The rapper and newly declared gospel artist’s latest album features hackneyed sounds and lyrics.
This article was lightly updated on Nov. 25, 3:45 p.m.
Following a tumultuous series of failed release dates and a scrapped record (“Yandhi”), Kanye West’s ninth studio album, “JESUS IS KING,” finally dropped last month. Clocking in at a solid 27 minutes, the record presumably confirms West’s latest musical habit: frustratingly short records (this follows last year’s “ye” and “KIDS SEE GHOSTS,” both of which were 24 minutes long).
It’s been a couple weeks at this point. Those of you who like the record have likely already decided as much, and those of you who dislike it have already expended some energy trashing it. All the reviews have been written, posted, read and watched. The general consensus, as far as I can tell: it’s all right. It’s not his best. It’s not his worst.
I won’t lie in saying that I enjoyed parts of this album quite a bit. The percussive slams on “Selah” are exciting (if misleading); West’s flow on “Follow God” makes for one of the most straightforwardly entertaining tracks he’s released in years; and Pi’erre Bourne’s giddy production in “On God” evokes memories of an old Sega Genesis title.
And then there’s low moments. The lyrics of “Closed on Sunday” are some of West’s unashamedly worst; something about the chorus-backed “Water” reminds me of “Demon Days”-era Gorillaz, and makes me want to switch to that record rather than blast “Water” any more; and “Hands On” commits the worst sin a West track can muster: it’s just boring.
“Use This Gospel,” the record’s penultimate track (let’s face it: final track), is a highlight, with perhaps the most prominent features to be found on the album (from Pusha T and No Malice), simultaneously minimalist and maximalist production (is that a “car door open” warning tone?), and all followed by a gobsmacking saxophone solo from Kenny G, of all people. It’s brief, punchy and trashy in a smooth-jazz sort of way. I still can’t tell if I love or hate it.
It reminded me, unfortunately, of the “cursed” Twitter video that Kim Kardashian-West shared on Valentine’s Day this year: Kenny G, standing in the middle of a room, surrounded by equidistant roses in vases, serenading her. Evidently, this is where West actually met Kenny G, so the bizarre video is to blame for the feature on “JESUS IS KING,” something I’ve got mixed feelings about.
But more than just a creepy image of a stranded Kenny G, the video reminds us of something important about the Wests: they are not like us. They are overwhelmingly rich, dripping with decadence, absolutely unconcerned with the day-to-day lives of the people who love their products. We’re talking about a man who sells shoes and concert tickets for hundreds of dollars and a woman who’s, well, a Kardashian. The name is synonymous with “inconceivably rich” at this point.
So when West declared that his new record would be a gospel album, fans were understandably confused. Kanye West’s appeal lies solely in his distance from standard models of theology, and I use the term “appeal” lightly. His insufferable wealth (never mind that he was “in debt,” as that means something vastly different for him than it does for you or me) and self-centeredness have always been necessary, masochistic things to acknowledge and indulge in while living in the totally upside-down world we inhabit. People (myself included) tend to get drawn toward these larger-than-life personalities. We reside in them almost as a form of escapism. We howl about their problems to forget our own.
For this Kanye West, then, famous for being up his own ass and rich beyond relief, to suddenly start preaching the name and gospel of the Christian Jesus Christ, a man with a well-recorded disdain for the rich, if the Christian Bible is to be trusted … well, it stinks of hypocrisy. But here he is, throwing a choir on every other track, making Bible references, building himself up and parading an air of authority — no longer in terms of cash or fame, mind you, but of morality and spirituality. He was better than you before, but now that he’s found God, well, shit, he’s better than you in a whole new way.
Kanye West is far from the only rich person on earth, and he’s further from being the only rich Christian, an oxymoron by nature, but there’s something about the self-assured, Heaven-bound air of the new record that just does not sit well. I’m not even speaking as a scandalized Christian, or anything — the theology of the whole situation is of the least concern for me. It’s the hypocrisy that irks me; it’s the utter disconnectedness from our world that West still clearly lives in, and the distinct lack of self-awareness he champions on stage while preaching a gospel that is objectively unsuited to his own lifestyle.
But this is an album review. So, I’ll return to the music. That’s all music journalists are meant to do anyway, right? Stick to music.
The production is fine, the features sparse and the bars hold together well enough. It has its highs and lows, though generally more of the former than the latter. It’s a solid release from Kanye West, though disappointingly safe, unexperimental and easy-listening-minded. All the same, it won’t offend your ears to hear it. Just to hear. But when you begin to listen …