While most Kanye West albums receive universal praise, his latest work, “Jesus is King,” is much more of a cult classic. Not in the sense it will find limited appeal to a small group of people who swear by it, but because you have to be in an actual cult to enjoy this album.
Through its 11 tracks and 27 minute run-time, Kanye takes us on a journey on how to be selfish in the most annoying way possible. Kanye wants to fool you into thinking this is a Christian album, using gospel vocals and throwing around “Jesus” like Offset throws around “Patek.” What this album really does is outline Kanye’s success—half-heartedly attributing it to Jesus without ever providing a good explanation as to how Christianity actually helped him. “Jesus is King” obfuscates the meaning of Christianity in Kanye’s life much more than it enlightens. You know you’ve made a bad Christian rap album when, at the end of it, I start to wonder if you’re actually Christian.
If you told me this album was made by Joel Olsteen, I’d believe it. This is televangelist music. This is donate thousands of dollars to a mega-church in exchange for salvation music. This is the type of music that would make Martin Luther nail notices on people’s doors telling them to turn this trash off. Jesus would flip tables if he heard this music. Christian values of modesty and humbleness are completely absent from the subtext of the lyrics. Instead, everything revolves around why Kanye personally feels persecuted and why he should be able to do whatever he wants without repercussions—all while using Jesus as a shield.
Speaking of the lyrics, they are bad. Even if the message of the album was droll, I might excuse it if the lyrics weren’t so subpar. Kanye combines the worst of two bad types of lyrics in this album. Co-opting the meaninglessness of bars from rappers like Gunna without any of the fun and the corniness of Big Sean lyrics without any of the self-awareness—all with a shiny Jesus wrapping paper. His now infamous line, “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A,” is both corny and means absolutely nothing. This album would only be slightly worse if Kanye scoop-di-whoop’d his way through every song, and some songs arguably would be improved by this.
Kanye adds almost nothing vocally on a lot of the tracks. His flow is nice on “Selah” and his singing works well on “God Is”—almost tricking you into thinking it’s a heartfelt song until the end where he humble-brags about how successful he is under the guise of a thank-you letter to God. Any other highlights, however, solely belong to his guest features. Ty Dolla $ign, Ant Clemons and Fred Hammond dominate their songs with beautiful vocals that finally make use of the high quality production.
What’s so frustrating about this album is how listenable it is despite all of the flaws. The production and background vocals carry this burdensome album on its back like a cross all the way to its endpoint—the only good tribute this album gives to Jesus. It feels sacrilegious that beats on songs like the Pierre Bourne co-produced “On God” were wasted so Kanye could cry about the IRS wanting taxes and to justify selling $100 tee-shirts. Even still, the quality of production also feels weaker than peak Kanye beats, so there’s no real reason to listen to this album more than once, even if it is listenable enough to sit through.
The wasted potential of a Kanye West Christian album is the most shameful part of “Jesus is King.” Anyone who’s ever heard “Jesus Walks” or “Ultralight Beam” knows that Kanye can craft a good Christian rap song, so whatever missteps led to this mess of an album feel extra disappointing. Lecrae proved you can still make a great Christian rap album in the secular age with his 2018 release “Let The Trap Say Amen,” and I highly recommend you go listen to that instead. Don’t let Kanye trick you into putting money in his tithe if he’s not even going to give a proper sermon first.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.