‘Jesus is King’ finds Kanye West at his most unfinished
West’s long-anticipated debut into Christian hip-hop packed with flaws
Album: “Jesus is King”
Artist: Kanye West
Label: Def Jam
Release Date: Oct. 25
Kanye West’s album release hype-cycles are frequently the most frustrating musical moments of the years they happen. Despite this, Mr. West never fails to draw a crowd.
His recent tweet promising his latest album's release at midnight was a lie, and to many people’s surprise, “Jesus is King” came out around noon.
West’s sixth album from the 2010s is his first overtly Christian release after he rediscovered his faith in late 2018. He has dabbled in Christian themes before and has sampled gospel, but his string of Sunday Service performances showcased him experimenting with the gospel stylings in an overtly religious light.
But “Jesus is King” is unlike those concerts and any album he’s ever made.
This is the worst album West has ever released.
West is no stranger to releasing borderline unfinished records as “The Life of Pablo” set that precedent and some reported that West re-recorded his last record, “Ye,” in the span of days prior to its release. However, those albums are rife with strokes of genius, as tracks like “Ultralight Beam,” “Famous,” “Ghost Town” and many others are some of the best tracks he’s ever released.
On “Jesus is King,” however, nothing comes close to even the decent cuts from his looser work. The only song that truly stands out is “Follow God,” a rough-but-lean piece of sample-based Christian hip-hop that shows Kanye flowing at his usual caliber.
The smooth funk sample, his vocals, the crisp drums and the admittedly hilarious spoken freak-out at the end show what the rest of this album should have been like.
Even at his worst, Kanye has the ability to come up with intriguing song ideas that, if developed, could become something great. “On God” is smothered in layers of minimal synthesizer loops that float around Kanye’s simple delivery. “Water,” has soft textures and great vocals by Ant Clemons that make the song sound like a sensual combination of Gospel, R&B and Synthpop.
Tracks like these at a base level show the religious direction of the album could have worked well.
Unfortunately, much of this album is ruined by the production and its completely rushed feeling. The album audibly crackles in a way that is typical of unmixed and unmastered rough drafts.
Many of these songs could have been developed more and the fact that they aren’t leaves moments feeling like unfinished sketches. It’s as if we’re peering into an album in the middle of development, but unlike “Pablo,” the atmosphere does not benefit from the feeling.
Opener “Every Hour,” which includes the only credited appearance from the Sunday Service Choir, is digitally sped-up in a cheap way that leaves it feeling manic and insufficient as a tone-setter. The actual vocal melody the choir sings is nice but not a standout for gospel music.
“Closed on Sunday” features one of the worst lyrical couplets West has ever laid on record with “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A.” From an instrumental standpoint, it sounds like it was picked up from the cutting-room floor of “808s & Heartbreak,” making this maybe the worst Kanye track to date.
Even when tracks seem promising, Kanye finds a way to make it sound like there should have been either another take or a trip back to the drawing board.
“God Is” is lush, but Kanye goes hoarse about halfway through the track and ruins it. It seems to be coming from a place of religious passion, but it just comes across as rushed and low effort. Another vocal take would have done this song justice.
It’s nice to hear a Clipse reunion on “Use This Gospel,” but minus the admittedly nice chorus, the rest of the song is a snooze-fest.
Lyrically, songs like “Hands On” are interesting, as Kanye makes a point about his newfound faith and struggle for acceptance.
“What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? They’ll be the first one to judge me, make it feel like nobody love me,” he raps on the track.
It’s a legitimately intriguing line, but for every bar like that, there’s a damning line like “The IRS want they fifty plus our tithe, man, that’s over half of the pie, I felt dry, that’s on God, that’s why I charge the prices that I charge” from “On God.”
It’s disappointing to see an artist who opened the decade with the highlight of his career close with the lowlight of it. Contrasted with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s” glamourous excess and obsessively lush production, “Jesus is King” is stark, minimalist and sounds frankly unfinished.
Maybe if he spent more time with the album, this would better project. With West presented here though, “Jesus is King” shows a former master of his genre struggling to keep up with even the mediocre artists in it.
Alex Whetham is an asst. arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.