Of course, I have to join in on the conversation surrounding “Jesus is King,” Kanye West’s latest– and most interesting– album. Since the album dropped, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I think about it since I’m a big Christian rap fan (which means I really like it, though I am a 6’0″ 230 lb Christian rap fan, as well). Kanye West is one of the most successful and influential artists of the last 20 years. He may even be in the conversation for all-time. I don’t know enough at the moment to make that call. But either way, Kanye is a major, popular culture icon. And apparently, he has been radically saved by Jesus. First, let me address the album.
What about the music itself?
I’m going to be honest when I say this: I think the album itself musically is pretty average, or slightly above average. There is nothing musically about this album that really blows me away. I think some of the mixes sound a little weird. Maybe that was intentional. I have no idea. I think they could have nixed maybe 4 songs, released this as an EP, and it would have been great. There are, however, a lot of things I still really like about this album. Let me share those.
One of the best thing about this album is in fact the instrumentals. Kanye has been known to be one of the most experimental rap artists when it comes to musical creativity. This album is no exception. Though most of the songs have this general, Gospel music overtone, there is a lot of play in the production. There is some piano. A couple songs don’t even have real percussion, which really works. There are some interesting transitions. The music behind most of the tracks is good. It matches Kanye’s vocals well, I think.
Another great part of the album is the features. Ty Dolla $ign’s vocals on the song “Everything We Need” are absolutely beautiful. The Fred Hammond vocals that are edited on the track “Hands On” are also a really unique and enjoyable feature. They really work with the song well. Kenny G adds a good texture with his saxophone (I think?) to “Use This Gospel” that kind of cuts against Kanye’s singing in a nice way. Also having Clipse rap with Kanye singing is a good combo for that track. Overall, I’m not going to lie and say the album musically is something I will rock over and over again. It’s okay. It’s not elite. It’s good. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I mean this all purely from a musical perspective. But I would be remiss if I didn’t praise the obvious best part of the album: the spiritual content.
There is absolutely no way this album is not a Christian rap album. I can’t even begin to give you all of the allusions and scripture and wordplay on these songs. Bottom line: the album is full of Jesus. If you want to argue with that, I would accuse you of having not actually listened to it. There are a couple of verses in John 8 that get directly cited in the song “Selah.” Kanye claims in one line of that same song that, “He saved a wretch like me!” Seriously, I won’t do it any justice to quote you random lines. Listen to the album yourself. It’s the real deal.
What about Kanye?
I know that I have personally criticized Kanye before. One of things he’s done before that I personally took offense at was his posing as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone. He’s made some very explicit music. He has said some things publicly that are sinful. For all of you Taylor Swift fans out there, he has wronged you on a personal level. It only takes about 30 seconds for most people to think of some sin he has committed. A great deal of the criticism surrounding this album has been of the artist himself. Surely, Kanye West couldn’t be different now, can he? Isn’t this all just a ploy to make money? Hasn’t he done this before? What about his past sins? To answer all of these questions, I simply say shame on you.
This is the knee-jerk reaction of Christians– myself included. When we watch someone, especially someone we know, get saved, often our immediate response is not to rejoice. We immediately begin to criticize and analyze, looking for any type of slip up or unatoned for sin. At best, the Church and it’s members will say congratulations, toss the new convert a Bible, and then proceed to ignore them for the pivotal moments of a person’s salvation: the first few. Kanye West lives his life in the public eye. He has no real choice in this. He has made his legacy in the public eye over the last several years. His legacy has been one of rap music, high fashion, sex, and other types of materialistic enterprises. And he is being treated as someone untouchable by salvation. How could God save a wretch like Kanye? Well, I know how… because He saved a wretch like me.
My sin is insurmountable. Your sin is insurmountable. Our sins are insurmountable. Kanye West’s sins are insurmountable. The fundamental difference between Kanye West and I as sinful human beings is nothing. There is no difference. He doesn’t need more or less atonement than I do. He needs complete and total atonement… just as I do. This new development in the life of Kanye has brought out the inevitable conversation– is Kanye really saved?
From my perspective, I do fully believe (and hope and pray) that Kanye West is a believer. The album is unabashedly forward in its religious content. More importantly, Kanye is unabashedly forward in his faith. Kanye told Jimmy Kimmel that he is now “a Christian everything.” He has also done two very intriguing interviews, one with Zane Lowe and one with Big Boy, that leave almost no doubt he has experienced a change of heart. Listen to these before you go any further to make your judgement call. I’ve also been told (I can’t remember by whom) that the pastor helping to disciple Kanye is a guy named Adam Tyson. By my brief understanding, this guy seems like he is very biblically legitimate (Praise God for that).
Truthfully, only time will tell whether or not this new Kanye is the real Kanye. We must, as believers, be constructively critical of his fruit. We must also pray for his discipleship, growth, and maturity as a believer. But let’s be totally honest with ourselves…
If God can save me, He can save Kanye. If God can use me, He will certainly use Kanye. And with the type of public reach Kanye’s got, imagine what impact the Gospel could have were this conversion to be legitimate, authentic, and Great Commission-driven? This could be the beginning of a spiritual awakening. That is most definitely deserving of praise for who God is. I’m fired up. And until I see otherwise, I’m on the Kanye bandwagon.
You (prayerfully) should be, too.