Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a ride-or-die Ye fanboy, almost to the point of being able to convince my friends, family, and significant other that he really is the greatest artist of all time. Yes, I even stayed with him through the MAGA phase. His brilliance transcends his sometimes questionable choices – or at least that’s what I tell myself and those around me. However, my relationship with The Lord has been… complicated.
I am the grandchild of a Eucharistic minister and my mother has a very close relationship with God, so my family’s homes have always been full of bibles. Even I have a couple, one of which was given to me by a Sainsbury’s manager who said I am his favourite customer. My experience with the church, despite my family’s attempts to create a loving, nurturing relationship with God, was certainly not loving and nurturing, to say the least. Having strayed from the flock for over a decade, I decided to not quite let Jesus back into my heart, but to at least hang out with him for a bit if Yeezus says he’s alright.
The wait for Jesus Is King was gruelling. For weeks, I have been feverishly refreshing the Kanye subreddit for the big drop, only for my enthusiasm to be wasted over and over. Kanye had burned me before. Remember ‘Yandhi’? ‘Cruel Winter’? ‘I’mma fix Wolves?’. Oh, I remember. I remembered so hard when midnight fell on Friday and ‘Jesus Is King’ hadn’t dropped, with a playlist of Kanye’s back catalogue put up in its place. I went to sleep defeated and I sulked my way through Friday morning. That afternoon, salvation came. I called up my loved ones. I called up my cousins. I called up the Muslims. I did indeed go dumb. Jesus (Is King) had risen.
The frantic, fractured overture of ‘Every Hour’ sets the scene, a feverish devotion that lets you know immediately that ego is set aside for this record. All of the bravado from here on is for The Lord. Whilst this was the intro in strict terms, ‘Jesus Is King’ truly begins on track two, ‘Selah’, an epic crescendo of hallelujahs and cinematic synths and percussion. At its summit, a gloriole broke through the ceiling of my apartment. My landlord is going to be PISSED.
‘Follow God’ is a short and sweet affair with Ye’s usual slick sample manipulation and inimitable driving flow. It ends abruptly with an anecdote about Ye’s father chastising him for not being ‘Christ-like‘, and with a Yeezus-esque scream, it’s straight into ‘Closed On Sunday’ a darker, brooding afair akin to the aforementioned 2013 LP.
I’ve been asked by some of my LGBTQ friends how I can stand behind Ye after this song’s ‘you’re my Chick Fil-a’ lyric. It’s tough endorsing him at the best of times, but this one really made me consider my position. I can only assume that he means that the song’s subject is wild during the rest of the week, but pious – closed – on Sunday. I *think* I get it. Still, it’s a bit of a dampener on what is otherwise a callback to some of Ye’s greatest work with its ‘808s and Heartbreak’ sparseness and Yeezus intensity.
‘On God’ is pure elation, its arpeggiated synth a stairway to Heaven. Ye’s verse about why he has to charge what he does for his tickets and merch is rather bizarre, though, but this is Kanye West we’re talking about, so not an eyelid in the house is batted. ‘Everything We Need’ appears in a totally different form to its Sunday Service performance, the soft falsetto of Ant Clemons setting a calm, contented mood amongst a bare-bones arrangement that – for all of its one minute and fifty-seven seconds – is everything we need.
‘Water‘ appeared at the Coachella Sunday Service, too, but this time it is relatively untouched, presented as-is, meandering blissfully to its conclusion like, well, water. Granted, it’s raw. It’s very raw. Its dynamics and flow are fluid and uncontrolled, but whether it makes the track feel rushed and unfinished or whether it adds to the watery feel, I can’t quite decide.
The vast cinematics of ‘Selah’ return on ‘God Is’, Ye’s voice cracking under a powerful outpouring of gratitude. Reading the comments under this track on YouTube, they are full of users quoting the lyrics that express their thanks to God – whether it’s “freedom from addiction” or “he’s the strength in the race that I run”. It even brings a tear to my atheist eye. If church had been more of this than fire and brimstone, who knows?
