There are flashes of brilliance on Jesus Is King but like last year’s ye, there’s a lack of clarity. He commits to his gospel set-dressing: this is episcopal music through and through. It just isn’t that interesting.
Few artists are as frustratingly obtuse as Kanye West. Despite a string of genuine masterworks (808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, The Life of Pablo) he’s prone to the odd cringe-inducing misfire. But since it’s the same ego-complex impulses that inspire both the good and the bad, it’s very hard to criticise him. Can you really ask him to rein it in when it’s his own bizarre self-obsession that made tracks like ‘POWER’ and ‘Black Skinhead’ possible?
However after ye and now Jesus Is King it’s clear a pattern is beginning to emerge in his songwriting – namely a dearth of actual ideas. Despite it’s eyebrow-raising conceit (i.e Kanye does a Christian rap album) there’s so little about this project that is memorable or even comprehensible. And while people don’t go to Kanye for everyman relatability, when he raps “That’s why I charge the prices that I charge / No, I cannot let me family starve…that’s on God” while charging $50 for a pair of socks it becomes hard to take this shit seriously.
The instrumental of ‘Closed on Sunday’ is great. It’s pure patented Kanye magic, a mish-mash of different sounds cobelled together with maniacal precision. But what does it mean? Ultimately nothing. It’s an extended ad for Chick-Fil-A, with the title the only half-baked nod to the theme of the album. ‘Selah’ is an epic build to nothing. The beat has the cadence of a slamming steel door, like some bizarre off-cut from the Terminator score, while constant gospel chanting puts your teeth on edge and a bizarre vocal sample sounds like it was left in on accident.
‘Follow God’ is solid gold, with everything slotting together with a satisfying click. Flow to beat to samples snap onto one each other with perfect precision. ‘Use This Gospel’ is so bizarre it comes out the other side and becomes amazing, with guest verses from Clipse and a Kenny G solo papering over Kanye’s wobbly singing.
The fact is most of these songs are no longer than two minutes yet still manage to drag. They feel like unfinished demos. The production is good, it always is on Kanye projects, but everything else feels rushed.
There’s certainly novelty value to this and credit to Kanye for being one of the few artists who can still make an album release feel like a cultural event, but Jesus Is King should produce little more than a shrug from everyone but the die-hards. There’s a few of them though.