Kanye’s First Gospel Album is Shockingly Off-Key

Augie Openheimer

Andrew Mello, News Editor

Falcon Rating: 1.5/5

As an artist and as a public figure, Kanye West is a man defined by unpredictability and constant reinvention. Whether endorsing politicians or designing sneakers, for decades it’s been impossible to call his next move. Now with this new album—Jesus Is King—embracing an unnecessary new direction, gospel, West seems to be confined within the sounds he’s invented. By trying to maintain his voice, he confuses the ear by layering this new sound on top of his previous eccentricities, rapping over choir samples with lines that border on parody, all without a hint of self-awareness. Appearing as a self-imposed experiment, Kanye does not allow himself to have freedom. Instead, the album goes on to seem more like an assembly, tragic for a man who prides himself on individuality.

The beginning of what he wishes to be an opus, “Every Hour,” does not feel like the opening deserved by such a grand undertaking. Feeling closer to a snippet, this track pales in comparison to openers of Kanye’s previous works, lacking the depth found in something like “Ultralight Beam” or the cruel intimacy of “I Thought About Killing You,” both great songs from his previous albums. The second track of Jesus Is King, “Selah,” seems to be without beginning or end.  Here, Kanye seems his most conflicted, beginning with a corny verse about godly aspirations and quoting the book of John, but ending with a more Kanye- sounding sample, complete with explosive drums that somehow fit comfortably into a choir of Hallelujahs. By the third track, however, ironically titled “Follow God,” it becomes obvious that Kanye never really had much conviction to making a purely Gospel record, as he finds himself easing back into the comfort of rap. This song stands out as being a new direction for Kanye, possibly harkening back to the Yeezus days, but with a completely different delivery. 

While this glimmer of the old Kanye is bittersweet, the fourth song, “Closed On Sunday,” confirmed my fears about the “new” Kanye. “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A” is how he chooses to open the song; somehow, as it goes on, it finds ways to get more aggravating still. After this, these new songs quickly drop in quality as a whole. “Water” and “Hands On” both feel like cuts intentionally left out of his previous albums The Life of Pablo and Yeezus respectively, likely for their lack of substance. But now, jerry-rigged into this “gospel” album, they not only feel awkward, but insincere. “Use This Gospel” is specifically aggravating for being a wholesale copy of “Chakras” from the previously completed, yet unceremoniously scrapped Yandhi, sticking out like a sore thumb in the “holier” presentation of this album.

To call Jesus Is King the end of Kanye would reveal only that you haven’t been paying attention to this review—but calling it only a misstep is an understatement. Being an artist renowned for his masterful blending of genres and sounds, the lack of invention here is surprising, as some mixes sound not only jagged, but worse: sloppy. While the leaks of Yandhi sounded like a real continuation to Yeezus, if a bit unfocused, they were miles ahead of the “new sound” in this latest album. The worst thing Jesus Is King could end up being is a preview of Kanye’s future direction as an artist, but considering his varied past, I think this album will soon be looked at as a forgivable slip by a great artist who will return to form in time. 

This piece also appears in our November 2019 print edition.