Album Review: ‘Jesus Is King’ by Kanye West
It has been almost two weeks since rap artist Kanye West dropped his much-anticipated album, “Jesus Is King.” The angst surrounding this release was virtually unprecedented. Kanye is one of rap’s premier figures. As evidenced by his eight previous number-one albums, the appetite for his music is rabid. West is also a global figure in fashion, architecture, business and a variety of other exploits. When Kanye speaks, for better or worse, people listen.
“Jesus Is King,” however, was not reported to be simply another Kanye West album. The newly professing Christian told fans that this was his first gospel album. A Christian Kanye album sounded something like a new Little Debbie tuna-flavored snack cake. Those things don’t go together.
However, despite the anxiety in both Christian and rap communities, West remained undeterred. Not only did his lifestyle take a 180-degree turn, his Sunday Services were drawing thousands not only to hear music, but theologically-rich gospel music. Not only were people hearing a sermon, but a doctrinally-sound call to repentance from sin in light of a holy God.
Kanye was not just sharing gospel music; he was sharing the Gospel.
But could Kanye West actually understand and represent Jesus Christ? Would Christianity water-down West’s edge and creativity?
“Jesus Is King” is not your normal record. Foregoing traditional intros, outros and song structures, the album jumps from track to track like interrupted thoughts. In a way, the album gives us a look into West’s mind and personality. Amazingly, it also gives us quite a glimpse into the restless soul of a new believer.
The album opens with the gospel-choir anthem, “Every Hour.” It’s what one might associate with a large choir on a gospel album. Yet as the organ begins to swirl on the second track, “Selah,” the listener gets the first words from Kanye himself. What the listener finds is not only a bold declaration of faith in Jesus Christ set to brooding orchestration and pounding drums, but lyrics that stream like the first cries of a new-born. Viscerally-pronounced Scripture references adorn the track as Kanye exclaims:
To whom the Son set free
Is free indeed
He saved a wretch like me!
The album’s third track, “Follow God,” openly displays Kanye’s struggles in walking the path of righteousness with feet that are used to a much different soil. He admittedly struggles with temper, entitlement and being called out when he is not acting Christ-like. The frustration and desire are evident.
The next track, “Closed on Sunday” has been featured on multiple media outlets and is likely the best (if not the only) song you’ve ever heard on Sabbath rest. For a man with such a rapid lifestyle, hearing him talk about laying worldly trappings down and taking up hands to protect his family with prayer and careful doctrine is not only refreshing, it’s challenging. He writes,
Stand up for my home
Even if I take this walk alone
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I’m no longer my own
The album is full of calloused Christian truisms inbreathed with new life by one now understanding their significance. Not only are there solid Biblical truths and moments of amazing discernment on the album, but there are also moments of immaturity. However, these moments add to the genuineness of “Jesus Is King” and remind the listener that Kanye is a work in process—as we all are.
Kanye covers an array of topics at the forefront of any believer’s mind. He addresses purity (“Water”), stewardship (“On God”), contentment (“Everything We Need”) and his broken past (“Use This Gospel”).
As he has always done, on “Jesus Is King” Kanye asks his questions out loud and makes his statements with brash exclamation points. He is aware that his conversion is an unlikely story, but as he continually points out, God writes unlikely stories. Kanye’s past, his success, his future and his concerns are all as he says, “On God.”
Is “Jesus Is King” a good album? It depends on your definition of good. Rap critics have both applauded and panned it. Christian critics have both praised and disparaged it. Personally, I really enjoy the album. It’s eclectic, full of catchy hooks, and puts the skills of one of modern music’s most celebrated artists on display.
Yet none of those things are what make “Jesus Is King” a good album. What makes this album great is that it exalts and glorifies Jesus Christ. When I listen to it, I am led to worship God for His unmerited grace and mercy toward sinners like me. I’m reminded that the Christian life is hard. I’m reminded that following Jesus requires conviction, rest, and brilliant shouts of wonder and praise.
Writer Jared Wilson had the most pointed review of “Jesus Is King” and one we as Christians should take to heart. He tweeted,
“Kanye’s album sounds like a new Christian who hasn’t learned yet from the more ‘mature’ that you’re supposed to be more embarrassed about your faith. It’s not cool. It’s only occasionally clever. But there’s a purity to it, rough edges and all.”
Whatever one may say about Kanye after listening to this album, one cannot deny the bold emphasis of West’s message: Jesus Is King.
It’s easy to be skeptical of Kanye West. Our shifting society and popcorn culture have left us jaded and cynical. Kanye is an easy target for our calloused projection. It’s also easy to get overly excited about the possibilities of having Kanye on the “Christian Team.” His influence and profile are attractive. But both of these truths put Kanye in the line of fire. So how should the Christian respond to “Jesus Is King”?
As Kanye exclaims in the song “Hands On,”
Yes, I understand your reluctancy
But I have one request you see
Don’t throw me up
Lay your hands on me
Please, pray for me
We should pray for him. Amen and Amen.