“Jesus Is King”. We’ve all seen the billboards on the side of the highway, the flyers handed out by the devout on the street and this message hidden away in the dresser drawers of hotel rooms around the world, and now it’s the title of the long awaited new album from self proclaimed “Greatest human artist of all time”, Kanye West. The album has been delayed time and time again and after a series of West’s famous “Sunday Service” shows, a lengthy interview with Zane Lowe, an apparent last minute remixing of three of the albums songs and West’s insistence on his collaborators not engaging in pre marital sex, it’s finally here. Any new album from Kanye becomes a lightning rod for discussion and Jesus Is King may become his most divisive yet, it’s also his shortest, clocking in at just over 27 minutes for its 11 song running time. While slight it may be, it’s also West’s most concise statement. Regardless of how you feel about the concept, Jesus Is King retains the excellent production that has adorned all of West’s albums to date and should be something that fans and foes alike will be able to keep digging into as time goes on.
The album kicks off with “Every Hour”, a beautiful gospel number performed with the Sunday Service choir creating an exciting and immediate opening to the record. With its repeated refrain of “Sing till the Power of the Lord come down”, “Every Hour” is a startling mission statement for This new phase of West’s work. It’s almost like you are just getting a glimpse at one of West’s Sunday Service shows as the track starts somewhere in the middle and ends seemingly out of nowhere. A lot of your patience with the album will be based on how much you are able to enjoy it through the framework of religion. It could be a tough avenue for a pop artist like West to traverse but with his last full album, Life Of Pablo, feeling like West’s take on a gospel album this seems like it would be the next logical step for him to take. “Selah” starts with a beautifully lush organ and immediately into West’s familiar flow spitting out bible passages overtop the choirs hypnotic repeating of “Hallelujah”. It’s stark and powerful, punctuated by jarring drum blasts. “Follow God” offers a respite from the intensity with a sample, aptly, of Whole Truths “Can You Lose By Following God” and an absolutely killer beat, which climaxes with West having an argument with his father that ends with a shriek. “Closed On Sunday” features a lightly arpeggiated guitar and some hypnotic background vocals over West expounding the virtues of taking time for your family and how through his spirituality he will watch over them. The track also highlights the fast food place Chick-fil-A and its policy of being closed on Sunday’s due to their religious mandate. It’s sweetly comical to hear West describe his relationships in the refrain, “Closed On Sunday’s, You’re My Chick-fil-A”.
The production on the album across the board is stellar. West worked with a murderer’s row of talent for Jesus Is King including Angel Lopez, Benny Blanco and Timbaland. “On God” features a sweet bobbing synth line as well as references to the 13th amendment of the American constitution, his saying there needs to be a new Commander In Chief and the tearing down of confederate statues. Even though he has been somewhat political in recent years with his seeming embrace of MAGA culture and his subsequent reveal that it was all a prank, this still reveals that West’s politics remain stuck in an “It’s Complicated” status. Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons join West on the beautiful “Everything We Need” and Clemons returns to add some silky vocals to “Water” with its Motown-esque guitar gait and an extended prayer to Jesus during the bridge from West. Regardless of how you affiliate yourself with Christianity, the results are both beautiful and haunting. “God Is” is a full on gospel number with a truly heavenly choral performance. The track is the most transparent on the album regarding West’s turn back to religion. It’s nakedly sincere and extremely heartfelt. “Hands On” is the most minimal track on the record featuring only some choice vocoder moments and some interesting bubbling synth work. “Hands On” also details West’s internal struggle with the work he had previously been crafting and where his future may take him. At one point he says, “Tell the Devil that I’m going on strike/I’ve been working for you my whole life,” giving you the sense that this type of Christian based music is where West will continue to play within. West also brings up the 13th Amendment again, this time seemingly in reference to young black men getting locked up in America for the most innocuous reasons and after having three strikes, the serious time they have to do. It’s a strong indictment of the justice system and one that rings out especially hard with such minimal backing noise. “Use This Gospel” features a nice turn from Clipse over a repetitive piano part and some wonderfully effected choral harmonies. Plus, a surprise guest from soprano saxophone hero Kenny G, here doing what Kenny G does best, which is blowing a beautiful hole into the songs proceedings. Album closer “Jesus Is Lord”, which is also the title of another album West says he intends to drop on Christmas Day, is a simple 45 second hymnal that caps the album as perfectly as “Every Hour” kicked its off.
Like most things Kanye does, Jesus Is King is at times bold, messy, obtuse, somber and joyous. It’s kind of a perfect distillation of the artists persona. One that continues to evolve, depending on how you look at it, for the better or the worse. There a lot to dig into here and with repeated listens, a lot that will be enjoyed, or at the very least, keep you interested in further exploration. At the end of the day though, with Jesus Is King, it really depends on how much time and thought you care to share with “The Greatest Human Artist Of All Time” that will determine its eventual outcome.
review by Adam Fink