by Jason Hewitt
[originally published 11/15/19]
*Long, deep sigh…* I miss the old Kanye. He’s certainly been on a different and more problematic wave than he rode in the past, and it’s been a heartbreaking transition to see for many of his (former) fans. However, he still has a massive fanbase worldwide, one that doesn’t seem to mind his “outspokenness” on topics such as Donald Trump, what his wife wears in public, and now, his views on Jesus Christ. Kanye has interacted with Christianity for his entire career, so a gospel album isn’t something that is completely surprising from him.
“Jesus is King,” has been one of the most heavily anticipated records of 2019. Kanye has been quiet on the music front since his last collaborative album with Kid Cudi, “Kids See Ghosts.” This beautiful project received heavy praise from both fans and music critics alike, and for good reason. Sure, Kanye was still repping Trump as much as he could, but at least the record had quality production and sound. Kid Cudi also had a lot to do with the execution of the album: he definitely played a huge role in the wavy production, catchy hooks, and decent lyricism which allowed “Kids See Ghosts” to be a quality project that was widely enjoyed. Since then, everyone has been looking forward to seeing what Kanye does next musically.
To promote his gospel album, Kanye had viral videos of himself conducting gospel choirs, and honestly, the music sounded beautiful. As somebody who played guitar in Baptist churches in the South, I know what gospel music sounds like. I have been in sanctuaries where people have caught the Holy Ghost and started dancing around the altar because of the power that church music can provide. That’s what gospel music is supposed to do. Do you remember that feeling when you heard Ultralight Beam for the first time? That’s what I wanted to see from this album. Unfortunately, that feeling isn’t what the public received from Kanye with “Jesus is King.” The album is lacking in so many areas, and it is my absolute pleasure to tell you exactly why it isn’t a quality gospel album.
Generally, one of the things that’s most disappointing about the album is that it felt like one huge pump fake. It started off on a high note with the song “Every Hour.” In the song, the “Sunday Service Choir” belts out beautiful melodies while praising God behind some very solid production. It had that rich and lively gospel sound that is all too familiar, and I was 100% with it. One thing that I’ll give Kanye some credit for is the production. He very rarely misses on production, so I figured that wouldn’t be the issue with this album. With a strong intro, I figured that I was in for a wonderful listening experience…. However....
Kanye started rapping on the following track. That’s when everything went south. The biggest problem with “Jesus is King” lies is in the fact that Kanye does not say anything worthwhile. How is this man talking about GOD in the most basic and lackluster ways imaginable? If Kanye is going to produce a gospel album, I’m expecting deep bars about God and how great he is. A significant amount of Kanye’s rapping is about… himself. Sounds about Kanye, right? This pattern of good production and wack bars continued throughout the entire album, and it was extremely frustrating to listen to. It felt as though every track was (almost) there, but each of them was just missing something, and that “something” was Kanye. He didn’t bring it lyrically, and that’s where the album significantly lacks. Ty Dolla $ign, Kenny G, and gospel legend Fred Hammond contributed to the album, and even they couldn’t save it.
If I were to grade the album on a scale from one to ten, I would give it a four or a five. It wasn’t a complete and total mess, but it definitely doesn’t come close to the masterpieces he’s released in the past. This man made “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam.” With those beautiful gospel influenced tracks, I expected more. Music is subjective, so don’t let my review stop you from listening to it. If you really want my take, though, he doesn’t deserve another dime.