when he told people that he wanted to become saved again. On “Hands On”, he raps about how he’s been working fo the devil his whole life and he’s “going on strike”. He continues;

“Told people God was my mission
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me”

The notion that this album would be Kanye ranting on about how great God is, is far from true. Jesus Is King happens to be an elaboration more on what Kanye has already felt in his past. We already have received songs such as “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam”, so what we’re getting here isn’t that far fetched. The overall spectrum of what Kanye seeks out to do is not only speak about his journey in becoming one with God, but hopefully inspire others to walk on this journey as well. Regardless if people will follow or not, Kanye will walk alone if he has to. He will do anything to leave his past behind him, be able to grow as a person, and become one with those who may have abandoned him over the years.

After listening is many times, it clicked in my head why the album is so short. Kanye being so forward-thinking and always looking towards the future of the world, he realizes that a majority of his fan base is high school and college kids. He even says this during his Big Boy interview. That being said, he knows that the attention span for many people are short as it is, so he needs to make sure that the duration of his album is short enough to resonate within the minds of fans, and still long enough for him to let his message off. On top of that, he’s speaking about Jesus–which a lot of people may not have the longest attention span for already. The huge Kanye fan in me cringes at how short this album is, but I can see as to why the conscious decision was made to keep this album short, and it honestly was for the better.

The Final Verdict

Relating back to my opening statement about change, it was imminent that Kanye needed some major changes. Lots of people think this is just a gimmick he is using to come within the good graces of the general public. I can see as to why people may believe that, but I can’t fault a man for wanting a change as drastic as this to help him within his journey. It is very hard for me to believe that Kanye would go to the furthest extent to manipulate his love for God just to reel fans in. Imagining the backlash he would receive if that were true, that would be a hole that Kanye may not be able to recover from. Is this a phase? Will Kanye still perform bars about models and bleaching and …(you know the rest)? We don’t know, and we will have to see how his next tour plays out, which he reports will start very soon.

Sonically, this album is not bad at all. The production is immaculate, and the lyrical content is there. The general public may not care for the God bars, but if you can put that aside and learn to appreciate this project in its entirety as a great body of art, many will learn to appreciate it for what it is, and what it means for Kanye. Where it places in his discography, I will have to say in the lower half of it. His earlier catalogue is just too great for it to be topped whatsoever. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would be where Kanye reached his peak in his legacy. Although the albums that followed do not top the first half of his career, it isn’t a drastic fall of– moreso a very VERY slow decline. Kanye West will always be cemented in this industry, and his legacy can never be erased nor forgotten. With all he has been through, I can only support his journey to Christ wholeheartedly.

We are rumored to get a follow-up album on Christmas Day titled Jesus Is Born. Only God knows if that will happen or not. If not, we can still support Kanye in his journey to find himself as he seeks repair and guidance to become a better man, husband, father, husband, artist, and overall individual.

 

Cover Art: Griff