Kanye’s latest endeavour sonically captures his newfound devotion, though cuts corners on all other fronts of his artistry.
In 2019, the spontaneity of Kanye West struck once again. On the first Sunday of the year, Kanye launched Sunday Service rehearsals, performing renditions of popular gospel songs and his own songs in recluse. Somewhere during these sessions hip hop’s most polarising artist underwent a spiritual rebirth, returning to the Christian values he professed on 2004’s “Jesus Walks”. The tentatively titled and ever-delayed Yandhi came along for the ride, suffering from repeated leaks and creative detours. To the contrary of fan belief, Yandhi was not a separate album, but rather evolved into the final released product: Jesus Is King. Religion has inspired West throughout his entire career, and feels like a sort of homecoming after the distressing lows of “XTCY” and “I Love It”.
On Jesus Is King, Kanye comes across as an entry-level Christian. Kanye’s speciality as a composer is what carries the album, while the fundamental, elementary elements of gospel and Christian rap are incorporated as mere accessories to the holy sound.
Jesus Is King works in certain areas, the biggest of which is the compositional direction. While the production of Ye carried no clear identity, the production of Jesus Is King is at the heart of what makes the album’s spiritual angle resonate with the listener. The grandeur of “Selah” is driven by the minimal organ, timely thumping percussion and the blissful choir vocals. The minimalism carries onto “Hands On”, the most intimate song of the album. Fred Hammond steals the show with his performance, drowning his vocals in vocoder before closing out the song with a beautiful verse that is reminiscent of West’s work with Bon Iver.
But Kanye also takes impressive detours from the gospel identity of the album. “Follow God” is the strongest song, injecting the project with life through its trap drums and chopped sample. It is matched by Kanye’s rhythmic rapping, putting an emphasis on the double rhymes of each line to slot perfectly into the pocket of the beat.
Probably the most puzzling song of the album is “Closed on Sunday”. The dramatic opening is cut short by Kanye’s hook, “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-Fil-A”. It may be a turn-off for some, but it embodies Kanye’s signature humour. The mere mention of Chick-Fil-A isn’t what makes the line ‘corny’, but rather making a equivalence between religious practices and chicken. Nevertheless, the song itself continues to be enjoyable once the beat transforms and Kanye begins to sing (“Stand up for my home / Even if I take this walk alone”).
Unfortunately, the highlights stop there, and the flaws of Jesus Is King begin to shine brighter than the spiritual light of the album. No song on Jesus Is King reaches “Kanye” levels of perfection. The sense of no more improvements being possible doesn’t exist on here, as there are plenty improvements that could be made to make Jesus Is King one of Kanye West’s best albums, not one of his worst.
In similar vein to Ye, Kanye once again doesn’t flesh out his ideas. 2013’s Yeezus was ten tracks but totalled to a length of 40 minutes. Jesus Is King is eleven tracks but clocks in at a mere 27 minutes. While this approach may have worked with albums Kids See Ghosts and Daytona, West’s 2018 solo effort suffered from the brevity. And so does Jesus Is King. Aside from “Hands On”, the songs come across incomplete, half-baked ideas that weren’t given maximal treatment. “Everything We Need” runs under two minutes, while “Jesus Is Lord” is a 50-second outro that was cut short (as proven by the IMAX version of the track). It leaves much to be desired in terms of where songs could lead to, nullifying the potential of almost every song.
The rudimentary rapping also holds back the album. The idea of “Water” isn’t strong enough for a 3-minute song to begin with, but Kanye’s verse is his laziest to date. His verses on “Everything We Need” and “Selah” also disappoint and take away from the enjoyment of the songs. “On God” is carried by the Yeezus-esque production but Kanye’s flow becomes a snoozefest after the first four bars. You would think Kanye recently learnt how to rap based off Jesus Is King.
There is also the disappointment of “Use This Gospel”, a song adapted from the Yandhi leak, “Law of Attraction”. West switches the original hook and verse for lacklustre replacements, particularly the new hook which is forced to carry the elementary cliche’s of Kanye’s expression of Christianity. Ironically, the basis of the original hook was far more spiritual as a metaphor for the consequence of sin. Pusha T’s verse was initially off-beat during the first mix of the album, but even the re-mixing of his verse isn’t enough to mask the fact it is an average verse. Brother No Malice does a better job in the mere eight bars he’s given, dropping numerous quotables within the short timespan (“Blindfolded on this road, watch me faith walk”).
Jesus Is King is a triumph for West as a composer, a believable expression of the legend in his happy place. However, Kanye West fans are more than aware of his artistic abilities. While a casual fan may take and accept what they’re given, more thoughtful listeners will expect more. Jesus Is King doesn’t fulfil the maximum expectations of Kanye’s artistry, providing brilliant starter ideas that never unlock their true potential.
Rating: 6 / 10
Best tracks: “Follow God”, “Hands On”, “Closed on Sunday”, “Selah”