This past Friday at approximately noon, this century’s most polarizing, provocative, interesting and ultimately wildly talented artist dropped his long-awaited ninth solo studio album. Kanye West, after pushing back the release of the originally-titled “Yandhi” multiple times over a span of more than a year and starting his own traveling church known as “Sunday Service,” finally settled on midnight of Oct. 25 to let the renamed and rewritten “JESUS IS KING” grace the public’s collective ears. For good measure, West made us all wait an extra 12 hours as he and his production team made some last-second mastering touch-ups.
The consistent pushing back of drop dates made room for nothing save West dressed as a Perrier bottle in a “Saturday Night Live” performance alongside Lil Pump, a disappointing Black Friday and frustrating excuses announced by his wife and de facto spokesperson Kim Kardashian. The constant extensions made the one year, four months and 24 days since his eighth studio album, “Ye” (2018), seem much longer than they truly were. After all, this was his second quickest turnaround between solo albums — the quickest was the album “808s and Heartbreak” (2008), which was conceived as a reaction to the death of his mother and the breaking of engagement to his long-time girlfriend.
So, where has this cacophony of contradictions, public appearances and quasi-church services all led to? An 11 song, 27 minute ditty of a gospel-rap album that has haunting and beautiful moments in a smaller abundance than it does shallow and lacking moments. Let’s go through them one-by-one.
West kicks off the album with “Every Hour” — a 1:52, uptempo piece sung by members of Sunday Service with West’s vocals nowhere to be audibly found. With his absence, West indirectly asserts the relationship of people of the Christian faith to Jesus Christ as the album’s focal point, with his own story as a noteworthy example. Whereas his albums typically feature West at the forefront, “JESUS IS KING” seems to start off in the opposite way.
The next track, “Selah,” maintains this idea, with West using his first verse to reflect on what brought him to his current relationship with God and the second to extend this salvation to everyone. In between the two verses, a dark yet soul-lifting choral repetition of the word “Hallelujah” provides a top moment of the album, and West’s vocal outro of raw chants and screams brings to mind the similar frightening conclusion to the “Yeezus” (2013) track “I Am A God.”
“Follow God” begins with a reworked seven-second sample off of a record that could most likely be found only at the bottom of a hoarder’s attic pile of music. Magically, West turns this unassuming Vine-length snippet into one of the jumpiest and most pleasing beats in his musical catalog, and he pairs his best verse of the album with it. The track is an excellent mixture of classic West songwriting — taking a soulful, gruff vocal as he does on “Otis” from “Watch The Throne” (2011) and splicing it into his lyrics, all over an absolutely infectious, similar to “Yikes” (2018).
Though the next track, “Closed on Sunday,” has gotten a decent amount of ridicule for its corny lyrics — especially the title-dropping “Closed on Sunday/you’re my Chick-fil-A” — the real fault of the song lies in that it limits itself to just two sections. The first features beautiful harp-like notes mixed with an angelic acapella-like beat leading into West sing-rapping in a nearly sorrowful voice. His voice maintains a restrained but sharp edge to it as the second section seamlessly appears, powered by a beeping earworm and a transition by West to completely unrestrained singing. The two sections flow well into each other. They are unique, sonically pleasing and seem to perfectly set up a third part to the song, if not more. But West decides to cut it right after the second section, doing so by yelling in a high-pitched voice, “Chick-fil-A!” This is the most frustrating example on the album of a wasted track.
“On God” follows with an absolutely hypnotic beat from producer Pi’erre Bourne and some boringly delivered yet relatively solid bars, but it feels like a throwaway or something that might match better with the Lil Uzi Vert’s sound. The lyrics align with the rest of the album, but the music would’ve fit better on “Yandhi” or even “TurboGrafx 16” — another West album lost in the ether.
Next comes “Everything We Need” which has been, in some version or another, in the playlists of devoted West stans for a while via leaks. Late rapper XXXTentacion was originally on it, and the fact that his absence on the final product makes the song worse is a clear sign that, for a West track, this slots in well below the mark — even with the help of oft-collaborators Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons.
The next two, “Water” and “God Is,” are two of the album’s strongest songs, with the former featuring a calm and fascinating beat that honestly sounds straight out of a Super Mario Bros. loading screen and the latter featuring West’s rawest performance — a constantly-breaking, emotion-filled voice, crooning over a strong chorus of hums and shouts.
“Hands On” features the most sonically interesting piece of the album, with gospel singer Fred Hammond frantically murmuring the titular words through heavy vocal effects. Unfortunately, it features West’s worst verse of the album, delivered plainly and to almost no effect.
“Use This Gospel,” like “Everything We Need,” has had many different versions circulating the internet for a while. The song has all the makings of being the album’s best — the universal sound that a car makes when you leave the key in the ignition but open the door, hard-hitting verses from brothers Pusha T and No Malice, an extremely catchy melody and a beautiful saxophone solo from Kenny G. Bizarrely, the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. A severe lack of drums in the first three minutes of the song and some very out-of-place drums in the last 30 seconds could account for that.
The album closes with 49 seconds of ethereal horns mired by West making his final, impersonal statement — “Every knee shall bow/Every tongue confess/Jesus is Lord/Jesus is Lord.”
This outro is a perfect microcosm of the album. Whereas West proves himself on this album to be just as adept at creating wonderful musical moments through new avenues (as he always has been), the extent to which he does so is always cut short — the average non-intro-or-outro track being less than three minutes long. And while some of the lyrics being rather impersonal makes sense in the context of the album, what has made West so accessible is his ability to create albums with a combination of songs entirely about him and songs that any listener could see themselves in.
With “JESUS IS KING,” West shows that he can still create unique pieces of music, although he doesn’t fit them together well; he can still write deliciously corny lyrics, although he doesn’t back those up with introspective and thoughtful lines; and he can still drum up musical genius, although he doesn’t flesh it out at all. Here’s to hoping that in whatever direction West’s takes his next album, he can recapture the perfection that is ubiquitous in his discography. It’s definitely still out there.