For as long as he’s been a recording artist, Kanye West has had Jesus on the mind. On one of his earliest hits, he rapped, “So here go my single, dawg, radio needs this/ They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/ That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/ But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?” It got played.
Since then his relationship with Christianity has gotten a lot more complicated. He questioned, “Why everything that’s supposed to be bad make me feel so good?” He asserted, “I know that Jesus died for us/ But I couldn’t tell you who decide wars.” Eventually, he even proclaimed, “I am a God.” By the time of 2016’s The Life Of Pablo, he was warming back up to both Jesus and gospel music, yet still segueing from Kirk Franklin sermons to bars about fucking a model who bleached her asshole and thereby getting bleach on his T-shirt.
Despite his concerns on “Jesus Walks,” little of this seemed to cost him his fan base. His reputation took a beating when he aligned himself with President Donald Trump, a figure widely beloved by Evangelical Christians but derided by most of his peers in the rap game — even more so when he suggested that African Americans chose to be enslaved. Ye — the album he released as part of a weeks-long recording camp in Wyoming that also yielded his Kid Cudi collab Kids See Ghosts plus LPs from Pusha-T, Nas, Teyana Taylor — was the sloppiest, least inspired, worst received album of his career. He has been increasingly open about his struggle with mental illness and has increasingly seemed unwell. And this year, he has thrown himself into his faith with a fervor we’ve never seen from him before.
Throughout 2019, West has been throwing Sunday Services, basically extended church worship services that fuse his own catalog and classic covers with hymns and spirituals. He’s taken this show on the road: to Coachella on Easter Sunday, to Dayton in the wake of a mass shooting, to his Chicago hometown. The presence of high-priced merch and an air of televangelist sleaze has incited skepticism among critics who wonder if he’s opted to become a high-powered religious grifter of the Joel Osteen variety. It’s unclear where this is all leading, but for now, it has led to an album.
Jesus Is King was supposed to be out 9/27, and then 9/29, but both deadlines came and went without an LP — other than the seemingly unfinished version Kanye was playing at events in Detroit, Chicago, and New York that weekend. Now, with the accompanying IMAX film hitting theaters today, the album is finally here for real — more than a year after Yandhi’s promised release date, and not without yet another delay due to last-minute tinkering.
Jesus Is King is West’s ninth full-length project — twelfth if you count his collaborative albums with Jay-Z and Kid Cudi and his G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer. He hasn’t released any music from it ahead of time, though “Water” has made its way into Sunday Services, “Selah” was heard on West’s Instagram last fall. Elsewhere the album unites Clipse and Kenny G on “Use This Gospel,” but the much-hyped “New Body” is conspicuously absent. Now that it’s all out, we all get to find out what a full-blown Kanye West gospel worship album sounds like.
Or do we? Stream Jesus Is King below to find out.
Jesus Is King is out now on Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music.