The king of rap now serves the king of kings

Kanye West has turned the tide in his career releasing not only a short film, but a heavily religious, gospel album. With such a powerful shift in music perspective, an album like this is a risk and a statement.

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The king of rap now serves the king of kings

Kanye West hosting Sunday Services. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Services

Kanye West hosting Sunday Services. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Services

Kanye West hosting Sunday Services. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Services

Kanye West hosting Sunday Services. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Services

by Claire Smith, Design Editor

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What does Kanye love more than Kanye? Jesus Christ. Kanye West presents his pursuit for religious enlightenment through not only an album but a short film as well, directed by Nick Knight. Both works are called “Jesus is King” and give raw insight into Kanye’s new devotion to God. For me, this is shown better through the film but still explored through his first gospel album.  

The album “Jesus is King” was released on Friday, October 25, its official release date, which was very relieving, as Kanye is known for not releasing his albums on time. The album is partially arranged like a church service and partially as a sermon from Kanye. It’s a fusion of gospel and rap that I have not seen before, and I believe this task of modernizing gospel music into the world of rap was perfectly given to Kanye West. Overall he delivered the message he wanted to, which was that he found Jesus in his life and he wants to implement Him into ours as listeners. However, I do believe some of the songs could have used some cleanup. 

The album begins with a crescendo of voices from the Sunday Service choir in the song “Every Hour”. Sunday Service is a gospel-rap group led by Kanye that was formed in January 2019, who perform every Sunday. The song immediately establishes an intensely uplifting, religious tone for the album. The opening song does not feature Kanye, rather focusing the voices of the choir. The droning of the line “sing till the power of the Lord comes down” is one of the few times in the album where I feel like Kanye was trying to elicit a “call and response,” like in mass. With the repetitiveness, you learn the line very quickly and are able to sing along by the end of the song, which I believe was his intention. I thought this was a powerful way to establish his attempt at a gospel transition in his music career. 

“Closed on Sunday” should have been cut from the tracklist. It completely destroys the foundation that the album was building thus far. When listening, I was attracted to the acoustic introduction with a medley of voices overlaying it. It set up a peaceful, almost mysterious, tone for the song, which was instantly shattered with the line “closed on Sunday / you my Chick-Fil-A”. I know that this song is supposed to be a more “light-hearted” piece. However, it should not have been placed in the album altogether, let alone the first five songs. For Kanye to establish himself as a preacher on this album is an extremely delicate task and I felt this song destroyed that foundation built by the previous tracks. It was an immature addition to the message of “Jesus” he is attempting to communicate. 

“God Is” is a continuation of the heavily spiritual themes Kanye brings to the table. The lyrics themselves feel like a sermon delivered directly to the listener. A noticeable beat switch happens at the line “This ain’t ‘bout a damn religion”, emphasizing Kanye’s personal connection to Christianity. Religion can often be twisted into loyalty to an institution rather than a journey of faith, which is what Kanye is trying to break. This is also the only line in the album where Kanye cusses, thus punctuating it from the rest of the album. After this line, the lyrics switch from “God Is” to the revelation of Jesus and Kanye’s mission. I think this is one of the more powerful songs on the album where Kanye is attempting to establish himself as a preacher of his faith journey.

By far my favorite song of the whole album is “Use This Gospel”. The song has less of a gospel sound than the beginning of the album (ironic to the name), and to me sounds more like Kanye’s previous work. It is a narrative of asking for forgiveness to an expression of gratitude. But what makes this song my absolute favorite is the saxophone solo by Kenny G. It brought absolute chills when I first listened to it. The only negative comment I have about the solo is it has a poor transition and an odd conclusion to the song after. I think the sax is a very notable part of the song, even the album. However, the cut-off from No Malice’s rap to a sudden sax was clunky on the ears. I also felt that if he had ended the song right after the sax that would have been perfectly fine, and the “work, work, work, work” outro is necessary. 

Overall, I give the album a 2.5/5: a perfectly average piece. I really struggled to come up with a score because there are some very strong pieces in here, and I know Kanye is taking a risk releasing an album like this in the first place. However, the stronger songs are equally balanced with weaker ones, as well as some kinks musically that cannot be ignored. It is really a shame that the album turned out this way.

 I believe that when an artist makes such a dramatic shift in his career, especially an artist as influential as Kanye, they hold the power to shift the perspective of thousands of people. I believe that is what he was trying to accomplish; to have his fanbase feel the saviorship that Jesus brought him. But with a startlingly average album, that influence just is not going to be as heard or actualized.

“Jesus is King”, a film by Kanye West, finally connected everything that Kanye attempted to show in his album. To call “Jesus is King” a movie is misleading; it’s a 35-minute piece of artistic expression. The film itself has no plot, characters, and barely focus on Kanye at all. It is an insight into the Sunday Service Choir, a connection to the Bible, and to God. Kanye’s short film portrayed the raw love that he has found for God, and how music has transformed his spiritual journey. 

Cinematically, the film is gorgeous. There’s a trilogy of scenes with the Sunday Service Choir, where the first involves a wide shot of them enthusiastically praising God with their voices. It is passionate, loud, and lively, and the colors emphasize this with warmer, lighter tones. In the second scene, it is obvious that some time has passed, and the choir has been struck by emotion, leaning on each other for support, or bent over on the ground, unable to stand. Their voices are powerful, yet more broken, some are speaking prayers rather than singing. The colors here were cooler and showed that passage of time.

The last of the three scenes was silence. Soft sobs could be heard from around the once lively choir, and deep blues filled the now darkened room. As they began to file out of the room, they embraced each other in tears without speaking. These three scenes were really impactful for me. The choir is unbelievably talented and obviously has a strong devotion to praising God. This trilogy of scenes seemed to go over the course of hours, draining them emotionally, but not wavering in their faith. 

I think it is a shame that this film isn’t getting the recognition it deserves. The IMAX theater was completely empty besides my friends and me, and this seems to be a trend from what others have told me. I could understand why some of his fans wouldn’t like the film or be against seeing it. It is very “un-Kanye” compared to his previous career, but I think that’s his point. He’s trying to show the world that this is who he is now, someone who has experienced religion and it has saved him. 

 I think that Kanye poured his faith into this movie a different way than the album. The film was a glance inside of his religious pilgrimage—a raw, vulnerable glance— that was harder to find on the album. Overall, I would rate this movie 4 out of 5 stars. 

As someone who’s not religious or Christian, I tried to put myself in Kanye’s perspective when experiencing “Jesus is King”. Kanye is someone who has struggled with mental health his whole life, had to cope with the world of fame, is now raising children; I could truly see his perspective in religion saving him.  

Kanye has faced extreme backlash since his Sunday Service performances from the Christian community. As he says in his song “Hands On”: “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.” But the point of this album is not to adhere to an audience, whether it be Christians or his regular fanbase. It is to show his journey and how religion saved him from a dark path; a personal connection to faith rather than one built by an institution. Kanye is an extremely modern and influential artist, and I believe this could help shape how young people view their beliefs and practices; to be a personal journey rather than directly influenced by those around you. 

The project as a whole is extremely progressive for Kanye and I believe the movie was executed better than the album. Nonetheless, it’s a turning point for Mr. West and I am excited to see how he grows in the field of gospel and continues to be a revolutionary.

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