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“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.