REVIEW: “Jesus is King” Kanye West’s divine inspiration


jesus is king album cover

To be a Christian artist is to be in good company: Dante, Bach, Dostoevsky, Botticelli, Mozart, Michelangelo, Tolstoy, Tolkien, Da Vinci, Vivaldi, Raphael and Caravaggio. 

But, to be a Christian musical artist in the 21st century puts you among the crafters of some of the most insipid melodies to have ever disrupted heavenly silence. Kanye West, the man who gave the world “I Am A God (feat. God)” recently converted to Christianity. 

John Newton wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” after undergoing an intense spiritual conversion. Prior to listening, I was hopeful Kanye’s long awaited new album, “Jesus Is King,” might produce something similarly timeless as “Amazing Grace.” However, the spectres of 99.5 The Fish and “God’s Not Dead” filled me with fear and trembling. Christian art is too often soft soap and one would hate to see the brilliant mind who gave us “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”and “Lift Yourself” turn to sentimental mush.

Mercifully, such was not the case with “Jesus Is King.” However, instead of an album championing Kanye’s recent dark night of the soul and subsequent “Good Morning,” or the kind of brutally honest outlook on, say, the leap of faith, that only he can provide, we are given far too many religious aphorisms that could have been penned by anyone else. Consider the track “Water.”

“Jesus give us strength / Jesus make us well / Jesus help us live.” 

He carries on like this for an entire verse. Not that there’s anything wrong with a litany of this kind, per se, but when listening to Kanye West, one expects his unique, rugged take on things. And that’s just not as present on this album as his previous releases. The water imagery that forms the basis of this song is as common as well, tap, or otherwise. 

But there are still times when Ye’s voice shines through the otherwise generic gospel-isms. I don’t know anyone else who would be brazen enough to sing “Closed on Sunday / you’re my Chik-Fil-A,” on “Closed on Sunday,” an endearing song about keeping holy the Sabbath by spending time with family.  Lyrics aside, the production is, being Kanye, flawless. The organ and choir on “Selah”, combined with the sparse gunshot drums, are clear and inspiring as he delivers some of his better lines; “Even with the bitter cup, forgave my brothers and drank up.” The soul-sampled “Follow God” is reminiscent of “The Life of Pablo,” blending a classic hip-hop beat with an obscure old gospel record. 

The saving grace of “Jesus Is King” is how radical it is, not stylistically, but contextually; that one of, if not the most influential musicians of the 21st century would renounce his old work (“less talk, more head right now, huh?”) and put out such a devoted album of Christian music is further proof that Kanye will never be put into a box unless he picks it himself. It’s a satisfying paradox that Kanye’s radical vision now finds itself under the tent of orthodoxy. And while I lament that this record lacks much of his signature wit, this is by design. It’s made plain; “My life is his / No longer my own.” 

As Kanye goes forward, assuming he keeps the faith (which, knowing his chameleonic nature, is a big assumption) let’s pray he finds some reconciliation between the timeless truths he feels he needs to tell, and his distinctive way of telling them. 

Contact Domenic Cregan at [email protected].