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Jesus is King – a review of Kanye’s new album

Justin Barber
4 min read

In my last email I drew comparisons between how companies and churches play a role in my life, reflecting on the ways they make me feel like I am or I am not enough.

I was going to build on that concept in this email, but then Kanye West dropped a new album called Jesus is King and, well, you know I have to talk about that.

Yes, the same Kanye who topped the charts earlier this year by singing

“You’re such a fuckin’ ho, I love it / I’m a sick fuck, I like a quick fuck”

just released a Gospel album, where he sings lines like:

“From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door / You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name”

In a two hour interview with Zane Lowe (bet I watched the whole thing), Kanye explains the seemingly sudden change in his creative direction:

“Now that I’m in service to Christ, my job is to spread the gospel, to let people know what Jesus has done for me.”

Kanye’s new expression of faith was met with a heavy dose of skepticism by critics, primarily because they felt that the lyrics on Jesus is King are shallower than a kiddie pool:

“Beyond superficial gestures at biblical references and the capitalist leanings of American prosperity gospel, there is virtually no indication here as to what it means to follow Jesus.” – Pitchfork

“Where past records found West battling a more tangled interiority, Jesus Is King…is an album of simple Christian platitudes.” – Wired

“He does not make a sustained case for God…by staying gauzy and aphoristic, strident and coy, he’s able to evade difficult questions about whether, for example, his affection for Chick-fil-A comes with a side of bigotry.” – The Atlantic

I can understand why these critics feel like the album is superficial – compared to how Kanye grapples with his inner demons and bears his tortured soul in prior work, Jesus is King can feel simplistic.

But what these critics don’t understand is that Jesus is King is fundamentally a worship album. In other words, the album isn’t about Kanye, it’s about God.

It’s well documented from his body of work that Kanye has been on a long, introspective spiritual journey. Along the way his focus has shifted from inwards to outwards, from himself to Jesus. The outcome of that journey is plain and simple worship.

In acts of worship, it’s not the words that hold depth but rather the experiential truth wrapped inside of them. So when Kanye cries out on God Is

“Every man, every woman / There is freedom from addiction / Jesus, you have my soul”

It may sound trite. But as Kanye revealed to Zane Lowe, he’s started to experience freedom from a sex addiction that took root when he first saw a Playboy magazine at five years old.

When Kanye speaks over a stripped down, ambient choir on Water

“Jesus, flow through us / Jesus, heal the bruises / Jesus, clean the music / Jesus, please use us / Jesus, please help / Jesus, please heal / Jesus, please forgive / Jesus, please reveal / Jesus, give us strength / Jesus, make us well / Jesus, help us live / Jesus, give us wealth / Jesus is our safe / Jesus is our rock / Jesus, give us grace / Jesus, keep us safe”

Is he stringing together Christian cliches, or chanting a meditative prayer? I know at the lowest points in my life the only words I could summon were “Jesus please help.”

In perhaps the only moment of real tension on the album, Kanye ends Follow God with an exasperated scream:

“I woke up this morning, I said my prayers / I’m all doing good, I tried to talk to my dad / Give him some advice, he starts spazzin’ on me / I start spazzin’ back, he said “that ain’t Christ-like” / I said, AHHH!”

Last week a coworker kept interrupting me in a meeting and I spazzed out – I raised my voice in frustration and expressed anger towards him each time he cut me off. Shortly after the meeting I apologized, but in the moment I felt the tension between knowing what is Christ-like and actually choosing to be Christ-like. I didn’t make the right choice in that meeting. But facing that duality often feels just like Kanye described: AHHH!

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