Rapper Kanye West dropped his ninth studio album JESUS IS KING on Oct. 25; it’s one of the most controversial albums of all time.
JESUS IS KING reached No. 1 on the US Billboard 200, tying Eminem’s record for the most consecutive studio albums to debut at number one. Kanye also achieved a career-first by snagging the top spots on both the Top Christian Album and Top Gospel Album charts. In total, Kanye’s album went to No. 1 on 22 different Billboard charts, and all eleven songs from the album entered Billboard’s Hot 100.
Kanye West’s latest work marks his first religious record, though it’s not his first time declaring Christianity. He won his first of now 21 Grammys with his 2004 hit “Jesus Walks” from his debut album The College Dropout. Kanye raps about how Jesus “walks” with every kind of person while also reflecting on his own relationship with God. Kanye also discusses his relationship with Christianity on several tracks on his 2016 album The Life of Pablo, including the star-studded “Ultralight Beam”.
Endorsing Christianity through mainstream music has shaken the community like an earthquake before, but JESUS IS KING brings an accompanying tsunami that has poured out praise and support yet also strong skepticism and condemnation.
According to the Observer’s Instagram poll, 50% of 116 AC students have or have not listened to the album. 42% love the album, while 58% think Kanye’s faith is insincere. The poll also found that 48% think Kanye is just being controversial, whereas 52% express optimism so long as his faith has genuinely changed him and has helped him find peace.
Here’s what other AC students think of Kanye releasing a Gospel album:*
Water polo athlete and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship member MICHAEL MARKS (’23) found the album “. . . very uplifting and was quite honestly something I felt people needed to hear. Something positive in a world that is increasingly negative.”
Co-President of Student Democrats and ASC tutor NICK FREDERICK (’20) hasn’t listened to the album but in general thinks Kanye “. . . is overrated and creates controversy to try to sell more merchandize albums and the like. I’d be surprised if this was a genuine life change for him.”
HOLLY KAPP (’20), a Scarborough Writing tutor and the Catholic Student Association President, said this: “I was pretty surprised [by the album], but I follow a lot of Catholic Insta accounts and they were blowing up about it, so I decided to listen to it–I was pleasantly surprised I liked it! I haven’t listened to all of it yet, but I think it’s promising!” When asked why she found the album surprising–was it because he’s considered controversial or because he’s a mainstream rapper releasing a Gospel album?–she thought it was a combination of both.
Finally, Scarborough Writing tutor LESLIE ERWIN (’21) said this: “Just from the concept and rumors, I am left wondering if this is all part of a publicity stunt. Not having heard the music, I cannot speak on its quality, but I know Kanye has been featured in many public controversies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was another commentary or place for exploitation of morals. That being said, if he has truly been impacted, is making a change in his life, wants to use his platform and fame to spread God’s word, then I commend him. Sharing your religion has become a political statement and could alienate his fans if not handled delicately. I hope this is a powerful change he’s made in himself and not just another way to get his name on a magazine cover or trending on Twitter.”
JESUS IS KING missed several release dates and feels unfinished, with Kanye rushing to explore his born-again transformation through 11 Gospel-infused hip-hop songs that zip by in 27 minutes. Kanye’s Sunday Service Choir introduces the album’s story with the piano-heavy “Every Hour,” making it the only song without Kanye’s vocals. “Selah” presents the story’s protagonist–Kanye–who follows Jesus but still struggles with aggression. Through a church organ and clamorous drumming, Kanye spits a rap with several biblical references before the Choir epically chants “hallelujah” for a roughly 40-second chorus.
“Follow God” is the album’s lead single and documents Kanye’s difficulty to live like Christ. Its sharp, staccato beat evokes memories of his old music. (See his latest music video featuring his dad!) Meanwhile, “Closed On Sunday” reminds listeners of an old dad joke: “Closed on Sunday / You my Chick-fil-A.”
Kanye advocates his fans to “Accept [Jesus] as your Lord and Savior” through the arpeggiated synths of “On God”. He then collaborates with Ty Dolla $ign and rising artist Ant Clemons on “Everything We Need” (previously titled “The Storm”) to again encourage fans to change their attitudes and find contentment. Ant Clemons and the Choir return on “Water” to sing about being cleansed and forgiven, with Kanye offering a fast-talking prayer that asks Jesus to heal and give strength and security.
“God Is” stands as a soulful, uplifting track in which we hear Kanye’s raw vocals, adding to the fragility and frankness with which he explores his faith throughout the album.
You’d never expect to hear a song like “Hands On” on any Gospel album. Featuring Gospel singer Fred Hammond, Kanye addresses the backlash he expects from Christians who will likely query his faith and accuse him of besmirching Christianity: “Said I’m finna do a gospel album. What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? / They’ll be the first one to judge me. / Make it feel like nobody love me.”
For the tenth track, Kanye unites Clipse and saxophonist Kenny G on “Use This Gospel” that lets the lyrics outshine its melody, though Kenny G’s sudden 38-second sax solo oddly leaves listeners wanting more.
“Jesus Is Lord” concludes the album in 49 seconds, deriving its inspiration from Philippians 2:10-11: “. . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NIV).
Kanye describes JESUS IS KING as a rap album that he hopes teaches people to believe Jesus is king. He accepts the inevitable tsunami of skeptics because he’s found peace in “. . . giv[ing] it all up to God.” He also says converting people “. . . is not a desire; [spreading the Gospel] is my only mission and calling.” While producing this album, Kanye asked those he worked with to fast, avoid premarital sex, and focus only on his project rather than working on multiple projects because “. . . it’s known that families that pray together stay together.”
JESUS IS KING marks a new chapter in Kanye’s life, though this album hardly sheds his old image. He’s just as–if not more–outspoken about his political and religious beliefs, having proudly worn the MAGA hat and now a Cross. This being said, though, we should wait before we characterize Kanye’s sincerity. As a Christian who perceives an increased hostility toward Jesus followers today, I wonder if the various reactions to his album compared to responses to “Jesus Walks” in 2004 expose society’s current attitudes toward Christianity, or are we just shocked because it’s Kanye West? If we really think he’s so bad, shouldn’t we applaud his transformation and let him finish before we judge?
For now, let’s celebrate–whether you’re Christian or not–his transformation from the man who stole Taylor Swift’s microphone and ranted on SNL (and pretty much everywhere else) to the man who is helping others find joy and peace through his Sunday Services.
JESUS IS KING is available now.
*The comments taken from students are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of their listed organizations.