“JESUS IS KING” was finally released on Oct. 25. After weeks of delays and anticipation, Kanye West’s ninth official studio album shocked the world with its new style, a big change from his previous work.
As you can tell by the title, “JESUS IS KING” is a gospel-style album. West has always been expressive about his faith, all the way back to his album “The College Dropout” with the song “Jesus Walks.”
But this album is different. This is an entire album dedicated to how Kanye is establishing himself as a family man and a religious man. Interestingly, West does not curse whatsoever in this album, as part of his new identity.
The album begins with a performance by the Sunday Service choir in “Every Hour.” West has no vocals on this song, likely to demonstrate to listeners who expected another standard rap album that this is anything but.
From the intro, there is a hard cut into “Selah,” by far my favorite track on the album. The song begins with a slow organ chord, then West begins, accompanied by a smooth violin at a slightly higher pitch than the organ.
With each line, West’s vocals intensify, and the organ rises, octave by octave. The excitement builds with each line and on my first listen, the sudden pounding of the drums gave me actual chills.
The beating of the drums emphasizes his last few stanzas until West cuts out and we are reintroduced to the Sunday Service choir, this time chanting “Hallelujah.” The chants begin at a quiet, low intensity, but they quickly build back to the previous level, then fade out as West begins his second verse. They return in force with the drums and end with an energetic vocal outburst that fades out in a more typical transition into the next song.
“Follow God” has a more standard West beat, with a ’70s sample complemented by a steady bass and keyboard with the drums and high hits providing some complexity. West takes no breaks during the song, rapping continuously until the outro, nearly a minute and a half later. Again, the transition is bizarre. West ends his song with a heavily autotuned scream, which contrasts directly to the opening of “Closed on Sunday,” a melodic acoustic guitar riff that is accompanied by a humming.
“Closed on Sunday” is perhaps most well-known for its opening line “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-Fil-A.” Although the rest of the song has a thoughtful, melodic vibe, it’s hard to get past the unexpected reference to the American chain.
“On God” is an electric, upbeat performance by West about his rise to stardom in connection with his faith. West does not dig deep with this song lyrically nor stylistically, so it is a shame that the energetic beat is wasted on one of the weaker tracks in the album.
“Everything We Need” is an excellent song, although it has little substance, clocking in at just under two minutes, with the majority of the song being empty space or ad-libs. The chorus by Ty Dolla $ign an
d Ant Clemons is hauntingly beautiful in an autotuned sort of way.
The song is followed by “Water,” again featuring Clemons, whose melodic vocals ease the listener into serenity as West begins what seems to be a prayer in the style of a spoken word poem. This is another one of my favorite songs, simply for the easy listening vibe–something unexpected in a West album.
“God Is” shows off an often unheard sound: West singing. Later in the song, he becomes more emphatic, but continues to sing his heart out. It transitions smoothly both from “Water” and to the following song “Hands On.” This track features a slow beat and melody reminiscent of Frank Ocean. West is speaking to his faith and about the trials he overcame in his journey to religion.
“Use This Gospel” is the penultimate track on the album, and is an excellent balance between hip-hop and gospel. The rap features by Pusha-T and No Malice in combination with West’s hymnal chorus create something unique. The simple beat and humming by West complement the lyrics without distracting from them.
The outro is a simple eight-line stanza from West, but it is accompanied by a fantastic brass arrangement that harmonizes with the religious lyrics in an ornate manner befitting of a conclusion to a West album.
“JESUS IS KING” is undeniably a gospel album. But it also has enough West characteristics to keep long-time fans listening, regardless of their religious preference. His devotion to faith is more than evident, as every song either directly references the Bible or West’s faith in some way or another.
But nowhere in the album does he attempt to proselytize his listeners. All West has done is create something that speaks to him and his journey with faith. Whether he will return to previous styles in his future albums is unknown, but if there’s one thing you can count on with West, it’s his unpredictability.