After putting Yandhi on ice and some uncharacteristic radio silence that only served to build anticipation, Kanye West finally dropped Jesus Is King.
A combination of fans left wanting more from Ye, the mounting hype surrounding the Sunday Service Choir who have been taking the public by storm, as well as the possibility that there could be an entire album riding the same triumphant and uplifting vibes of ‘Ultralight Beam’ — it all promised something spectacular. And yet I can’t help but feel as if it falls short of expectations.
What it gets right…
Thematically, it’s bold, distinct, and best of all, consistent. Probably the most consistent in regards to its concept of all of Kanye’s works since 808s & Heartbreaks. The production is brilliant, first and foremost. It’s richly textured by layers of samples so precise and infectious, as per the Kanye sonic signature. And talk about an all-star lineup. Everyone from the legendary Mike Dean, Timbaland, Benny Blanco, Pi’erre Bourne, Ty Dolla Sign, and Clipse all have a hand in this end product. Even still, these praiseworthy aspects can only mitigate so much of the failures found in Jesus Is King.
What it gets wrong…
Ever read something late at night and feel your eyes just glaze over? Whatever the auditory version of this sensation is — that’s apparently been the experience of many, including myself, upon first contact with Jesus Is King as an entire work.
As thematically bold, distinct, and consistent as it may be, this serves as no more than icing over a bland and deflated spongecake. It took a total of five in-depth listening sessions to discern which tracks could even be considered the stand-outs. Though it was immediately obvious which definitely didn’t make the cut. Closed On Sunday was pretty much a single corny dad joke sustained across the course of a track. “Ha ha, yes. I get it. The person is Chick-fil-A because Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. Well done.”
It’s moments like this where the theme of spiritual redemption and finding God feels almost purely cosmetic. There’s no deeper atonement with the self, no profound truths to be found. It just feels like what we’re really getting is watered down Kanye with a gospel choir backing him up. Around the third listen the grim realisation dawned… ‘Ultralight Beam’ alone is stronger and more revelatory than the entirety of Jesus Is King.
The bottom line…
Jesus Is King is an alright album. With sleek and shiny production, strong talent, and so-so lyricism (sure), it tries to bring something new to the table. And as a bonus, it’s positioned in a way that it won’t age too poorly. But “alright” isn’t an option with an artist of this calibre, especially someone that’s largely been a genre-defying hip-hop darling. “Alright” is, in this case, synonymous with off the mark. And therein lies the problem.
The album is guilty of being made for the sake of being made. The flair and sincerity that drew us towards Kanye throughout all these years is missing, and no — it has nothing to do with the subject matter. Prince also discovered religion sometime in his career, but he still stepped up to the plate and smashed it out of the park.
What it essentially comes down to is a lack of heart and soul in something where heart and soul should not only be paramount — but naturally inherent. Instead, we’re left with something that more closely resembles self-indulgence and gimmick. It feels like he doesn’t care as much anymore. And as for the fans? We’re left stranded in some wildly parodic show about a man far too in love with his own story, designed to be digested one TMZ headline at a time.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be bumping bootleg recordings of the Sunday Service Choir’s Coachella set. And what I imagined Jesus Is King was going to be here.