After teasing the release of Yandhi more than a year ago, dragging it out for months, abandoning it, then ignoring the promised release of his new album on Sept. 27, Kanye finally released his ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, on Friday at noon. The album is 27 minutes long and features 11 songs, none of which have explicit lyrics.
Jesus Is King is largely Kanye’s gospel–rap tribute to God, birthed from his “Sunday Services." As of January 2019, Kanye has been performing to a very select group of family, friends, and fans on Sundays. At these performances, Kanye sings gospel versions of his popular songs with a choir to back him up. At first, these performances were held on Kanye’s properties in Calabasas, Burbank, and Los Angeles; however, recent gatherings have expanded to Illinois, Wyoming, and Ohio.
Although Kanye has alluded to religious salvation before, his pastor, Adam Tyson, told the Pure Flix podcast that Kanye believed he was “radically saved.” Following this realization, Tyson worked with Kanye every Tuesday night to do a bible study and Q&A. Soon thereafter, Kanye started his Jesus is King project in Cody, Wyoming.
In listening to Jesus is King, it’s abundantly clear that Kanye’s religious experiences in the past year have changed his creative and musical direction. However, despite the fact that Jesus is King is definitely a religious album, it fails to properly deliver on this promise with its lack of real lyrical and musical substance.
Kanye’s first lines on the album appear in his second song, “Selah,” in which he raps, “God is king, we’re just soldiers.” From the start, there is already an ironic contrast to Kanye’s Yeezus album, where he continuously raps “I am a God,” on a track of the same name. Jesus is King has a less blatant characterization of his ego, along with a cheerfulness and optimism that his previous albums don’t. In “Saleh,” there’s no doubt that faith plays an important role in Kanye’s life, with lyrics such as “When I get to heaven’s gates / I ain’t gotta peak over.” Interspersed between these lyrics are verses from the Bible that Kanye just throws in.
Although Kanye samples components from gospel music, the real focus is on choral arrangements and hints of organs. Musically, “Use This Gospel” has the most evidence of Kanye's old style, with a steady piano pulse that recalls his song “Runaway” on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. However, unlike “Runaway,” “Use This Gospel” does not include any curse words, as part of Kanye’s effort to make his music more clean and pure. On “Use This Gospel,” Kanye also teams up with contemporary jazz artist Kenny G on a saxophone solo.
Meanwhile, the lyrics of songs like “On God” deviate from the theme of religion. After each line, Kanye repetitively, and almost lazily, says “On God." In the lyrics, he justifies how expensive his concerts are: “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, I go hard, that's on God." Here, Kanye’s focus is less on his religion and more on his professional career.
Last year, Kanye stirred up controversy when he claimed that slavery was a choice, and made comments about the efficacy of the 13th Amendment. In both the tracks “On God” and “Hands On,” Kanye references the 13th Amendment as well. In “Hands On,” he says, “Wonder if they’re gonna read your rights / 13th Amendment, three strikes / Made a left when I should’ve made a right.” These lines on the album seem out of place, and stand as an effort that Kanye makes to clarify his controversial statements through his music.
Jesus is King disappoints as a musical piece of work, and especially as Kanye’s creation. The overarching religious theme is clear through the album name, gospel choruses, and lyrics. However, many of the lyrics referencing religious devotion aren’t particularly deep, and often his gospel choruses seem carelessly thrown around. After generating a slew of political controversies over the past two years on sensitive topics, Kanye fails to execute Jesus is King in a way that is insightful, creative, or meaningful.