Kanye West is a cultural figure that demands attention. From groundbreaking hip-hop albums throughout the 2000s, to his recent controversial comments about the 13th amendment and support of Donald Trump, West has never failed to captivate the attention of the public.
West is no stranger to a dramatic album launch, and finally “Jesus is King” is here after many delays. The album is Kanye’s first record after his born-again experience into Christianity. “Jesus is King” contains no curse words and relies heavily on biblical texts. The album contains brief moments of brilliance, but it is weighed down by a lack of focus and bad lyricism.
At its best, “Jesus is King” is grandiose, sweeping over the listener and surrounding them with glorious choral sections, 10-foot tall drums and meticulous production.
West’s flows gel with the arrangements well (for the most part), and the many gospel moments on the album feel larger than life. The hallelujahs on the second track “Selah” are angelic. The beat and sampling on the next track “Follow God” knock hard, and the synthesizers from producer Pierre Bourne are a delight in “On God.”
At first listen, it seems West has done it again, managing to recreate himself and forge a new sound in the process. However, the album unravels after multiple listens.
West’s lyrics fail to deliver anything more than Christian platitudes and corny biblical name drops. Punchlines lack any real weight, flows aren’t cold, and there is little to no clever wordplay throughout the track list.
It has always been difficult to fuse together Christian subject matter with rap music, and “Jesus is King” is yet another example where rapping about Jesus comes off as trite rather than impactful.
It is clear that limiting oneself to only rapping about explicitly Christian themes or imagery can be limiting to an artist, and West shows an inability to utilize a smaller lyrical toolset effectively.
The harshest example of poor writing on the album is the track “Closed on Sunday.” The sound is sleepy with quiet guitar arpeggios accompanied by an underwhelming delivery from West.
This is the worst song Kanye has ever released, and a quick reading of the chorus shows why. “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A// Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away” and “Closed on Sunday, you my Chik-fil-A//You’re my number one with the lemonade” are his worst bars to date.
The weakness of the lyrics are heightened by the album’s lack of a clear vision. West shows sincerity in praising God on these tracks, but there are moments that undercut this goal. Moments in which West compares his struggles to the crucifixion of Christ, and the justification of his extremely high merchandise prices are quite out of place on a gospel album.
His medatation on what it means to be Christlike and have unwavering faith in God to deliver him are bright spots thematically, but they fail to shine through the rest of the muddled messaging throughout the album.
“Jesus is King” is a disappointment because it feels like a watered-down version of West. The few moments of greatness show that West still has what it takes to create magnificent music, but the shaky subject matter and lack of cohesion leave the album feeling messy.
It is great to see an artist come to Christ, but the music suffers when they can’t translate their newfound faith into something meaningful lyrically. Many Christians have looked past the many glaring flaws with this album because of the biblical content, but it is important to remember that the inclusion of Christian content does not make an album good.
It is very disappointing to see someone who has made impressive gospel music before (“Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam”) underwhelm the way Kanye does on “Jesus is King.” 2.5 stars.