If I was asked to describe my ideal gospel album, it would have the exact same DNA as JESUS IS KING. Straight rapping, monumental choir-based production and an unabashed embrace of modern hip-hop sounds, while at the same time featuring proud, outward praise towards God and his teachings.
In theory, I should have loved JESUS IS KING. The 9th studio album from one of my all-time favourite artists that centres on the religion where I finally found myself in 2 years ago, but my actual reaction couldn’t be further from it.
Kanye has always been an eccentric character. His numerous controversies have turned me off from him time and time again, but even after a string of tumultuous album release cycles, the eventual drop of actual music has always been the port in the storm of Mr West’s (fairly) illustrious career.
However, this album had the exact opposite effect from me compared to his prior material. Instead of joy and admiration, I was filled with disappointment and guilt.
Coming off the heels of his very controversial 8th album ye and the whirlwind that was the 5-week Wyoming projects, fans were well-fed with all things Kanye. Yet, just when everyone thought that we would finally be spared from his media onslaught, he announced his next studio album — Yandhi, would be released on 29/9/2018.
Despite Yandhi being nowhere in sight, Kanye welcomed 2019 with his now-conspicuous Sunday Service performances. Enlisting the help of a massive choir, the performances feature gospel renditions of Kanye’s past hits or songs that aren’t his own like “Sicko Mode” or “I Would Die 4 U“.
Reimagining established songs into church-friendly versions of themselves is a trope that is well established in Black Baptist Churches, and Kanye’s Sunday Service brought it mainstream attention.
Then, nearly a full year of touring around America and across multiple churches, his wife, Kim Kardashian announces JESUS IS KING, complete with very Christian-inspired song titles.
Kanye has never shied away from Christianity in his music. One of his first breakthroughs was “Jesus Walks”, also claimed that The Life of Pablo was a ‘gospel album’, plus the strong Christian themes on his Kid Cudi collab album — KIDS SEE GHOSTS.
When the album finally reared its head on 29/10/2019, reactions were split from fans and haters and everyone else in between. Everyone had an opinion on JESUS IS KING, for better or for worse.
I hated the record on release.
Musically, it was subpar and decidedly barebones when compared to anything that Kanye had ever put out. It also didn’t help that a majority of Yandhi leaked weeks prior and featured much more fleshed out, pre-Christian revamps of songs such as “Everything We Need”, “Hands On” and “Use This Gospel” that eventually found their way onto JESUS IS KING.
Lyrically, it’s very reminiscent to established gospel music, where their thematic content emphasises worship and a glorifying of God.
Similar to the expectations for ye, fans expected an explanation or be given his motivations on Kanye’s ever erratic personal life choices. Yet, they were disappointed once again. Barely touching upon such themes, all Kanye did was what he set out to do — worship.
Of course, JIK is ultimately a gospel record and its purpose is to spread the teachings of Christ, bring about salvation to non-believers and fundamentally entertain people with positive messages and values.
And the album did just that, as it exposed the religion to many facets of society that otherwise would have rejected any notion of Christianity if it was delivered by anyone else other than controversy extraordinaire Kanye West.
Being a Christian myself, it was refreshing to watch Kanye outwardly embrace his beliefs. It almost felt as if a huge part of my secular life managed to find its way and fused together with my spiritual one.
Said I’m finna do a gospel album
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me
– “Hands On”, Kanye West
However, deep down, I vehemently refused to believe in him.
I’m far from a perfect Christian. Sinning is like second nature to me on most days and my understanding of the gospel is rudimentary at best. At times, it’s also a struggle to admit that I’m Christian to people I just meet. The allure of worldly attractions has always been an obstacle I often fail to surpass.
I find it difficult to be proud of my Christian faith, so watching a man arrogantly ravage his way through life while being newly unapologetically faithful to his religion have awakened something in me.
Ever since my conversion to Christianity, I’ve struggled to explain why I made the decision, be it to myself or to others. Often I’ve been told that there doesn’t need to be a reason as long as you truly believe in God, but the desire to justify myself constantly gnawed at me.
My journey hasn’t been an easy one and watching someone of Kanye’s notoriety do the same just sowed seeds of doubt into my mind. His quick and full embrace of Christianity made me… jealous.
Slowly I realised that I judged Kanye because I was insecure about the strength of my faith.
Going into JIK, I was expecting Kanye to put into words what I could never voice out myself. That despite everything, I was still looking for answers for why I turned to Christianity and ignorantly believed that Kanye somehow had a solution for me.
Calling myself misled is nothing short of an understatement.
Why I chose to anchor my religious growth to a rapper halfway across the world who doesn’t even know I exist, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s because I’ve always idolized him as an artist, or that deep down I wished to be as abrasively proud of my religion as much as he is.
Still, seeing that I’m about to write this article to its conclusion, I’d like to believe that God has ever so slightly led me back on the right track.
JESUS IS KING was a scapegoat for all the faults I saw in my spiritual life.
I’m struggling to follow faithfully the Word? Kanye’s love for God is only a phase. He’ll be back to his debauchery soon enough.
My understanding of the gospel isn’t as strong as I want it to be? Kanye’s lyrics are superficial at best, he probably only knows as much about as the Bible as I do.
Embarrassed by my penchant to sin? Kanye is preaching his own brand of prosperity gospel and that’s a sin my book.
My disappointment in the album musically only fueled my egotistical beatdown of both the record and Kanye. It blinded me, warped my perception and prior knowledge of everything I knew Christianity to be.
It’s easy to forage about for low branches to grab on to distract myself from the fact that I was running from my shortcomings. The album is flawed. Kanye is flawed. I’m no different but by projecting my guilt onto JIK, I unwittingly deceived myself into believing that I still had the spiritual high ground.
Though looking back now, my outrage towards the record did spark a series of self-reflections on both my personal and spiritual life, ultimately leading up to this very article.
I can finally appreciate JIK for what it is now. An imperfect, but serviceable offering by a conservative contrarian who guilt-tripped me into wanting to become a better Christian without lifting a single finger or even knowing of my existence.
God really does work in mysterious ways.