At just 27 minutes, Kanye West’s ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, might as well be the world’s shortest church service. The project sounded good in theory: West returning to his gospel roots (“Jesus Walks,” anyone?) and making the soundtrack to his exclusive, Kardashian-beloved Sunday Services accessible to hundreds of millions of people around the world. However, when compared to the careful precision that went into his early masterpieces, the finished product feels scattered and rushed.
The concept album has 11 songs — which is pretty standard, unless your name is Drake — but four of them clock in at under two minutes apiece. On top of that, the introduction, “Every Hour,” doesn’t even feature any vocals from West, 42, himself. Instead, his Sunday Service Choir is credited with nearly two minutes of singing “‘til the power of the Lord comes down.”
Upon first listen, Jesus Is King sounds great. It is masterfully produced, with a perfect balance of gleeful choir harmonies and traditional hip-hop verses. Songs like “Follow God” and “On God” are sure to have fans grooving in their seats. But after a second and more thorough listen, one can’t help but wonder what happened to the guy who was once at the top of his lyrical game with well-thought-out bars such as, “The plan was to drink until the pain over / But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” and “You should be honored by my lateness / That I would even show up to this fake s–t.”
But the year is 2019, and West apparently now has chicken grease all over his lyric notebook. “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A / You’re my number one, with the lemonade,” he raps over an eerie instrumental. At the end of the cheeky song, which may be a dream for Instagram caption-seekers but not necessarily the Recording Academy, fellow rapper ASAP Bari randomly pops in and shrieks, “Chick-fil-A!”
Like the intro, West is largely absent on “Everything We Need,” instead leaving the spotlight on featured artists Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons. He enlists Clemons again for “Water,” on which West begs Jesus for help, forgiveness, strength, wealth and, well, a laundry list of other things. The spiritual tune ends on a confusing note, with the Grammy winner crooning, “Plannin’ / Bootin’ / Plannin’ / Movin’ / Plannin’ / Tubin’ there.” The most surprising feature comes from renowned saxophonist Kenny G, who delivers a heavenly solo to close out the penultimate song, “Use This Gospel.”
Fortunately, West does not allow his god complex to tarnish too much of his work here. He isn’t nearly as boastful as he was on “I Am a God” from his 2013 album, Yeezus. This time around, he sees himself more as a son of God rather than the man himself.
“Worship Christ with the best of your portions,” he sings on “God Is” on the album’s second half. “I know I won’t forget all He’s done.”
The Bible-referencing “Selah,” meanwhile, is centered around a rousing, slow-building “Hallelujah” chant, while the club-ready, top-down-on-the-Lambo track “Follow God” finds West breaking down various behaviors that his dad warned “ain’t Christ-like.” He ultimately takes his father (or Father)’s advice on “Hands On,” telling the devil, “I’m going on a strike.”
All things considered, Jesus Is King is chaotic, but not a bad album by any means. Ditching secular music is fine; it’s a breath of fresh air even — especially for a rapper. But the album as a whole simply does not feel like a landmark moment in the way that 2007’s Graduation and 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy did. West delayed the release, repeatedly, by 28 days and 12 hours (who’s counting, though?), but he may have benefitted from taking even longer to perfect his craft and make it less, uh, chaotic. If his planned 10th album, Jesus Is Born, comes out when it’s supposed to, which seems like a big ask given West’s track record, this should be an interesting Christmas.
2 stars (out of 4)