The arc of Kanye West’s failed redemption

Music critic Zach Christian, ’20, tackles Kanye West’s newest album, “Jesus is King”

Zach Christian

Last week, after multiple delays, Kanye West finally released his new album “Jesus is King.” As the title suggests, the album is heavily religious. Kanye has called it a gospel album, but I’m not too fond of that label. Kanye is no stranger to religious themes. One of his first breakout hits was “Jesus Walks.” He opened “The Life of Pablo” with the grandiose and godly “Ultralight Beam.” To delve this deep into religion is certainly an artistic detour for Kanye, and Kanye is no stranger to switching up his style. But is it really that much of a switch?

Thus, we come to my main criticism of the album. This album is very Kanye. And I mean that in the worst way. Kanye uses religion as a tool. There is no sincere conversion here. This is still the man who depicted himself as Christ on a Rolling Stone cover. This is still the man who has an album named “Yeezus” and has a song called “I Am A God” on said album. This is still the man who, in a recent interview, declared himself the greatest artist alive. It seems like the only thing Kanye really knows about Christianity is Christ’s name. Because there is no humility on this record.

The album is filled to the brim with hypocrisy. On “Everything We Need,” Kanye seemingly raps against materialism and covetousness. Meanwhile, on “On God,” he says “That’s why I charge the prices that I charge/ I can’t be out here dancing with the stars/ No, I cannot let my family starve.” As if the children of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian would ever run the risk of starving. Kanye could sell Yeezys for $20 and still make millions. To try to justify his greed by hiding behind his family and God, while simultaneously preaching against materialism, is a master-class example of doublethink.

But even without the conflicting themes of the album, it’s just a bad album. This is Kanye at his worst lyrically. Kanye has never been the most gifted lyricist, but this is a whole new level of bad. I don’t even want to mention “Closed on Sunday” and the notorious Chick-fil-A line. The album is full of rhymes so simple that it boggles my mind how anyone could have put them on a professional album. The saving grace of the album is the featured guests. I can’t think of a guest verse or chorus that I didn’t like.  “Use This Gospel,” which features fantastic verses from a reunited Clipse and a saxophone solo by Kenny G, deserves special mention. It’s a high point on an album with so many lows.

There was a possibility of a great album here. If Kanye had made an actual gospel album, instead of just inserting 45 seconds of hallelujah’s into a two-and-a-half minute song and praising Jesus for 27 minutes—give or take a couple of minutes used to indulge his own persecution complex—this could have been a masterpiece. If Kanye had any actual knowledge of theology, this could have been great. If he had put more time into the album instead of rushing through it like a student writing a paper an hour before the deadline, it could have been great. Instead, we get a thematically sparse and lyrically weak album that sounds hastily thrown together.

If there is anybody in need of a redemption arc, it is Kanye West. This could have been it if Kanye showed even the slightest bit of introspection, the slightest bit of an actual change. But it’s still Kanye, the man who sees himself as the victim in everything. Two years ago, I told one of my friends that it was hard being a Kanye West fan. Now, I’m not sure I can even call myself that. It feels terrible that after all the missteps, all the terrible remarks made, all the MAGA hat wearing, all it took for me to abandon him was one bad album. I was expecting an album of “Jesus Walks.” An album of “Ultralight Beams.” I certainly didn’t get it.

Final Score: 3/10