A Kanye West release has evolved into a sport. Scrolling through timelines while hitting refresh on streaming services and social media — waiting for a drop requires extreme online vigilance. For the past three albums, West’s creative rollout has been punctuated by perennial lateness and collective Internet groans. Yet fans, critics and all other interested parties still play the game of hurry-up-and-wait with Ye, which is exactly what transpired when his ninth solo album, Jesus Is King, shifted its released date and experienced a slight delay due to mixing issues on its Oct. 25 delivery.
All arrival antics aside, the album, as its title makes clear, presents Kanye West as a champion of Christianity. Following a series of Sunday Service congregations and quotable interviews, West has undergone a spiritual transformation that has bled into his music. Rewind to the year 2004 when Jesus walked so Kanye West could fly, as a producer-turned-solo star.
The beat beast from Chicago showed his promise with The College Dropout, the debut that was home to the chest-beating track “Jesus Walks”: “I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long,” he declared. Fifteen years later, West seems to have no trouble celebrating the Son of God after making his relationship with born-again Christianity public. On “God Is,” West says: “There is freedom from addiction/ Jesus, You have my soul/ Sunday Service on a roll/ All my idols, let ’em go/ All the demons, let ’em know/ This a mission, not a show.” On “Hands On,” West proclaims, “Told God last time on life/ Told the devil that I’m going on a strike.”
Jesus Is King arrived one day after a revealing interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe where West opened up about his struggles with porn and sex addiction, and trying to mend his fractured relationship with Jay-Z; he also professed a commitment to his goals of being a good father, husband and overall good person. The same man heard on “Jesus Walks” has been troubled in the public eye for some time, and needed a savior bigger than himself.
As such, Jesus is King sounds like the baptism of a reformed individual who has come to Jesus. From the jubilant praise heard on the opening track “Every Hour” to the “Hallelujah” chants on “Selah,” the tone is set for a Sunday-worthy soundtrack. Inspired by Bible verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”) and John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life”), the project expresses an anointed attitude of gratitude; it sounds downright radical coming from the lips of Kanye West.
“Closed On Sunday,” a more contemporary Christian rap track, not only sprinkles in shout-outs to Chick-Fil-A, but details West’s new guidelines to living a more fulfilling life: “Raise our sons, train them in the faith/ Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake/ Follow Jesus, listen and obey/ No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” This comes six years after “New Slaves,” which criticized the evolution of racism, and one track before West raps the words “Thirteenth amendment, gotta end it,” on “On God.”
From posing in a red hat next to Donald Trump to his celebrity fallouts and contradictory beliefs, it seemed that wherever ‘Ye was over the past few years, controversy and criticism were bound to follow. Pivoting towards faith-based music isn’t new to modern-day rap — see Snoop Dogg and his 2018 gospel album Bible of Love, or Chance The Rapper’s “Blessings” — yet Jesus is King may not be the glowing endorsement for a saved lifestyle that everyone wants or is ready to hear. Sure, the soundscapes evoke soul claps, the gospel arrangements bring a heavenly touch and collaborators like Ty Dolla $ign, a reunited Clipse, Kenny G and Timbaland increase the album’s mass appeal.
But for an audience who has consistently “cancelled” West, the messenger for enlightened wisdom seems like a misfit — especially when the messenger was wearing a MAGA hat not too long ago. While change is integral to an artist’s professional and personal evolution, this verse-quoting, all-loving Kanye will take some time to get used to, even when his curse words have been cast away.
While West has been known for his share of missteps, he’s continuously stood firm (Yeezys laced) and rapped hard in his truths — even when his message was falling on confused ears. Jesus Is King may not fill up the pews at Church but it could touch a listener in need of an alternative solution or a spiritual remedy. With another album titled Jesus Is Born due on Christmas, it’s evident that there’s an outpouring of religious wisdom flowing out of West — and just like ‘Ye opting for a life led by God, it’s the listener’s choice to press play and abide by his new blessed bars.
On the 2012 cut “Clique” with Big Sean and Jay-Z, West spit a line that seems more relevant today than it did then: “I been talking to God for so long and if you look at my life, I guess He’s talking back.” Consider Jesus Is King a way to open the dialogue.