I think it’s safe to say that Kanye West is one of the best artists of the past decade. Despite controversy after controversy—ill-advised political screed after political screed—West has released classic album after classic album. While his 2000s albums are great in their own right, his 2010s solo outputs have defined West as an artist and are truly his best works. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus, The Life of Pablo and ye are all modern classics with some of the most inventive production and lyricism hip-hop has to offer.
So far, West has been one of the finest artists of the decade, and when I heard his ninth album, Jesus Is King, was to be released this October, I paid close attention. It was a reconstruction of Yandhi, a cancelled project that was to be released last year, and had an emphasis on West’s born-again Christian faith. A gospel hip-hop album with West’s signature production and ear for music? Sign me right up!
However, when the dust had settled, Jesus is King proved to be Kanye West’s most disappointing work to date. While there are interesting ideas and occasional flashes of brilliance, it doesn’t live up to the legacy that he’s built for himself in this decade and the one prior.
First, there’s the issue of production on this album. On one hand, we have some of the most inventive beats of West’s career. I think they’re all stellar for the most part, with every backing track having its own personality and vibe. We have the immediate and fast paced “Follow God,” the ominous sounding “Closed on Sunday,” the trippy and cool “Water,” the epic and triumphant “God Is” and finally the spaced-out and hazy “Hands On.”
On the other hand, the mixing on this thing is outright blasphemous. Clipping is something that is all too frequent on this album, and if it was supposed to be done in an artistic manner, it fails in that regard. Even Yeezus, West’s most loud and abrasive album, is produced smoother than this gospel record. While I enjoy these beats, I feel like they could have been done better. West has married gospel, soul and hip-hop more harmoniously on his previous efforts. The College Dropout and “Ultralight Beam” are proof of this.
There’s also the matter of lyricism and delivery. I think Kanye’s a clever and open lyricist, but he isn’t a wordsmith like MF DOOM, and he’s not going to be profound in the same way Kendrick Lamar is. What I’m trying to say is that that the core of his songs rest on his emotional honesty, a handful of excellent bars and memorable one-liners, all tied up with his incredible production.
So when the production fails in a really major way, where does that leave the lyrics? Unfortunately, they’re left on the wayside. They are probably the most boring—and even awful—lyrics of his career. “Closed on Sunday” is the biggest offender containing, without a doubt, his worst bars ever: “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A/You’re my number one, with the lemonade.” Other tracks don’t fare much better, with rather generic references to faith and out-of-place, anti-social media lyrics.
Again, I’ve seen West talk about his faith and fame more intelligently on previous efforts. I don’t doubt West is a true believer, and I’m not here to say that the expression of his faith isn’t valid, but I’m saying it doesn’t make for a very compelling Christian hip-hop album.
Even Kanye’s usual energy is hit or miss. On tracks like “Selah,” “Follow God” and “On God” he sounds like his usual self, and “God Is” is his most emphatic song to date, with Kanye singing praises to God, his voice breaking and cracking as the track goes on. It’s genuinely touching, and is like a punch to the chest every time I listen to it.
Other times, however, he sounds absolutely bored. “Water” is a beautiful track, with its sweeping, choral harmonies and Ant Clemon’s soulful vocals. Then Kanye comes in, and the verse he delivers is just so flat and lifeless. Hip-hop duo Clipse appear on “Use this Gospel” and Pusha T and No Malice sound way more invested in a song that’s not even on one of their albums. It’s like Kanye is only really here for bits and pieces; any other time he’s just checked out.
Now, with everything being said, do I dislike the record? No, not entirely. It’s more of a guilty pleasure for me, if anything. However, in good conscience, I can’t give this album a high rating. While I certainly enjoyed the beats, some of the more energetic moments and the features, it’s not West at his best, and I know for a fact that he can do better. He has eight albums proving that he can. I’m hoping this album is just a transitionary one, and his next effort is more refined and focused.