by Ingrid Angulo
Since 2016, every Kanye West interview has left fans and skeptics in disarray. His controversies and outbursts aren’t new, but this era of Kanye’s twists and turns — declaring unwavering support for Donald Trump, taking a step back for his mental health, and devoting himself to God — has been increasingly publicized. In aninterview with Zane Lowe, leading up to the delayed release of JESUS IS KING, West spilled all about a sex addiction and his new relationship with God, even going so far as to ask that all of his collaborators fast and abstain from premarital sex.
But behind this devotion, it’s clear that West’s infamous ego hasn’t taken a backseat. In the Zane Lowe interview, he called himself “the greatest human artist of all time” and declared “God is using me to show off.” This selfish sense of holiness is present throughout the record, as it becomes more of a platform for West to defend and praise himself rather than preach gospel.
JESUS IS KING begins with a gospel track, “Every Hour,” performed only by West’s Sunday Service Choir. Beautifully layered vocals and passionate piano create a powerful ode to God that sets the religious tone for the rest of the record. The track is complemented by closer “Jesus is Lord,” West’s interpretation of biblical scripture. The bookends of the album are the only songs that truly feel devoted to religion.
“Selah,” the second track named after a Hebrew word commonly found in the Hebrew Bible, begins West’s quest for public redemption. Accompanied by pounding drums, he declares that he has now achieved salvation, rapping “Ye should be made free,” and comparing himself and the criticism he’s faced to biblical savior Noah. The evolution from his aggressive tone into the powerhouse of “Hallelujah” is entrancing. It also marks the real tone for the album, as he cites Bible scripture to build himself up as a now holy being. The track is less about religion and more about West defending himself from criticism.
He continues to praise himself and his ability to save others throughout the album, once again calling himself “the greatest artist restin’ or alive” on the song “On God.” He thanks God for getting him where he is today, but it comes off as another excuse to brag about his accomplishments.
Though West comes off as conceited, it’s hard not to appreciate his incredible talent as a producer. JESUS IS KING is full of multilayered soundscapes reminiscent of his highly-praised earlier work. “Water,” which highlights rising star Ant Clemons’ vocals, stands out with its entrancing synth. West’s signature vocoder helps make “Use This Gospel” another standout track with the addition of a saxophone solo from Kenny G and guest verses from former collaborators Pusha T and Malice.
References to older works are also prevalent, a major example being the reuse of the sample from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” off The Life of Pablo on “Follow God.” The lyrics here are incredibly different, addressing God rather than bleached assholes on the former song, but the homage to West’s earlier work is nonetheless refreshing to hear. The sonic references to Graduation and Yeezus also help remind listeners why West is so successful in the first place.
It’s impossible to end a discussion about JESUS IS KING without addressing “Closed on Sunday,” a song that compares God to a Number 1 order from Chick-Fil-A. Within less than an hour of the album’s release, Chick-Fil-A trended on Twitter. The track is the most dramatic example of West’s lyrical weakness on the album. The guitar and backing vocals create a dreamy soundscape that is shattered by “Closed on Sunday/You my Chick-Fil-A,” and a final yelp of “Chick-Fil-A” that abruptly ends the song. It’s an unintentional and distracting sort of slapstick comedy.
JESUS IS KING fits well sonically within the context of West’s discography. The record doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s a successful continuation of West’s sound. Unfortunately, the great production is combated by the lyrics. There’s nothing wrong with religious themes or gospel music, as proven by the Christian influence present within The Life of Pablo, but West’s selfish preaching comes across as too insincere. At its core, JESUS IS KING is not about religion, but rather about Kanye West trying to prove he’s the best.