Kanye West has been called many things. At one point, he was regarded a hip-hop genius. Later, some people saw him as this egotistical narcissist unable to discern whether he’s on the wrong side of history (i.e. that whole business with Trump) or not.
His latest character incarnation as secular music artist is most interesting. Kanye has actually announced from henceforth that he will only be making such music, laying the foundation to that claim by releasing a full album of music professing devotion to the Savior.
Gospel-mode Kanye West—how does that go?
Well, it opens, er, righteously with a choir; in this case, the Sunday Service Choir (from Los Angeles) singing “Every Hour” in just piano and vocals. The choral hallelujahs continue with the rap messenger doing his thing on “Selah” where he goes “Everybody wanted Yandhi/then Jesus Christ did the laundry.”
As with every Kanye album, we look forward to the composer’s knack for cutting up other’s music. He gets to it early on the album with “Follow God.” Naturally he samples from gospel music and when he gets to setting the beats, you just know its classic Kanye.
Then the album segues onto “Closed On Sunday,” a minor-key nylon acoustic guitar romp coupled with vocal pads and wavetable synths. Here, Kanye goes “Close on a Sunday/You my Chick-fil-A/You’re my number one/With the lemonade.” The brand is a popular fast food joint known for its Christian roots.
The 80’s retro wave synths gush out “On God,” where Kanye credits “That’s why I charge the prices that I charge/I can’t be out here dancing with the stars.”
Then we get some Boyz II Men-like harmonies on the intro of “Everything We Need” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons. The latter is also heard on the sweet sounding pop-funky-gospel amalgam “Water” that is practically a personal prayer by Kanye.
Of course, any gospel themed album is bound to have a Percy Sledge-sounding soloist in it and that happens on Psalm-like “God Is.” That’s Kanye singing and extra points go to the Etta James-like vocalist that opens the song.
Kanye keeps things short on “Jesus Is King.” Clocking in only at 27 minutes with 11 songs. But it’s full to the brim of musical Kanye-isms that those who’ve followed the MC all these years won’t be disappointed.
Sure, there’s no bombastic single that the album can lean on. But take on any track from this album and it stands on its own. Hotspots include the wavetable-molded sounds in “Hands On” (featuring Fred Hammond) where Kanye pronounces “tell the devil I’m going on strike.” Over a one-note bed, Kanye manages to squeeze in some sound bending and vocal manipulations on “Use This Gospel” and lay down a lot of his hopes and fears at the same time. Rapper Clipse is featured here and that New York-city night saxophone solo is by Kenny G.
Surprisingly, the whole Jesus is King schtick by Kanye actually doesn’t get old. By the time last track “Jesus Is Lord” comes in, we still want Kanye to surprise us with a cool sample, a nifty sounding track or some close-to-heart profession.
All good things must come to an end. But judging by the music here, Kanye West’s faith could be eternal.