— ye (@kanyewest) October 27, 2019
Kanye West has always been an asshole.
That almost goes without saying; anyone who doesn’t spend their days in a bomb shelter has seen his horrible takes near-weekly for the past handful of years. If you go all the way back to the birth of his career, that do-no-wrong swagger was put to good, even brave use. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, West broke protocol on live television by staring right into the camera and saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” breaking the static of the televised benefit he was appearing on. Bad timing? Maybe. Something that needed to be said in the wake of FEMA’s lackadaisical response to a disaster-level event? Absolutely. 14 years later, and that same courage that pushed West into his controversial career has metastasized into the biggest ego the musical world has ever seen.
For years, I was cautiously okay with this behavior. I gritted my teeth when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s VMAs speech a decade ago. When he started to proclaim himself as a god, hero and everything in between in the latter half of his career, I went from rolling my eyes to liking it in the same way a wrestling heel grows appealing over time. However, Kanye’s outspoken support for President Trump in the past couple years was the Icarus moment for myself and many of his fervent fanbase. I stopped calling him one of my favorite artists, because as much as I believe you can separate the artist from their work, that breaks after a point. Kanye calling himself a god on records was, at worst, annoying. His support for Trump actively hurt people. After his breakneck 2018, releasing two albums (one good [“ye”] and one outstanding [the Kid Cudi-assisted “KIDS SEE GHOSTS”]) and producing an additional three in one season.
In the year since, Kanye has shifted from his exhausting 2018 to a near silent 2019, only appearing from time to time to delay his next project. After missing its initial two release dates in September and November of last year, it was delayed “indefinitely.” Rumors bubbled to the surface about the content, but the project largely laid below the surface, spare some leaks. At an unknown point this year, West scrapped the entire album (previously titled “Yandhi”) and started fresh.
On Friday, it finally arrived. Kanye’s ninth studio album, the long-delayed “JESUS IS KING” is West’s rumination on his newly renewed Christianity, which is delivered in a brief 27-minute package of 11 songs, both a surprise in its brevity (this is the product of over a year of work?) and not a surprise at all (Kanye’s previous two albums were both less than a half hour.)
Kanye had over a year to prepare this album, and it’s unfinished – not just in the cheeky Kanye “I’m gonna cut this song off when you don’t expect it because I’m Kanye and it’s gonna sound dope” (it does sometimes), but parts of this album literally sound bad from a production standpoint. The vocal mixing on multiple songs sound less like one of the most prominent producers in rap history and more like a SoundCloud demo. It’s unknown if this was a conscious decision, but considering the album was notably re-mixed after its release, it seems like this was a byproduct of Kanye’s now-familiar chaotic album release process. “Selah,” an otherwise good choir and organ-centric track, has drums that are too loud and vocals that fall behind its instrumentation. “God Is” is another track that could have been outstanding, but Kanye’s always-shaky singing is just bad, and doesn’t carry enough passion to make his yelps worth it. Odds are, Kanye will keep toying and tempering the album for a few weeks after its official release, a man never satisfied with his craft, for better or for worse.
Kanye’s lyrics haven’t been consistently quality for close to a decade now, but until now I fell into indifference regarding them. They were either meh but overshadowed by outstanding production, or they were bad but irreverent and shocking enough to make me smile. For a while, that was more than fine.
As for the former excuse – production masking lapsed wordplay – that has provided adequate cover for years now, but no longer. This is the first Kanye album where the production falters, a sudden departure from the outstanding work on much of his 2018 work. The beats on the album range anywhere from good to rough, with highlights coming on “On God” and the Clipse/Kenny G-featured “Use This Gospel,” the latter of which is the only song on this album that’s fantastic and STILL features substandard audio quality for some of the vocals. Many of West’s common motifs in his production still appear in “JESUS IS KING,” but lack depth compared to his earlier works. His signature gospel samples appear in near every song, even more fitting than usual considering the holy subject matter, but fail to lift the tracks they assist.
I can stomach a subpar Kanye album. It hasn’t happened before in my eyes, but very few artists remain that level of consistency without dropping a dud once in awhile. Take this album, change the lyrics to usual Kanye fodder, and I throw out a brief 500 word review on a slight disappointment but something that might “grow on me over time,” like “ye” was and did. What makes this notably different from his past works is the subject matter, and Kanye’s words on this album ruins any positive elements “JESUS IS KING” has got going for it.
On “JESUS IS KING,” Kanye focuses his lyrics, message and even his features on Jesus Christ. That’s not a problem for me at all; I’m not and have never been religious, and music about religion can be fantastic. This isn’t. Throughout the album, Kanye attempts to atone for his misdoings in the past, with laughable results. “The Devil had my soul, I can’t lie,” he says on “On God.” Less than a minute later, he reveals that “The IRS want they fifty plus our tithe Man, that’s over half of the pie. … No, I cannot let my family starve” There’s nothing less Christ-like than whining about being taxed fairly while being worth at least a quarter billion dollars. But don’t take my word for it! “Matthew 19:24: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Additionally, “Closed on Sunday” contains West’s dumbest rhyme ever put onto a track, the wonderful “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A/You’re my number one, with the lemonade.” Come on, man.
The album ends with the title track, “Jesus is Lord,” and Kanye proselytizes to his audience. There are fake horns in the background. There is a fake synth in the background. In front of it all, there is a shell of an artist saying empty words. “Every knee shall bow/Every tongue confess/Jesus is Lord/Jesus is Lord,” he croons, repeating once, and that’s all. This may be true, I sure as hell don’t know, but that’s beside the point. At no point during this albums brief runtime or in his recent worldly affairs has he convinced me that he lives the values that Christianity professes.
If Kanye knew he was living by the Bible’s values, he wouldn’t need to release this album.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @kanyewest Twitter.
Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.