Skip to main content

Culture Music

Audacious and good

Kanye West performs at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in April. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Audacious and good

Kanye West uses his undeniable talent well with Jesus Is King

“Everybody wanted Yandhi. / Then Jesus Christ did the laundry.”

So raps Kanye West in “Selah,” one of 11 tracks from his new album, Jesus Is King (Getting Out Our Dreams II/Def Jam). Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s only the most talked-about (and written-about) album of the year so far.  

And the Yandhi that “everybody wanted”? It’s the album that Jesus Is King almost was. Initially scheduled for release in September 2018, it fell victim to West’s infamous procrastination, during which time West, in his own words, got “radically saved” and let the author of his newfound faith put Yandhi through the wash cycle. (And, yes, based on the version that leaked earlier this year, there was plenty to launder.) Jesus Is King is the result.

Leave aside for the moment whether Jesus Is King is any good and simply savor the fact that, thanks to West, the expression “Jesus is King” is now on the lips of anyone conversant with pop culture and will probably remain there until some other social-media superstar achieves mega-meme status by going rogue vis-à-vis the dominant narrative. Even people who hate the music or the message (or both) of Jesus Is King won’t be able to say that they hate Jesus Is King without saying “Jesus is King.” Strictly in terms of Top 10 album titles doing double duty as (for lack of a better term) passive-aggressive evangelism, Jesus Is King sure beats Slow Train Coming.  

And, still leaving aside whether Jesus Is King is any good, savor its audacity. In addition to being an unabashed gospel album made by a (formerly) foul-mouthed rapper and member (by marriage) of the Kardashian family, it’s also a beats-savvy hip-hop album that’s home to a mellow, acoustic-guitar-accompanied funny-yet-serious love song—to (drumroll please) Chick-fil-A restaurants. 

That’s not the funny part.

The funny part is that West doesn’t love Chick-fil-A for its sandwiches or waffle fries but for its lemonade (!) and for its chainwide, Sabbath-observing policy of staying “Closed on Sunday.” (That’s the serious part.) While some songwriters think outside the box, West denies the box’s existence altogether.  

There are other not-very-hip-hop tracks as well, including the first one, “Every Hour,” a 1-minute, 52-second gospel-choir explosion courtesy of West’s own Sunday Service ensemble. “Water” follows six songs later, its subject’s spiritual symbolism and the 14 one-line prayers to Jesus that West offers up midsong buoyed by aqueous, billowing synthesizers. “Jesus Is Lord,” in which West sings a paraphrase of Philippians 2:10-11 for 49 glorious seconds, brings the album to a worshipful close. 

So, yes, Jesus Is King is good.

The only song that raises more questions than it answers is “Hands On,” particularly the reference to the 13th Amendment (which West would like to see amended), the paranoia about Christians judging West hastily, and the line dissing “religion,” which could portend some risky theological free-styling down the road. For the most part, however, he charts and sticks to a straight-and-narrow course.             

The tragedy of West’s output until now has been his symbiotic attachment to lyrics all too deserving of the parental-warning label. But there was never any denying his gift for whipping beats, melodies, and samples into a sumptuous hip-hop blend. He is, in other words, someone to whom much has been given and from whom therefore much will be required. 

Consider Jesus Is King a thrilling first deposit in his new account.

Comments

You must be a WORLD Member and be logged in to the website to comment.
  • AlanE
    Posted: Sat, 11/02/2019 12:50 pm

    It will do my heart great good if Kanye West turns out to be one of the seeds cast on fertile ground. I am, however, also old enough to recall plenty of famous shipwrecks, seeds cast a shallow ground that sprang up and died--Jane Fonda and Eldridge Cleaver to name a couple. West very much needs to align himself under some wise Christian leadership. As with any sinner (whom all of us were) who voices repentance, we ought to be hopeful and cautiously joyful. The dangers, however, are greater for West than for most. The kingdom of God does not move forward as man reckons moving forward. Kanye West needs the kingdom, not vice versa. And it behooves us not to imagine that the case is anything other than that. If West can wrap his head around that truth and make his peace with it, then a great good is afoot--as it is when any sinner comes to genuine repentance.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Mon, 11/04/2019 03:43 am

    Let us be positive and pray for the guy! Yes, seeing others make a claim of faith only to see them wash out, does jade you. Also, if I was a non-Christian publicist, I would recommend he play up to the Trump crowd by pushing the "Jesus label". But I am getting too cynical so let us pray for the guy!