The culture is conflicted on Kanye’s newest project. The record has received a large amount of critical backlash, with Consequence of Sound giving the record an F, their second-lowest possible score. Their writer’s manual claims an album receiving this rating is “proof that there is no God”—funny, given this review is over Kanye’s first attempt at a gospel album.
Despite its critical panning, the record is projected to debut at number one on the Billboard charts and holds five of the top 10 spots on the Apple Music song chart six days after its release. Good or bad, there’s one thing “Jesus Is King” is for sure: confusing.
The elephant in the room is that “Jesus Is King” is a gospel album coming from the man who debuted the video for his smash hit “I Love It” at the Pornhub Awards just last year. Kanye has been vocal about his faith since “Jesus Walks,” the seventh track on his first album, but a full-on gospel album is definitely a departure.
It’s not a particularly effective one.
The production is passable, but rarely spectacular. Kanye West is the most popular and influential producer in the history of the medium, but when listening to “Jesus Is King” you wouldn’t be able to tell. These songs feel so raw, even unfinished by his standards. That was an advantage on last year’s “Ye,” where the raw and minimal production spoke volumes about West’s mindset following his controversial interview with Charlamagne Tha God, but it makes this album feel rushed and soulless.
Kanye is embracing his Christianity in a big way right now, and it’s clear that it means a lot to him when you hear him speak on the issue. So why couldn’t he bring that same energy to these beats? “Water” is probably the worst offender here, with an instrumental that sounds like it could be slowed down menu music from a Nintendo Wii game.
Even if these beats didn’t blow me away, some great verses could make stellar songs out of them. We aren’t given those either.
“Jesus Is King” features Kanye at his absolute worst lyrically. He has a penchant for making iconic quotables out of seemingly terrible lines, but there’s none of that here. “Closed on Sunday / You’re my Chick-Fil-A” feels less like the adorable sentiment it’s meant to be, and more like the only thing even tangentially related to God that Kanye could come up with. This lack of actual commentary on Christianity or Ye’s relationship with his faith appears in several places on this record. A full 25 percent of Kanye’s verse on “Water” is comprised of him repeating the word “Jesus.”
Even in the places where Kanye does deliver some good lyrics and the beats come together, the vocal performances can still drop the ball. West’s verse on “God Is” would be really powerful if his raspy vocals didn’t leave me wondering why he wouldn’t just clear his damn throat.
Despite all of these shortcomings, the ending of the album is actually super solid. “Hands On” is one of the few places where the album brings something new to the gospel conversation, and the repeated, auto-tuned “hands on” vocals at the beginning of the track are fascinating. The follow up, “Use This Gospel,” reunites rap duo Clipse for the first time in nearly a decade. Brothers Pusha-T and No Malice deliver some great verses, and I would mark this song as the single essential track from this project (even though the Kenny G sax-solo ending is admittedly goofy.)
The biggest advantage of “Jesus Is King” is that it’s brief. At 11 tracks and 27 minutes, you can power through the record pretty quickly. This means that while there are quite a few bad ideas spread throughout, you don’t spend a ton of time with them before something more worthwhile appears.
I wish “Jesus Is King” left me wanting more, the way many of his projects from last year did. That just isn’t the case though. This is Kanye’s worst album. That being said, there are enough good ideas spread throughout its short runtime that actually listening to it isn’t a chore. I just wish Kanye took a bit more time with “Jesus Is King” to build upon and polish those good ideas.