Kanye preaches to the choir

Ninth studio album follows Gospel


Album art for “Jesus Is King”

Spencer Batute, @batutie_

From 808s to 3:16, legendary rapper and hip-hop producer Kanye West has covered plenty of ground throughout his musical career. West presents his spiritual journey and renewed faith in God in his ninth studio album, “Jesus Is King,” released Oct. 25.

The most significant aspect of this new record is that it is entirely Christian; the project is based on the Gospel and features no curse words.

This religious direction, though outside the scope of Kanye’s previous projects, is not entirely unexpected. Kanye has dabbled with increasingly Christian themes in recent memory, most notably on 2016’s “The Life of Pablo” (see “Ultralight Beam”).

And while the Bible-based lyrical content does border on Jesus-freak territory and ventures into some controversial lands (Kanye endorses Chick-fil-A and mentions abolishing the Thirteenth Amendment), it is nothing more than Kanye doing what Kanye does best — going against the grain. If Kanye’s art is nothing else than fighting norms, this album certainly does the job.

No less, although I don’t ascribe to religion anywhere near that which Kanye does on this album, I understand his spiritual fervor in light of his struggles with mental health.

The Christian theme also bleeds deeply into the actual music of this record. The 11-song, 27-minute tracklisting is heavily influenced by gospel music. From the jubilant cries of the Sunday Service Choir featured on “Every Hour” to the celestial ‘hallelujah’s’ on “Selah,” the influence of traditional gospel music is felt.

Influence or no, “Jesus Is King” is not simply an uninspired rehash of old gospel hymns and tropes. Kanye adds his own spin on the music, ensuring good dynamics both in mood and instrumentation.

The elated tone of “Every Hour” and “Jesus Is Lord” contrasts sharply with the darker, grittier timbre of songs like “Selah” and “Closed on Sunday.”

Kanye also ensures a mix of traditional gospel choir and instrumentation, as seen on songs like “God Is,” with a healthy amount of synthesized instrumentals as seen in “On God.”

Kanye’s iconic knack for finding fantastic samples is still very much alive on this record; at times, his choice of samples reminded me of something I’d hear earlier in his career, as with the soulful, catchy vocal samples on “Follow God” and “God Is.”

The featured artists are decent: Ty Dolla $ign, a frequent collaborator; up-and-coming vocalist Ant Clemons; a revival of Clipse, rap duo of Pusha T and younger brother No Malice; and a surprising but welcome saxophone solo from Kenny G, are among those featured.

Kanye’s awkward humor also lives on, as seen on his tangent about his father and his signature screech at the end of “Follow God,” or his screaming “Chick-fil-A” toward the end of “Closed on Sunday.”

All that said, “Jesus Is King” is by no means a perfect album, or even a great one. Kanye’s lyrics are sometimes painfully awkward — see “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A. You’re my number one, with the lemonade.” His flow is also stunted and uneven — this was disappointing, especially coming off the heels of his renewed vocal vigor with the 2018 release of “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” and “ye.”

And, though I’ve defended the religious subject matter of the album, it’s still fairly one-dimensional. There’s only so much Jesus I can personally take in a record without detaching.

If you’re either a Kanye West acolyte or a Gospel guru, I would give “Jesus Is King” a listen. It’s new music, and marks a somewhat fresh direction for Kanye. But for the average music listener, I might skip over this release and hold out until Kanye’s next project.