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Album Review/ Kanye West - Jesus Is King

'Jesus Is King isn’t going to be making any new believers any time soon: not in God, nor in Kanye.'

By Gruff Kennedy, Third Year English

The meek shall inherit the Earth, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Kanye West, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest artist of all time’, can be accused of many things, but meekness is decidedly not one of them. Despite this, Jesus is King, meant to be a fresh and dramatic outpouring of Ye’s new faith in God, incredibly manages to feel like a quiet shadow of his former work.

It boggles the mind that an album with no fewer than 16 producers, amongst them Timbaland, Benny Blanco, Labrinth and Kanye himself, could come out so underbaked. Although he’s hardly known for his polish, Jesus Is King feels like amateur hour when you compare it to the likes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Yeezus. Opening track ‘Every Hour’ manages to retain a little of that signature Kanye bombast, but it sounds like a first-draft version of The Life of Pablo’s ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’. The Sunday Service Choir are obviously a talented and passionate gospel ensemble, but they feel wasted on this opener.

This is a consistent problem with the album; it can’t help but remind you of better Kanye works gone by. The scream at the ending of ‘Follow God’ feels like a reject from MBDTF’s ‘Monster’, and the looping vocal samples on ‘God Is’ are eerily reminiscent of ‘No Church In The Wild’, from 2011’s Watch The Throne. These are reminders of West’s former adeptness for staying on top of the zeitgeist, and his unstoppable innovation. Here, he seems to have stretched a bridge too far, and worn himself out. His rapping feels anaesthetised, and there’s none of that characteristic manic wit that won him so many admirers at the start of his career.

Uncanny callbacks to better times aside, the album feels slight and inconsequential. It comes in at a miniscule 27 minutes, and only three tracks manage to break the 3-minute barrier. Tracks end abruptly, fade into each other choppily, and feel very sloppily edited. Closer ‘Jesus Is Lord’ cuts out so abruptly and in such an underwhelming manner that I thought my speaker had lost connection to my phone; a lush divine revelation this is not. A bizarre effect of this general lack of finesse is that, despite its tiny length, Jesus Is King still managed to be a wearying listen. The only real praise to be found is that, at least, it feels more cohesive than last year’s Ye -- but that’s a low bar to set for any album from the rap world’s most flagrant provocateur, and, historically at least, one of its most gifted producers.

Thematically coherent does not equate to thematically deep. Though West seems sincere in his newfound commitment to evangelical Christianity, you’d be hard-pressed to learn that from this album. ‘God Is’ sounds like a Lil Dicky parody track of West’s religious belief, and highlights the true problem here: as well as being musically undercooked, Jesus Is King feels theologically inconsequential. Ye throws out Christian buzzwords, fragments of scripture, and proper nouns from the Bible with aplomb, but they’re all left floating in space, with no significance or meaning attached to them. There’s no didactic purpose as in the classic gospel hymns, none of the joyous, all-consuming devotion that you would hear from the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and most certainly not a trace of contemporary gospel’s rich drama. Of the album, West had this to say:

‘We're here to spread the gospel. I'm not here for your entertainment. I'm an evangelist, so my music, my films, every conversation, every room I go in, we're here to save souls, save you from eternal damnation. I use art to make believers’

The best preachers, and I say this as an atheist, tell you how to overcome suffering, iniquity, and injustice, and they do so with a genuine care for their audience, and a fiery passion in their beliefs which can convince simply by its presence -- no elaboration required. Ye, on the other hand- in a torturous and highly questionable extended Chick-Fil-A metaphor, no less- feebly tells you to ‘Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away’ like an out-of-touch Sunday school teacher. Jesus Is King isn’t going to be making any new believers any time soon: not in God, nor in Kanye.