Kanye West, ‘Jesus is King’: Chains Broken, Faith Restored [Breakdown]
Nearly a month after being delayed, the world was presented with Kanye West and the Jesus is King album on October 25. After multiple reports of Ye’s perfectionist mentality causing nearly nonstop fine-tuning, the situation seemed hopeless, with many seeing the project in the same vein as the infamous Yandhi. Nonetheless, the eleven-track project arrived with a graceful balance of gospel and hip-hop elements, screaming of the artist’s continued strength in production ability. While it is clear that Kanye West is not as he said, “a theologian,” but “a recent convert,” he does bring a downright inspirational fervor. As has been stated by numerous sources, Jesus is King may not be West’s “best” album, but, it does mark an incredible point of transition in the Forbes cover star’s career.
Every Hour (ft. Sunday Service Choir) – “Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down”
“Every Hour” serves as the listener’s introduction to the sound and theme of Jesus is King. While West has used choirs in previous songs such as “Jesus Walks,” “Ultralight Beam,” and “Father Stretch my Hands,” this track credits the Sunday Service choir, a group that has traveled with Ye since the start of the musical sessions. The song is not complicated, but feels as if it were recorded at a church service with lyrics such as “Let everything that has breath praise God,” and “For His mighty works and excellent grace and His mighty power…” While this introductory track credits Kanye West, he is noticeably absent from the song, emphasizing the departure this project takes from his previous works. After years of being called an egomaniac, West has taken a backseat to the gospel message, claiming freedom from his pride, instead, focusing on the glory of God.
Selah – “Everybody wanted Yandhi/Then Jesus Christ did the laundry”
“Selah” references a Hebrew musical term that is used often in the books of Psalms and Habbakuk. Laden with allusions to Abraham and Noah as well as the Gospels of Luke and John, it is clear that the founder of the Yeezy empire has experience with the scriptures. Ultimately, “Selah,” like much of the rest of Jesus is King, focuses on freedom, as Kanye leaves behind the judgments of others to celebrate his liberty in Christ. Declaring that Jesus has “saved a wretch like [West],” the designer cites John 8:36, which states, “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Additionally, “Selah” implores listeners to forgive their enemies and go beyond typical conventions of “wokeness.”
Follow God – “Screamin’ at my dad and he told me ‘it ain’t Christ-like’/But nobody never tell you when you’re being like Christ”
“Follow God” represents Ye’s reaction to this directive, as he struggles with living a life of righteousness. Many of the bars are complemented by subtle background vocals stating, “Stretch my hands to you,” an obvious callback to 2016’s “Father Stretch My Hands.” Because of his challenges in living a Christian lifestyle, West begs the Father to bring him to the point of surrender. Where his freedom in Christ should have been enough, the Chicago born artist found himself obsessed with the affirmation of others, but recognizes his need for independence, rapping “Block ‘em on the text though, nothin’ else next though/Not another word, letter, picture, or a decimal.” West rejects a dependency on any human being, attempting to imitate the behavior of the resurrected Savior rather than that of others.
Closed on Sunday – “No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave”
Undoubtedly the greatest source of Jesus is King meme content, “Closed on Sunday,” will forever be known for its references to Chick-fil-A. Despite the humor in mentioning the fast-food restaurant, there is a legitimate connection to Ye’s newfound attitude and the multimillion-dollar company. Both entities seem to embrace a countercultural perspective that often comes with criticism from the masses. In an interview with Zane Lowe of Beats1, Yeezy is quoted as stating, “I thought I was the god of culture, but really culture was my god.”
“Closed on Sunday” acknowledges Ye’s previous distorted focus, but stages a rebellion against the worst parts of culture, using the evil Queen Jezebel for symbolic reference. Jezebel has become synonymous with sexual promiscuity, idolatry, and misleading God’s people, and was most famously opposed by the major biblical prophet, Elijah. After having slaughtered the majority of God’s prophets, Jezebel and her husband, King Ahab, were wrested from the control of Israel because of their sin. Despite her being compared to “…dung upon the face of the field…” (2 Kings 9:37) at the end of her life, Jezebel has remained an enduring symbol of corruption. Knowing the weight of this evil, Yeezy accepts the challenge of Jezebel, coming with bars of defiance such as “Try me and you will see that I ain’t playin’/Now back up off my family, move your hands,” and “…Jezebel don’t even stand a chance.”
On God – “I bleached my hair for every time I could’ve died”
“On God” is a reflective song that describes Ye’s relationship with God, and the journey to Jesus is King. Using traditional hip-hop production, West describes many of his past behaviors with regret, stating, “They had me chasin’ statues, that’s on pride,” “The Devil had my soul, I can’t lie,” and “I felt dry, that’s on God.” It has taken years for West to reach this spiritual awakening, a fact he is sure to remind listeners of with the line “Life gon’ have some lows and some highs.” The artist knows this truth all too well, from winning over 20 GRAMMYs to being hospitalized while on the Life of Pablo tour, the journey of Kanye West is a storied one. But, through it all, “[West] survived, that’s on God.”
