This Week in Music: Jesus is King

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This Week in Music: Jesus is King

Joseph Daher, Columnist

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Kanye West’s latest album Jesus is King is an exploration of his newfound emphasis on faith intertwined with a creative intersection of soulful gospel music and hard-hitting trap beats. Once again, Kanye does not fail to surprise. Unfortunately, his shallow lyricism on this record does not live up to the hype and countless delays that plagued the road to this record’s release. Ultimately, Jesus is King feels like a half-baked reimagining of Yandhi as a none-too-subtle endorsement of Christianity that all too often feels more like a cheesy televangelist infomercial than a profound personal statement.

Gospel music is nothing new to Kanye—one of the most memorable hits from his early career is the provocative “Jesus Walks” off of his debut album The College Dropout—and sampling obscure gospel records has been a signature part of his sound since then. In recent times, Kanye has fully embraced his gospel roots by creating Sunday Service, his own gospel group, which is scheduled to release Jesus is Born this Christmas. The gospel trap fusion production on Jesus is King is engaging enough, though nothing all too revolutionary from the same man behind 808s and Yeezus. Where this album really falls short is in thematic development and progression, making even a brief twenty-seven minute run sound repetitive.

The album opens with “Every Hour”—a short, hectic and chaotic reprisal of the traditional gospel hymn “Sing ‘til the Power of the Lord Comes Down” that features Kanye’s Sunday Service choir. This high-energy interpretation of a gospel hymn sets the thematic stage for the rest of the album, but fails to hook the listener like Kanye’s best past album openers, and feels more like an interlude than a proper opening.

Thankfully, “Selah” steps up from the lackluster intro with impeccable production, mixing the serene tones of a Hammond Organ with typical Kanye-style bombastic style drums and a levitating hallelujah chorus courtesy of Sunday Service. Kanye’s lyricism is as concise as ever, even finally commenting on the fiasco of Yandhi’s release; “Everybody wanted Yandhi // Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”. 

“Follow God” is a spiritual successor to “Father Stretch My Hands” of The Life of Pablo, opening by sampling the very same gospel song by Pastor L. Barett. Kanye’s lyricism remains as catchy and zany as ever, treading the line of the absurd on the following “Closed on Sunday,” which features an obnoxious refrain comparing Christianity to Chick-Fil-A. Kanye’s juxtaposition of fast food with simplistic religious commands is not all too out of character for the man behind croissants in Paris, but borders on satirical considering Kanye uses the rest of the record to preach gospel verses with no hint of nuance or comedic lightness.

If the trademark Pierre Bourne producer tag is telling of anything, “On God” is probably the closest thing to a club banger on Jesus Is King, featuring video-gamey synths and an uptempo resampling of “Mercy.1” from Cruel Summer. À la Yeezus, Kanye still brings the clever pop culture references that make his verse entertaining, and his recontextualization of the now ubiquitous phrase ‘on god’ is catchy and clever, but sadly, (like much of the rest of the record) the song doesn’t really build anywhere.

Unfortunately, the next couple of songs are a considerable step down in quality. “Everything We Need’ is decent—if unremarkable—but again Kanye’s verses are lacking in complementing an otherwise well-produced chorus. This imbalance is even more egregious on “Water”, where Kanye monotonously lists the greatness of Jesus with little semblance of nuance or emotion. “God Is” is similarly grating in Kanye’s blind praise of religion and its repetitive instrumentation, a far cry from the epic orchestrations from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Hands On” is not too far a departure from the previous tracks, but Kanye at least adds some of his own personal narrative into what now feels like a collection of psalm platitudes over generic gospel trap type beats.

Thankfully, Pusha T steps in to inject some life on the penultimate track “Use This Gospel.” The Kenny G saxophone solo alone makes the production standout on this record, but most importantly there is a semblance of progression within this song from Kanye’s Cudi-esque opening hums to Pusha T and No Malice’s verses which juxtapose religious salvation with their past criminality (it wouldn’t be a Pusha T song without coke dealing).

And just like that, Jesus is King is over, notwithstanding the unremarkable fifty-odd second outro “Jesus is Lord.” Considering the thematic growth and emotional progression Kanye has displayed over the entirety of his discography, Jesus is King stands out as remarkably flat, even next to Ye, an album panned by many for being underdeveloped. The difference is that Ye’s spontaneity is raw and emotional, while Jesus is King is overdue and undercooked.

That being said, Kanye at his worst still exhibits an eccentricity and innovation like few other rappers in the game. While “Selah” and “On God” may not touch his legendary career highs, they are memorable as standalone songs. Jesus is King’s psalm-like simplicity that can be touching at times even. I am just disappointed by the laziness and stagnancy that permeates this record, given Kendrick already nailed a similar concept years prior with DAMN. Only time will tell the legacy of this album, but for now, it is undoubtedly the weakest record in Kanye’s now extensive discography. C’mon Kanye, I know you can do better.

FAV TRACKS: SELAH, ON GOD, EVERYTHING WE NEED, USE THIS GOSPEL

 

LEAST FAV TRACKS: EVERY HOUR, WATER, GOD IS

 

KANYE WEST – JESUS IS KING / 2019 / DEF JAM / CHRISTIAN HIP HOP, GOSPEL TRAP, ALTERNATIVE R&B

 

RATING: 5/10

 

Spotify | Apple Music

 

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