Kanye West has never been one to shy away from controversy. From posing as Jesus on a Rolling Stone cover to his on-again, off-again feud with Taylor Swift, West has long been the most polarizing figure in music. Earlier this year, West drew a lot of attention for his weekly Sunday Service events, where he performed gospel arrangements of his old songs and previewed new songs for his latest album, Jesus Is King. After months of speculation and multiple missed release dates, the album was finally released this past Friday, along with a short film detailing the Sunday Service experience.
While West has always been known for reinventing his sound stylistically with each album, Jesus Is King is truly unlike anything he has ever made. West has always made his relationship with God known throughout his career, with songs such as “Jesus Walks,” “Heard ‘Em Say,” and “Ultralight Beam” being sprinkled in throughout his discography. This album, however, is 100 percent non-secular music, which is a first for West. The gospel influence is strong throughout the album, with choral arrangements and melancholic organs being used frequently, along with the soul samples that contributed to West’s signature production style. As far as the content itself, West speaks on his rediscovered faith and its effect on his life. At a Sunday Service event a month before the album’s release, West stated, “This album has been made to be an expression of the gospel and to share the gospel and the truth of what Jesus has done to me. When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all that he does for me, my soul cries out.”
As a whole, Jesus Is King is very cohesive and flows smoothly like an actual church service. The Sunday Service Choir kicks off the album with “Every Hour,” detailing the importance of the Lord in believer’s lives. From there, West takes the pulpit to give his sermon. West details his spiritual awakening in “Selah,” comparing himself to Noah due to the intense scrutiny and criticism he has endured throughout his career. As the album progresses, it goes from a traditional gospel sound to more moody, atmospheric beats that sound like something off of Yeezus or The Life Of Pablo. Despite this, the lyrical content does not change, continuing with the themes of faith and Christianity. Songs such as “Follow God” and “On God” feature uptempo, bumping beats as West discusses his struggle to live a Christian lifestyle with all of the hardships that God presents him. Other tracks such as “Water” see West proclaiming how involved God is in his life, using water as a theme of purity and cleansing of sin. On “Use This Gospel,” West reunites Virginia Beach duo Clipse for only the second time since No Malice publicly converted to Christianity. While he and Pusha T trade bars about atoning for their sins, jazz legend Kenny G joins in with a soulful saxophone solo.
If anything, Jesus Is King showcases West’s ability to do the unpredictable. For an artist who is constantly criticized for his ego, West’s latest output is practically a declaration of anti-egoism. As West puts it, “The more I am in service to God I just clear my head and just wake up more empty every day and let God do the driving and just use me as he may.”