Outside of the faith-based elements of “On God,” Yeezy also asserts his political beliefs regarding the Thirteenth Amendment, most well-known for ending the institutions of slavery and free labor in the United States outside of the condition of criminal punishment. Ye claims a sense of responsibility in abolishing the latter portion of the amendment, seeking reform in a prison system that has often been described as “modern-day slavery.”
Everything We Need (ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Ant Clemmons) – “We began after the storm inside/Lay the land…it’s just the morning light”
From various leaks and reports, it seems that “Everything We Need” has had a tumultuous journey to release, originally being planned for West’s canceled project, Yandhi. Alongside Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemmons, the Kids See Ghosts musician uses allusions to the Fall of Man, and naturalistic imagery of land and light to create a short but melodious track. With the title and refrain “Everything We Need,” Yeezy emphasizes the abundance that life provides in and of itself. Adding to this theme, when referencing the Edenic narrative, Ye states that one could put the forbidden fruit back upon the tree “‘…cause/[w]e have everything we need.”
Water (ft. Ant Clemmons) – “Jesus clean the music/Jesus, please use us/Jesus please help/Jesus please heal/Jesus, please forgive”
Performed during the Sunday Service performance at Coachella, “Water” was immediately a standout record. Every line on Ye’s verse makes either a plea or a clear statement about Jesus, alternating between request and proclamation.
Meanwhile, Ant Clemmons solidifies the metaphor of water by stating, “Take the chlorine out our conversation/Let your light reflect on me/…We are water.” One interpretation of these lines is the need to remove humanity’s corruption from the conversation, instead of letting the supernatural light of God be the source of cleanliness, just as ultraviolet light from the sun cleanses literal water. Because humans need cleansing through Christ but are a source of life, an idea Clemmons alludes to with the line “[l]ike a newborn daughter,” we are all just like water.
God Is – “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store/From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door”
Seemingly a second person rephrasing of God’s identification as “I AM,” the lyrics of “God Is” represent Ye’s praise towards the Heavenly Father. With “Jesus saved me, now I’m sane,” the artist addresses his battles with mental health, having been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and continuously labeled “crazy” as a result. The later line “[T]here is freedom from addiction,” points to West’s battles with substance abuse following his hospitalization in 2016, and addictions to pornography and sex he revealed while being interviewed by Zane Lowe. Finally, “Jesus, you have my soul,” is a clear confession of faith, with West surrendering the innermost part of himself to the Messiah. Clearly, the enormously wealthy creative has been filled with zeal in his experience of the gospel and seeks to share it with others.
Hands On (ft. Fred Hammond) – “Said I’m finna do a gospel album/What have you been hearin’ from the Christians/They’ll be the first ones to judge me”
Enlisting gospel legend Fred Hammond, “Hands On” renounces Yeezy’s previous works, claiming that he had been doing Satan’s work throughout his whole life. This statement falls in line with recent interviews wherein Ye has asserted that it was the success of his Lil Pump collaboration “I Love It,” which made him realize his need for Christ. While the song was a hit, it is the exact opposite of the content Ye is seeking to establish with Jesus is King.
Nonetheless, the musical phenom knows that his transition to Christ-centered content has been met with hesitation, and in the worst cases, unjust wrath from the Christian community. As is often the case, Christians, whether intentional or not, often fail to engage the culture and meet believers and nonbelievers alike with the compassion of Christ. Knowing of the often hasty nature of Christians, Hammond, presumably singing from West’s perspective, begs believers, “[d]on’t throw me up, lay your hands on me,” a clear call for sincere prayer.
Use This Gospel (ft. Clipse & Kenny G) – “In the Father, we put our faith”
Bringing together the sibling duo of Pusha-T and No Malice, as well as a stunning saxophone solo from Kenny G, “Use This Gospel,” presents themes of reconciliation, trust in God, and the difficulties of Christianity. West’s chorus reminds listeners of the power of the gospel message. Meanwhile, Pusha-T and No Malice acknowledge the pain they have caused after having dealt drugs as well as their need to depend on one another. The penultimate combination of lyrics and music on Jesus is King, “Use This Gospel,” like many of the project’s other tracks, combines petition, praise, and repentance, critical aspects of a Christian lifestyle.
Jesus is Lord – “Every knee shall bow/Every tongue confess/Jesus is Lord”
The finale of Jesus is King states the lyrics listed above twice over, clearly alluding to the writings of the Apostle Paul, or as Ye may refer to him, Pablo, to the church of Philippi. In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul writes, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Closing Jesus is King with an eye towards the future return of Christ completes the journey of the project, as Yeezy expands his view beyond his individual relationship with Christ to the day wherein all of God’s children will confess, “Jesus is Lord.”
Jesus is King came as a surprise to the entirety of the public but has convinced many, including this author, that Kanye West is a modern prodigal son come home. While none can be sure of where Ye’s faith journey will take the artist, there is always a reason to celebrate the return of a lost brother. From pleading, “God show me the way because the devil’s trying to break me down” in 2004 to singing “Lord shine your light on me, save me, please” in 2018, it seems that Kanye West has been seeking God his entire career. Now, in 2019, the GRAMMY award winner has found the salvation he has been yearning for, stating emphatically, “[t]hank you, Jesus, won the fight.”