Label volunteer, Jonah Loughlin, reflects upon Kanye West’s album, Jesus Is King, prior to its one-year anniversary of being released tomorrow.
Since The Life of Pablo (or arguably as early as Yeezus), Kanye has cultivated an aura of spontaneity around his music. TLOP’s post-release patches and ye’s last-minute changes serve as interesting lore for keen fans. With these projects, listeners eventually received polished works that provide the unique sonics and direction that only Kanye can bring to music. This isn’t the case with Jesus Is King as Kanye pushes the aesthetic of spontaneity too far and the album suffers for it. It feels rushed, incomplete, and is a far cry from the refined works normally associated with the artist.
Starting off on the wrong foot, we get an awkward transition from Every Hour into Selah. The latter of these, despite featuring a wonderfully maximalist vocal crescendo, makes it evident that Kanye’s potential for lyrical prowess will not be realised on the album. Intolerable wordplay haunts almost every track (see “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A”). However, the issues with the lyrics go deeper than some cringy lines – they fail to explore the intricacies of Kanye’s faith. On God and God Is exemplify this characteristic best: both tracks are lyrically redundant, contributing nothing of their own to the album’s theme. They lack ambition and fail to live up to the expansive storytelling potential of hip-hop. There are exceptions to this rule, such as Hands On which is an interesting meditation on the Christian community’s sceptical reaction to Kanye’s transformation – a unique topic that only a megastar could speak on. It’s just a shame that Ye’s flow on the song is sub-par.
Jesus Is King touches on some ideas secondary, yet complimentary to its central Christian theme. These are the aspects of the album that keep me most engaged one year later, even though they are half-baked. The idea of individual freedom is prominent: On Closed on Sunday, the line “No more living for the culture” is particularly resonant as Ye’s rejection of societal boundaries feels very empowering, especially coming from Kanye who has historically proclaimed himself to be a cultural leader. Furthermore, themes of nurturing our youth and building strong families also run through the album. In my opinion, Kanye has better explored this topic in previous works (Violent Crimes comes to mind), but the concept remains endearing, nonetheless. Ye also expresses an appreciation of the spiritual connection that one can feel with the land that they own, which I believe is something that we all crave on a primal level. The aesthetic of purity that these themes embody is the greatest feat of the album, with everything from the colour palettes of the merch, the optimistic sentiments (such as “We Have Everything We Need”), and the font on the cover contributing to making something greater than the sum of their parts.
The production is inconsistent across the board, both in terms of quality and direction. Follow God gives us a classic Kanye sample flip that is irresistibly head-bob inducing. However, the clunky beat of Water and the obnoxious synth arpeggio in On God act as counterbalances. There are some genuinely wonderful musical moments however, like the awe-inspiring vocal harmonies of Use This Gospel, and basically any time that Kanye utilises a choir. In general, song structure is reasonably strong, with the notable exceptions being Every Hour’s excessive runtime, Use This Gospel’s strange use of a sax solo and trap beat in the outro, and Jesus Is Lord’s premature ending. Overall, Jesus Is King’s sonics are reasonably entertaining to listen to.
I believe that almost every issue with this album can be attributed to Kanye’s insistence that in-the-moment “stream of consciousness” creativity is always superior to calculated attempts to create art. Almost everything about the album oozes this aesthetic, from the poorly mixed vocals (some of which were supposedly recorded on an iPhone), to the head scratching lyrics and boring flows. Ironic considering that the album was subject to numerous delays. Unfortunately, Kanye’s mindset on this does not seem to have changed since the release of the album. That said, Wash Us In The Blood was an exciting and paradoxically aggressive take on Ye’s new breed of Christian music. As always, Kanye’s future works are impossible to predict, and while I was disappointed with Jesus Is King, I haven’t lost faith in Yeezy just yet.
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Article Edited by Matthew Rousou – Label Music Editor