The ninth installment in the Kanye West saga finally dropped on Friday, Oct. 25, almost exactly one month after it was supposed to originally release.
Initially aiming for a Sept. 27 release, JESUS IS KING suffered from a similar error as 2018’s postponed Yandhi. When the former didn’t drop that day, fans speculated that it would potentially drop that Sunday, mostly due to its heavy religious themes and Kanye’s Sunday Service concerts. To no surprise, however, it wasn’t out on Sept. 29 either. Fast forward to Oct. 24, Kanye tweeted that JESUS IS KING would drop at midnight along with the album’s track listing. Yet again, the album was nowhere to be found on Oct. 25 until about noon. After needing the extra time to mix three of the songs, JESUS IS KING was finally here.
Years ago, if someone said that a Kanye West gospel album was coming out, they would’ve been laughed at. But ever since West started holding Sunday Service events, a series of shows with a live church choir, a gospel record didn’t seem too foreign after all. The first service was held on Jan. 6, 2019, and have continued since every following Sunday.
Starting off with a riveting introduction of “Every Hour,” Kanye and the Sunday Service Choir team up for the song that sets the album’s landscape. The following track, “Selah,” features a somber organ-like instrumental accompanied with West’s religious bars. “Follow God” details his resurgence in faith. An outstanding instrumental and exceptional rapping from West helps make this one of the album’s highlights. The use of the sample from Whole Truth’s “Can You Lose by Following God” that can be heard throughout the song saying “Father, I stretch, Stretch my hands to you” seems to allude to “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” and “Pt. 2” from 2016’s The Life of Pablo.
“Closed On Sunday” is where the album begins to lose some touch. It’s a soothing track with an almost Middle Eastern vibe of a beat. Also, with Kanye talking about putting down your phones and praying with your family, the sentiment has great potential. But when he says “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A/You’re my number one, with the lemonade,” it makes one think why fans waited this long just to hear corny bars about a fast food restaurant. Maybe if the lines were used on a more upbeat instrumental, they would’ve fit, but they just sound out of place on “Closed On Sunday.” Not to mention, had any other less renowned rapper said this, they would’ve been criticized and burned at the stake immediately; perhaps deservedly so.
The album’s climax ensues on “Everything We Need,” featuring Ant Clemonts and Ty Dolla $ign. The track is derived from a Yandi leak called “The Storm,” in which Kanye and Ty Dolla $ign collaborated with the late XXXTentacion. This official version is much shorter than it’s unreleased counterpart and could use another verse to make it longer and overall better. But it’s refreshing to see someone not use a posthumous XXXTentacion verse for streams and money. The music on “Water” sounds like it would fit on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and yet again features a beautiful Sunday Service Choir complimenting West. But at this point in the album, seven songs in, the subject matter is becoming rather repetitive. Alright Kanye, you have had an admirable religious renaissance, but what about it? What new things have you discovered within the realm of religion? How has your family or fan base reacted to your newfound faith? Don’t just tell your fans to pray more or be more faithful, rather, tell them why they should. He does this somewhat on “God Is,” but his singing on this track ultimately kills it. The penultimate song, “Use This Gospel” is an extraordinary song that uses a single note based instrumental reminiscent of MBDTF’s “Runaway” to its advantage. Chilling layered vocals hum while Pusha T delivers as usual, leading up to an epic, echoing saxophone solo from Kenny G.
Overall, JESUS IS KING could’ve been so much more, but due to repetition and a 27-minute runtime, the album falters. It shares a commonality with last year’s Ye, which is just a few minutes shorter. Both albums aren’t terrible by any means, they just didn’t live up to their potential, especially JESUS IS KING. Which is almost surprising, despite the success of the seven song, Kid Cudi collaboration KIDS SEE GHOSTS. JESUS IS KING is reminiscent of rapper IDK’s Is He Real? from Sept. 4, an album that ponders religion in slightly more depth, but it’s short runtime causes a fault in the overall theme and arc of the work. That’s not to say these albums should be over an hour long or anything, but most songs on these albums are too short to be anything special. Not to mention: most of Kanye’s most beloved and iconic works (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak) all push or exceed an hour, with the exception of Yeezus. Kanye West is never synonymous with brevity, and this is most evident on JESUS IS KING, which makes it get a 5/10.