Album Review: Kanye West—'Jesus Is King'
People have waited. People have been curious. People have been confused. Now the Album is out, and the first reviews are in. Online-critics and professional Kanye commentators mostly seem to agree: This Album is not that good. Let me tell you why I disagree.
First things first: This is not another commentary piece on the curiosities of Kanye West's life, but an honest opinion about his new album, Jesus Is King. I'm sure there are people who're better equipped to write about what Kanye's been up to lately, so that's not what I'm trying to do. But of course, Kanye is such a big character, that, maybe by design, it sometimes get's impossible to completely distinguish between his person and his artistic creations. So, full disclosure: I've been a Kanye fan for quite some time now. Maybe not the biggest fan, but I appreciate his musical talent, his unique character and the way he always tries to push boundaries.
What's up with the Christian music?
If you've heard one thing about this album, it's probably the fact that it's Kanye West's first all-Christian themed release. Seems like a surprising move for a rapper who has never shied away from explicit lyrics and is known to be a generally controversial character. At first glance this choice seems like it's either just a publicity stunt or the result of a self-proclaimed "crazy genius" actually gone crazy. I would argue it's both, but also way more than just that. Sure, it's a classic Kanye style publicity move. Everybody's talking about it, so you could argue it's a successful one as well. Sure Kanye's a little crazy, maybe even a little more than in the past, but that's by design, it's his brand.
While, at first, I was convinced those two things where the primary and maybe only explanation for Kanye's religious awakening, I now, after listening to the record, have a different take: I believe that choosing the "Christian theme" for this album was really an artistic choice, and in my opinion the right one. Kanye's recent releases have become sort of cluttered and messy. While every album from The College Dropout to The Life of Pablo showed a clear musical progression and could be assessed on the spectrum of Kanye's artistic development, his recent releases where a little all over the place. While all of the old Kanye releases had a unique ratio of vintage sampled vibes to modern synth creations, Ye and Kids See Ghosts seemed more like a random collection of Kanye songs from over the years.
Making this album specifically Christian themed allowed Kanye to execute on a clear and distinct vision for the record. He got rid of a lot of the clutter lyrically as well as instrumentally. A little fewer lyrical gimmicks (never mind the Chick-Fil-A song), a lot more vibes, and potential for goosebumps. For the first time in over two years, Kanye has really added a whole new section to his musical spectrum, and interestingly enough, I think it's closer to his earliest releases than anything else. In a way, he has not abandoned his trademark sound, but rather went back to his beginnings and put a whole new spin on his early style.
So why's everybody hating?
Maybe this record was not even meant to satisfy every listener. Maybe it wasn't intended to be praised by critics and glorified as another testament to Kanye's indisputable genius. Maybe he intentionally wasn't going for the billboard charts this time. Not because Kanye is such a humble guy, but maybe he realized it's not the right time for that right now. After his last releases have received mixed reactions, and his public persona has been under more scrutiny than ever before, maybe it would have been impossible to deliver a record that everybody loves. Maybe this release was necessary to reset the trajectory of Kanye West's career and free him from overly high expectations. Maybe this was just the kind of record Kanye really wanted to make right now, and isn't that the most Kanye thing to do anyway?
"Just a little more Jesus"
My favorite tracks from the album are "Water," feat. Ant Clemons, and "Hands On," feat. Fred Hammond. Both of these happen to be some of the more synth based tracks. The album overall relies heavily on soulful choirs, chopped vocal samples and rather warm synth pads. It's notable that many of the songs don't have any, or have very little, drums and percussion in them. In many ways, the record resembles typical gospel music, but then again is unmistakably 100 percent Kanye West. Overall, the album has a very positive and upbeat vibe to it, and is clearly the "happiest sounding" Kanye production in years.
Jesus Is King is a perfectly fine Kanye West record, and every real Kanye fan should be satisfied with it. Is it a little Jesus-heavy? Yeah, it is. But is it unlike anything we have every heard from Kanye? Definetly not! In my opinion, the "Christian music" aspect of this album is completely overstated. It's just Kanye being Kanye, with a little more Jesus than usually. Even as a non-Christian I enjoy this record and it reminds me a lot of some of the early Kanye, soul-sample-based stuff.