It’s been fifteen years since Kanye West professed that Jesus Walks. On the lead single from his now-venerated debut album, “The College Dropout,” the rapper, producer and fashion icon rapped about his faith in no uncertain terms. With the very chorus including lines such as “God show me the way because the Devil tryna break me down” there was little Kanye left off his sleeve.
Perhaps that’s why the public reaction to his latest offering, an unequivocally faith-based album, has been so surprising. Christian publications and non-Christian publications alike decry what they have described as a conversion, as if there were no extensive paper trail leading to this moment. Now, Kanye has certainly been no city on a hill or light to the world by any school of contemporary Christian thought. After all, it was just last year that he and fellow rapper Gazzy Garcia, best known by his stage name Lil Pump, released a staunchly profane song titled “I Love It” to celebrate the 2018 Pornhub Awards.
Keep that, and a myriad of other public mishaps and offenses, in mind when considering the public and unconditional rejection that Kanye’s most recent album has been met with from contemporary spokespersons of the faith. And certainly, I can understand denying him the mantle of sainthood. But to subscribe to the second most prominent take, that this is a stunt and he does not believe what he is saying, is not only unhelpful, but irresponsibly hypocritical. There was little to no such skepticism when he placed a MAGA hat on his head and told us to vote for Donald Trump.
Indignation need not be limited to Christians. Those less concerned with the figure of Kanye and more with his music have equally good reason to be disappointed. Regardless of the validity of his statement, the medium is the message — and the medium is substandard at best. “Jesus is King” is the ninth album in West’s discography, and it pales in comparison to its predecessors. Though his raw artistic talent shines through in the record’s best moments (the reunion of rap duo Clipse comes to mind), the hobbled product is a sonically disjointed journey through what can best be described as the beginner’s guide to Christian thought. Less Sunday Service and more Sunday school.
There’s nothing inherently déclassé about a simple, honest gospel-based rap album that spans more wide than deep in its demonstration of the Bible — especially not in comparison to past lyrics Kanye West has put on wax. However, the album conspicuously toes the line between simple and mind-numbing. The chorus of “Water” is a sixteen-bar set of three or four word lines such as “Jesus, please help” and “Jesus, please forgive,” which quickly become grating to listen through. Even during my initial listening to Jesus is King, during which my reaction was cautiously positive, I had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that we were being subjected to lyricism such as “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A / You're my number one, with the lemonade.” I rest my case.
After a slew of short records released in the summer of 2018, Kanye announced that his next album, entitled “Yandhi”, would be released that September. Over a year later, after several leaks indicative of a solid album, we received Jesus is King. At 37 minutes, it has the sound of an album rushed out the door, more intent on making a statement than making a piece of art.
It does not matter if Kanye’s faith is legitimate. We have tolerated far, far more bizarre installments in the saga that is his career. And for the most part, we ought to. The man is an entertainer, not your neighborhood pastor. My only complaint is that he failed to entertain.