The enigmatic and influentialartist Kanye West had one of the best years of his musical career in 2018, producing numerous well-received albums. It was also a controversial year in the public eye. From troubling comments about slavery, his open support of controversial President Donald Trump, and the scrapping of the highly-anticipated album “Yandhi,” West found himself often at the mercy of the public’s critiques.
Despite this, it seems as though West has turned a new leaf. His popular, yet enigmatic, Sunday Service went all across the country (most recently this past Friday in Baton Rouge) starting on the first Sunday of 2019. It features gospel rearrangements of his discography, original songs and classic gospel hits.
Rumors spread that this Sunday Service and accompanying choir would be featured heavily on West’s next album. The title, “JESUS IS KING,” began to surface, yet the album was repeatedly delayed.
But it is finally here. “JESUS IS KING” is a departure from West’s previous work. West brings forth the Sunday Service choir from the first track and sings of God’s mercy, grace and power throughout the brief 27-minute run time.
However, West’s ego and sense of self importance get in the way during several tracks. This results in an album that, while musically brilliant, gets in its own way, and questions the very message it seems to be pushing.
Sonically, the production on the gospel-rap-soul combination on “JESUS IS KING” is phenomenal. Richly layered and beautifully performed gospel lines provide the genetic makeup for many of the tracks West is at the top of his game with his delivery and flow. His singing, surprisingly, is absolutely stunning, with tracks like “Closed on Sunday” and “God Is” allowing him to show these skills in a way that took me by surprise.
There are also some terrific guest artists featured on the album. Ant Clemons, Ty Dolla $ign, Fred Hammond, Kenny G and the aforementioned Sunday Service Choir bring their unique voices and styles. This the album a sense of diversity despite its brevity.
Unfortunately, “JESUS IS KING” struggles lyrically. West who recently called himself the “greatest artist of all time,” in an interview, can’t help but interject with self-obsessed lines about his rising from the metaphorical ashes, and the reactions HE will garner from Christians, on songs like “Hands On.”
In gospel, all the love and attention goes to Jesus. Messages of forgiveness, love, patience and kindness are constantly referred to. For West to interject himself into several of the tracks is simply an exercise of ego in my eyes and muddles the message he is trying to portray.
The best parts of the album come when West speaks purely on God and allows the music to enhance the praise he’s given. Tracks like “God Is,” “Use This Gospel,” and the opening track “Every Hour” are some of my favorite Kanye tracks ever. It’s a shame that West couldn’t resist throwing himself into the message.
If I were to rate “JESUS IS KING” solely on musical production, it would perhaps top my list of favorite Kanye albums. Unfortunately, West’s insistence on reflecting the attention to himself results in an unfocused and confused message that often distracts from the music underneath it.
While not West’s worst effort, “JESUS IS KING” falls short of the rapper’s high standard and fails to become the true gospel album it so desperately wants to be.