Every Kanye album made perfect sense until The Life of Pablo and even Pablo made perfect sense. Pablo was dynamic, imperfect, fluctuating, indicative of its context: a pastiche representation of a post internet ambivalence. Simply put, every album that Kanye West made was governed specific thematic rules, and the rules behind The Life of Pablo stated that there were no rules. Fast forward to ye, and the approach changed, as the work represented a flawed, yet specific and immersive moment in time, specifically for Kanye’s mental state. This new view of an album was a change of pace for many and was quickly declared the “worst” Kanye album. However, this narrative was widely dismissed upon the realization of the album’s success in capturing incredibly fleeting human elements.
Moving forward into Jesus is King, an album that was more than highly anticipated after numerous leaks, release date changes, and scrupulous media attention, it’s fair to say that the expectation was for this new project to have the refinement and focus akin to a Yeezus or 808’s and Heartbreak. With the newly realized theme of a born-again Christian, the album sought out to be an overwhelming presentation of a heightened state of emotion. What instead resulted was an almost believable portrait of religious altruism and yet another representation of a mentally unstable artist, this time without the artist’s intention. To be fair, it also birthed an engaging and fun array of ideas, but even these mistake themselves for the cohesion and focus that the traditional Kanye album has.
Jesus is King misses the mark despite being an incredibly exciting and fascinating piece of work, and even the album’s powerful highs can arguably be attributed to Kanye’s inherent ability to make engaging music. However, as Kanye’s missteps are more than apparent, his strengths are as well. The lively choir chords and infectious gospel samples prove that religion and rap and coexist. At a few key moments of exceptional unity, these two can even soar. Fans of Kanye’s experimentation and ambition will surely rejoice as the album presents some groundbreaking sonic moments like the outro beat drop in “Use This Gospel,” the horns in “Jesus is Lord,” and the vibrant swells of “Hands On” . Moreover, as Jesus is King’s recent streaming numbers show, it is successful in captivating audiences and presenting new musical thoughts worth hearing out.
Nevertheless, there are two very important truths about Jesus is King that will ultimately define it as an enjoyable but ultimately lackluster album: this album not only shows a diminished amount of long term effort and refinement by Kanye, but also presents the voice of an artist that simply can’t be trusted anymore. These again are only negative traits when the album attempts to present itself as something deeper than a compilation of entertaining tracks.
The most apparent fact about Jesus is King is that it straight up lacks the attention to detail of his past works. Kanye West initially branded his entire artistic image on this staple, swearing by the blue collar model of constant trial and error, endless crate digging, and immersion of new ideas. As an artist who has once boasted about making “five beats a day for three summers”, the continual delay of Jesus is King suggested yet another instance of relentless perfectionism.
To my fans
Thank you for being loyal & patient
We are specifically fixing mixes on “Everything We Need” “Follow God” & “Water”
We not going to sleep until this album is out!
— ye (@kanyewest) October 25, 2019
It’s clear that Kanye cut corners this time. The album that came last Friday feels thrown together and loosely linked with the religious themes that are thought to be the main focus. This comes out sonically throughout the album, but can be especially noted in the strangely lagging mix of “Selah,” the seemingly copied and pasted features on “Use This Gospel,” and the drowned out vocals on “Follow God”. Such rudimentary flaws like these are so jarring to the listener because they have simply never before occurred in the music of Kanye, an artist who was a famed producer before he became a lyricist. Moreover, Kanye’s fan base puts up with his continual antics and sporadic plan changes with the expected mutual agreement that perfectionism reigns over immediacy. Jesus is King presents neither of these, making it a disappointment for me personally as both a fan and a music enthusiast.
What adds to this let down is the album’s context. The heavily implemented and incredibly strong religious themes paired with an eventful album rollout gave familiar signals of another masterpiece but turned out to be only smoke and mirrors. It matches the aura of ye, a moment-in-time album whose artwork was simply a photo taken on Kanye’s way to the album’s listening party, but Jesus is King attempts a much higher discourse.
Harking back to The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s newest album has a similar off the wall, unstructured approach, but is again lacking intent while failing to allow itself to indulge in its own rebellion. While Pablo is a magnificent and complex collage of ideas, Jesus is King is a good, yet one-dimensional portrait of a compelling period. In this increasingly fascinating period of a post thematic and new-age Kanye, this new version of a dynamic artist is slowly losing sight of what makes himself so poignant, and it’s begun to make its way into his voice.
Amongst a unique and memorable album, Kanye’s voice is arguably the worst part of every song. This is highly uncharacteristic even for an artist that has been primarily praised for production. Despite some catchy flows and promising sequences, Kanye’s lyrics and delivery are downright lacking almost throughout the whole album. The issue doesn’t lie in whether or not Kanye believes in what he’s saying, but rather if he cares that we believe what he’s saying. This practice doesn’t come through as an uncompromising whirlwind as it has in the past, but rather as an indifferent presentation of half-baked thoughts.
Kanye’s voice on Jesus is King is disheartening, not only because it is clear that his neurotic mind struggles to settle on a cohesive idea, but also because we as an audience have grown exhausted of the voice of Kanye West. On this album, Kanye’s voice has his audience not in anticipation or cultural dialogue, but simply hoping that he doesn’t say something he shouldn’t. Before this album, Kanye’s controversy and boldness came with a complementary confidence and resilience that inspired thought instead of dismissal. But when Kanye himself fails to bring conviction in the words he’s saying, we are left with only hollow.
Jesus is King is arguably Kanye’s worst album, although that doesn’t make it a bad one. It is a low point for Kanye not because of his recent antics or his commitment to religion, but because of his failure to fully commit to artistry in the way that every Kanye album has done in the past. The reason Kanye’s animated bears, fashion trends, and emotional aesthetics are so committed to our collective cultural memory is because they represent an unrelenting, unstoppable, and undeniable dedication to the music and what it stands for, no matter what context or interpretation. In this iteration of Kanye’s intricate character portrait, however, we see a lack of belief and a loss of potential. Luckily, West’s musical chops allow him to skate by with a crowd pleaser, but the end result could be so, so much more divine.