‘Hands On’ is a stripped-back affair, mostly serving as a vehicle for Ye’s frustrations with the Christian community’s judgment towards him when he began his journey with God and his Sunday Service project. Taken as part of the wider concept album (make no mistake – this is indeed a concept album), it forms a vital part of the narrative. On its own, it’s not particularly essential. What comes next, however…
Beginning with the sound of an airbag alarm – the first thing Kanye would have heard when his car accident ignited his faith – ‘Use This Gospel’ is the album’s apex, an instant classic to join ‘Runaway’, ‘Jesus Walks’, and ‘Hold My Liquor’ in the pantheon of all-time Kanye greats. Yes, I’d heard this one in its previous form as ‘Law of Attraction’, as have many of you. This did nothing to dampen the impact. Somehow equally threadbare and grand, ‘Use This Gospel’ is a prime example of Kanye’s expert crafting of melody, an infectious refrain that evolves from a soft hum to a jubilant choir to… is that Kenny G?!
At this point, I felt the power of God flowing through me. I had to call my Mum to tell her to listen to ‘Use This Gospel’ Immediately. I knew she’d missed sharing her faith with her children, so I took the opportunity to make her happy, however I could. We always send music back and forth, too. As part of EMI in the ‘80s, she’s responsible for a huge chunk of my record collection (I’m still not taking all of those copies of Orville The Duck’s Christmas single that EMI couldn’t flog, though sorry, Mum). What I received in my inbox three minutes later shook me to my core.
My mother is disabled, struggling to walk and in constant pain in her early middle-age. Throughout all of her suffering, her faith never seemed to falter. She’d always told me she knows there’s something better waiting for her. Without her faith, I’d dread to think of what would happen to her. She told me was struggling to keep the faith. She just listened to ‘Use This Gospel’ and questioned God’s protection that Kanye was preaching about. How could God let this happen to her?
I had to intervene. Whilst religion had become a destructive and contentious force in our relationship, I couldn’t let this happen to my Mum. It would break her. Telling her about all that we’re blessed to have in our lives and our relationship, despite all of the suffering and pain in our family, I felt something seeping back into me. I was almost a believer again. Almost. I must admit, though, I did get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. I didn’t come here to be converted, Ye, you sly dog! That was sneaky!
At the end of that emotional rollercoaster, we have ‘Jesus Is Lord’, a fifty second long verse that’s gone as soon as it’s arrived, disappearing suddenly into the ether. That’s what Ye does, though – he’d rather leave you wanting more than with too much to digest. Like ‘Water’ and ‘Hands On’, ‘Jesus Is Lord’ could have perhaps been elaborated upon or cut without consequence, but it’s a pleasant enough back cover to Kanye’s Bible, a quick expression of his thanks and praises, then he’s out.
Having heard the Yandhi leak (yes, I had to mention it), I can safely say that I’m glad – to take a quote from ‘Selah’ – that “Jesus Christ did the laundry”. ‘Selah’ in particular took on a metamorphosis from a strident opener to a glorious epic. Whilst the absence of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Alien’ has been lamented by some, I personally don’t feel that they reach the same heights as ‘Everything We Need’ and ‘Use This Gospel’, which both appear largely untouched besides, well, making the lyrics more Jesus-y.
In the week since Jesus Is King dropped, everywhere I go – the bus, the tube, the street – I hear Jesus Is King being blasted through headphones and car speakers. I haven’t felt unity like this since Pokémon Go came out in 2016. Shouting “JESUS IS KING!” at a kindred spirit and sharing a fist-bump, high-five, or a hug has been a religious experience. I’ve never witnessed an album release like this.
I may be a ride-or-die Kanye fan, but I’d give Yandhi a 6. Jesus Is King? This is Kanye’s greatest conceptual achievement to date. In a blockbuster 2018, Kanye West found a formula that works. In 2019, he perfected the sub-30 minute album format. Never before have I been so excited by the progress of an artist – let alone within the space of a year.
An instant classic. That said, what else would we expect from the self-proclaimed greatest artist to ever live, now that he has God himself on the faders?