Legendary rapper, producer, and shoe designer Kanye West is back with his ninth solo album and last effort since 2018’s Ye. But before reviewing Jesus Is King, we first have to talk about what led us to this moment. In September of 2018, just a couple months after producing five albums in five weeks over the summer, Kanye took to twitter to announce that his ninth album would be Called Yandhi (a mix of KanYe and Gandhi) and would be arriving on 9-29–18, the same day he would perform on Saturday Night Live. As the clock ticked past midnight on SNL, Kanye fans around the world waited with baited breath for Yandhi to be released. It never came. In the following days the album would be further delayed until Black Friday, and eventually delayed again indefinitely after Kanye and Kid Cudi’s legendary Camp Flog Gnaw festival set. Over the next few months two big things began happening in the Kanye sphere: the first was Kanye’s slow transformation to a professing Christian, exemplified by his now famous Sunday Service sets (one of which I had the pleasure of attending just a few weeks ago), the other big event was the slow leakage of Yandhi, Kanye’s now seemingly scrapped album. These leaks have played a big part in the reception of the album as many Ye fans have already heard a decent chunk of the material on this record. In August, Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian tweeted a photo of a track-list for Jesus Is King and said it would be released on September 27th, 2019. That day, like the day of Yandhi, came and went without an official release, but the album was played for people in attendance at the first of several album listening parties, one of which I had the pleasure of attending in New York City. More on that later in the review.
Eventually Kanye landed on October 25th for a release date of Jesus Is King, one that was heavily promoted and believed to be legitimate in the lead up to it. Midnight passed on the 25th and Jesus Is King was nowhere to be found. But after a late message from Kanye that his team was still working on the album, it was finally released later that day at noon. So after all that, we are here, Jesus Is King is here finally. And it is easily Kanye’s most daring and divisive album to date. And that is saying a lot.
As a christian myself I had fears going into Jesus Is King that the lyrics would fall prey to the trap that makes most contemporary christian music bad. That they would be superficial and would not tell me anything I don’t already know. Like I know how great God is, tell me why that matter to you. And what I heard at the listening party in New York City did not help to quell those fears as most of the lyrics were unpolished and almost elementary in a way. But the final version of Jesus Is King is much better for the most part. Kanye still has some rudimentary lyrics here and there like the Jesus is X verse on “Water,” which is actually one of my favorite songs on the album or the “what if Eve made apple juice” line on “Everything We Need.” There are also some moments on JIK where Kanye gets forlorn, honest, and raw about his faith like on the songs “God Is” and “Selah.”
Instrumentally this album is one of Kanye’s best ever. The beats and samples are on par with his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but have the same gospel and soul flairs of his earliest works. Unfortunately, many songs here lack the fine tuning of those older records. “Follow God,” “Everything We Need,” and the opener “,Every Hour.” are examples of songs that are clearly unfinished as they end abruptly with no semblance of an outro or transition. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed in the future as there is an unreleased Clipse verse that goes nicely on “Follow God.” The other big issue many people have with this record and I have as well is the mixing and mastering on some tracks like “Use This Gospel” and “Follow God.” For example, on Follow God many of the drum passages in the background are clipping really badly and this is much more noticeable with headphones on. I’m not really in a place to criticize Kanye and his team on this one however because they have already improved some of the mixing in the days following the release. I fully expect this album to be polished up over the next few weeks.
I would say my biggest gripe with Jesus Is King is probably just how it sounds in comparison to the leaks of Yandhi, because many of the instrumentals were recycled for Jesus Is King like the song “Law of Attraction” which became “Use this Gospel.” In my opinion these instrumentals sounded better as leaks and Kanye made some changes to them that he should not have. Of course I could say this is my own fault for listening to leaks of an album that never came out, but this is Kanye West were talking about. His unreleased catalogue is bigger than his commercial one.
I think Jesus is King will be an interesting point in Kanye’s legacy because it has split many fans. It is a true blown gospel album and despite how much he said before the release, I don’t think many fans saw it coming just how religious the lyrics would be. But no matter what you think of the lyrics I don’t think anyone can deny that Kanye’s beat work on here is some of his best to date.
Like all Kanye albums I have no doubt that this one will only grow on listeners and continue to age like fine wine. The Life of Pablo and 808s and Heartbreak were largely panned at release in the same way that JIK has been by many. All in all, I’m pleased with this release, it would probably land somewhere in the middle or near the bottom of Kanye’s discography for me because I don’t think he totally finished all the ideas on here. I really do like a lot of the songs on Jesus Is King but I think there are fair criticisms to be had and if anyone is personally not feeling this release, I can easily see why.
Unfortunately, Kanye has nothing left to prove in music so there isn’t really a need to fine tune and perfect everything the way he used to. Additionally, his bipolar disorder makes him prone to huge emotional and creative swings, to the point where I have serious doubts about the longevity of Kanye’s new found faith, even though I am happy for him regardless. If you haven’t listened to JIK yet I highly recommend you do so, multiple times of course because this album really does get better with each listen.
Favorite tracks are Selah, Closed On Sunday, God Is, Use This Gospel and Water. I’m feeling like a 7 out of 10 on this. Thanks for reading.