Widely-known rapper Kanye West has finally dropped his ninth solo album, Jesus is King, after many delays, dating back to September of last year. West is an artist that needs no introduction, as he has cemented his name in both glory and infamy over the last 15 years. He is responsible for some of hip-hop’s best music of all time, while at the same time being an incendiary character that feuds with other artists, makes outlandish statements and incites controversy.
All opinions regarding the man’s character aside, he has created some amazing and transcendent music over his career as a solo artist. However, many listeners of Kanye have been forced into a dilemma over the years of whether to enjoy his music purely as an art form, rather than as a personal reflection of him. And while people who try to moralize art are often hyperbolic, with Kanye, “separating the artist from the art” is as hard as it gets.
West’s music often deals with many introspective themes and usually delivers some sort of personal belief, philosophy or fantasy (in the case of 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). In many ways, the key to fully enjoying his music is to be on board with what he says in his lyrics — which can be a rollercoaster.
Kanye super-fans seem to be really into it. Many of these same people have rationalized his recent antics by telling other people to just pay attention to the music. So, to be fair, let’s play that game and pay attention to the music.
With Jesus is King, Kanye has given audiences across the world his worst album by a wide margin. And no, this has nothing to do with the departure he makes from secular music into the land of Christian rap, at least on the surface.
West has flirted with gospel many a time over his career, with songs like “Jesus Walks,” “Never Let Me Down” and “Ultralight Beam” being some of his best. The problem is that his approach to gospel music this time comes off as cheap, amateurish, tasteless and reductive.
The first legitimate song on the album comes in the form of “Selah,” which is instrumentally dramatic and features grand choir vocals bellowing “hallelujah” over a bridge in-between Kanye’s verses. It’s fairly weak as a chorus but not harsh on the ears. The flow that Kanye exhibits on the song is the sharpest and catchiest on the entire album. It’s a decent song, even if some of the lyrics are a bit overly dramatic.
The track “Follow God” comes next and has classic Kanye fingerprints all over it. The track features some of the better lyrics on the album as well, although the bar isn’t set exactly high. The standard for what qualifies as a good verse has generally been declining ever since the start of this decade for Kanye, but on this album, it has plummeted. What really undercuts this song is how short it is, at just 90 seconds long.
Through three songs, the album is not horrible but not exactly fireworks either. Where the project really tanks in quality is when “Closed on Sunday” arrives. Look no further than the lyrics in the chorus to see how ridiculous the song is.
The track embodies the entire album as a whole, because again, the beat is not bad. But the song comes across as vacant due to the sickening level of throwaway bars there are. Almost every verse on the record is filler, and “Closed on Sunday” is no exception.
“On God” is a track worth mentioning because it’s the album’s most shameless display of squandered potential. The beat is awesome, masterminded by Pierre Bourne, and sounds like an adventure through a futuristic video game world. It’s hypnotically fun, but West’s stale flow and garbage bars about why he charges so much for his shows and merchandise are not.
Listeners are then faced with a stretch of mediocre, mostly inconsequential songs with either weak structures or terrible singing. The best of these is “Everything We Need,” which features some great vocal harmonies from Ty Dolla $ign.
The only noteworthy song near the end of this album is “Use this Gospel (feat. Clipse and Kenny G).” Clipse, made up of brothers Pusha T and No Malice, returns as a duo for the first time in years and far surpasses West in terms of lyrical ability and performance. Kenny G adds a wonderful sax solo towards the end of the song, making it easily the most fulfilling track on the album.
One final thing to note before the album can be forgotten in West’s catalog is that the mixing on the project is hideous. Even the best songs on this album suffer from lazy mixing where the vocals sound muffled, the drums sound thin and the rhythms don’t allow for the beat compositions to shine through.
Hearing the album as someone who has tremendous respect for West as an artist is difficult, mostly because of one thing: It sounds inauthentic. Sure, it has a plethora of other issues that are easily measurable, but it’s mind-boggling how a man of West’s artistic vision could drop a project of such gutless nature.
Jesus Is King sounds and feels sickly, barely developed and hardly thought out. It’s become clear that the fine line West has toed between being hinged and unhinged has been crossed, and it’s not a pretty sight.