Tom Bosher reviews Kanye West’s latest album
In the past Kanye West has embodied his state of soul through music with mastery. Jesus Is King unsurprisingly reflects Kanye’s resurgence of faith, his religion a primary factor in his life. His ‘Sunday Services’ produce irrefutable good vibes. However, this album pushes little past the surface level of these vibes, upheld by the deceptive foundations of a gospel album that in reality veils an ego-centric and rushed project.
The opening track ‘Every Hour’ does sound glorious with West’s Sunday Service Choir providing a bold unifying anthem, making clear this is a gospel album and you can’t help but be okay with it when it sounds so invigorating. Kanye doesn’t feature on the track at all which supposedly illustrates the death of his ego and embrace of Christianity.
But he’s Kanye. His ego couldn’t die if it tried to, and it doesn’t even do that. The album strays off into Kanye-focused territories despite the claim of an ode to Jesus, illustrated clearly by the track ‘Hands On’. Kanye uses faith to defend his self-proclaimed extensive prosecution by other Christians to a blasphemous degree, paralleling the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus to himself. The track is both instrumentally uninteresting and lyrically offers little more than an excuse for Kanye to stray off even further into his egoism.
this album pushes little past the surface level of these vibes, upheld by the deceptive foundations of a gospel album that in reality veils an ego-centric and rushed project
‘Selah’ authoritatively and cinematically sets down the gospel vision, with a sombre organ and thunderous wolf-of-wall-street chest-beating primal drums, followed by wonderful choral waves of “hallelujah”. ‘Selah’ roughly means to lift up, and whilst Kanye’s similarly titled ‘Lift Yourself’ had “scoopdipoop”, this track holds slightly more lyrical value. Expectations were subverted, fans wanted Yandhi but “Jesus Christ did the laundry”, a theme of reform and change is established.
‘Closed on Sunday’ is a prime example of lyrics dragging the track down: “You my Chick-fil-a” is upsettingly stupid. Kanye’s wordplay and comedy have gone far in the past, but he’s stretching his hand way too much. Success may be found in the instrumentation, utilising acoustic guitar which Kanye rarely uses, to produce an ominous tonality warding off temptation, supported by the unnerving synth bass and the alarm sounds toward the end.
Further instrumental greatness can be found on ‘Follow God’ with a telling intro, the “stretch my hands to you” soul sample is followed by a beat that slaps, plain and simple. One of the few tracks on the album that’s enabled to breathe, lyricism and delivery is mostly killer. However, the idea of people like his dad telling him his behaviour “ain’t Christ like” but people not conveying when he is in fact “Christ-like” is an old, retold Kanye-ism that again sways focus onto Kanye rather than Christ. The lyrics remain a cinder block chained to the Michael Phelps of instrumentation.
this is a gospel album and you can’t help but be okay with it when it sounds so invigorating
‘On God’ parallels in instrumental success, with an ecstatic tone of retro synths that create an incredible video-game-like sonic experience, a song that feels as though it has just about fulfilled its innovative design. Alas, the composition is flawed once more by egocentric lyrics: “no I cannot let my family starve”. Kanye’s net-worth is estimated between $240 million and $1 billion, and that’s ignoring his wife’s successes. It’s not too optimistic to suggest his family won’t starve if dad only brings home half the billion-dollar Yeezy pie.
‘Everything We Need’ contains a thrilling chorus of vocals from Ty Dolla $ign who warms hearts like only grandma’s cooking can, alongside construction of a gorgeously tight beat – reminiscent of ‘The Life of Pablo’ – matched with synth and vocals from Ant Clemons. However, the song culminates in yet another suffocation, being only two minutes long and with lyrics fairly vapid and incapable of exploring further than Eve making apple juice for Adam. We literally don’t get ‘everything we need’ on this track.
‘Water’ is an auditory washing machine that attempts to mesmerise you with a spin-cycle of instrumentation, both corny and washed out it’s more like bathing in a dirty pool of wavy space frequencies. Oh, surprise! The muddied-water is further dirtied by the lyrics; tiresome Jesus lines that might as well be dictation of a shopping list for the Messiah’s weekly Tesco trip.
The lyrics remain a cinder block chained to the Michael Phelps of instrumentation
‘God Is’ reaffirms musical faith in Kanye. A moment of clarity on the project; this track represents the ideal amalgam of Kanye authentically waxing lyrical praises to God, alongside an uplifting instrumental and backing from the choir. With a good length and course of development, this is what all the tracks should sound like.
‘Use This Gospel’ sonically holds some value, a repeated car-alarm reminiscent of the barebones eeriness that can be found on Yeezus. However, unlike the mastered minimalism Kanye has achieved with tracks like ‘Runaway’, it plateaus. The texture doesn’t hold its own throughout the track. Lyricism from No-Malice and Pusha-T is flat out great, nevertheless, an awkwardly placed (but still great) Kenny G saxophone solo is presented, followed by a beat that might have provided a whole new texture, but instead ends; another disappointing finish.
Whilst ‘Jesus is Lord’ hosts jubilant warm-toned horns, the track is ultimately a short and muted slap-dash throw-on instead of a triumphant exclamation; a fairly pointless bookend to the album.
This album plays host to a common thread of anti-climactic tracks that do bear some ideas but ultimately demand a major push to utilise the space they’ve created
This album plays host to a common thread of anti-climactic tracks that do bear some ideas but ultimately demand a major push to utilise the space they’ve created so as not to leave us musically blue-balled. There are some sonic streaks of divinity but these exciting streaks of lightning can only redeem the dark storm of rough skeletal sounds and lyricism so far. The preaching of the album is barely quantifiable, thematically holding some substance, but quickly becoming trying. Occasionally tracks are facilitated with a sonic progression, but Kanye denies listeners the infamously crude punchlines to afford his supposed enlightenment. The album fails to deliver an authentic lyrical baptism of Kanye’s Christianity making it a cursory debut to Kanye’s faith.
In the same vein as ye, Jesus Is King seems to be an album for Kanye himself more than anyone else, understanding his own religious revelations but is unable to verbalise them. Kanye both started and sustained his career with a virtually unbeatable competence in sound, which is evident at several points on this album. Nonetheless, Kanye’s vague interpretation of religion casts a shadow over the already shallowly focused ideals of faith presented. Resultantly, the project lacks the depth that so much of Kanye’s music has achieved in the past and may indeed be a sombre signpost to the regression of his highly decorated discography.