After over a year of several promised - and missed - deadlines, Kanye West’s long-awaited gospel/hip-hop fusion album "Jesus is King" finally came out last Friday. Millions of fans around the world, including myself, were on the edge of their seats in anticipation of this project.
In the year leading up to this album, West went through several notable stylistic transformations - from discussing overtly explicit themes in his 2018 seven-track LP, "Ye," to completely switching the focus in his music to religious topics. From there, West began 'Sunday Service' : two-hour-long, highly spiritual gospel choir sessions that attract wide groups of folks with powerful, soulful vocals from around the world. These events even garner participation from big name celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Katy Perry, and Sia, among others, and are broadcast on every possible social media website.
Needless to say, after seeing the enormous potential Kanye exhibits in his 'Sunday Service' gatherings, I expected that "Jesus is King" would be an extension of the same originality and production value. Furthermore, as this was not the first time that Kanye has experimented with merging gospel and hip-hop (e.g. ‘Ultralight Beam’ from his 2016 album "The Life of Pablo," and even as early as 'Jesus Walks' from the 2004 "The College Dropout" ) this had the potential to be the hip-hop album of the year.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. It seemed as though West cherry-picked discarded older tracks that failed to make the cut in his previous albums and added a gospel choir to them in an attempt to fit the Jesus Is King brand. For example, the tracks ‘Follow God’ and ‘Use This Gospel’ were suspiciously reminiscent of the flow and rhythm that was used in West’s 2010 album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," while the vocal technique used on ‘Closed on Sunday’ sounded like something recycled from West’s 2008 album "808s & Heartbreak."
Other songs were outright ludicrous. On ‘Closed on Sunday’ for example, Kanye opens with, verbatim, “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-Fil-A.”
Generally speaking, the lyrics on all eleven tracks were uncharacteristically shallow and unoriginal: something I never thought I would say about Kanye’s lyrical ability. I expected that a great deal of time would be spent exploring West’s personal convictions and relationships through the lens of his faith. Instead, he simply chanted banal Christian verses over simple beats and some background harmonies. (e.g. “Accept Him as your Lord and Saviour/Thou shalt love thy neighbor…” in the track ‘On God’)
The gospel choirs used in the album are its only saving grace. The vast, rich collection of heartfelt voices added depth and filled out the otherwise plain tracks. Another plus for the album: Kenny G even has an unexpected feature in ‘Use This Gospel,’ which was the best part of the song.
Overall, I would rate this album a solid 4/10. I greatly admire the idea of combining gospel and hip-hop, and I thought that certainly, of all artists, Kanye West would be the best candidate for the creation of an album like this. After seeing the brilliant innovations that Kanye exhibited in his Sunday Service masses, I believed "Jesus Is King" would be of the same caliber. However, this album was underwhelming both in its lyrical and musical content. The only thing left to do now is hope that this will not be a continuing pattern in West's future endeavors...