The year is 2015. Kanye West erupts on to the Brit Awards stage to perform the aggressive, controversial banger All Day for the first time, backed by British grime legends wielding flame throwers as Ye unexpectedly returns from a 2-year hiatus. Shortly after this he announces So Help Me God. Following on from the abrasive, experimental, and heavily polarising Yeezus, every one wondered where he would go next. So Help Me God unfortunately never saw the light of day, and after several hectic changes and missed release dates, The Life Of Pablo was born.
The Life Of Pablo was an important moment in Kanye West’s career. The result was, a mostly great, but muddled and unfocused project. The album flourished with great features, production credits, and warming moments of self-awareness from the incredibly divisive figure. The album felt like a personification of his struggling mental state and resulted in some of his best song writing.
Perhaps the most important moments on the album are the gospel inspired cuts. Ultralight Beam is one of his strongest openers, featuring a religious heavy theme which Kanye is no stranger to. Following in Ultralight Beam’s footsteps, Kid Cudi’s vocals go hand in hand with the choir on Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1, and the eerie backing to The Weeknd’s chorus on FML is a beautiful, haunting moment in an album full of unexpected twists and turns.
Despite a few typical controversial tweets, Kanye seemed to be good in the public eye for once. His Madison Square Gardens live event was a success, his clothing brand was taking off, and a whole new generation of listeners found his music.
Although Kanye’s albums became more experimental and interesting, it seems with every release, every album cycle gets more confusing, and the end result is always somewhat short of sky-high expectations. Where would Kanye go next after releasing his two most unique, polarising albums yet? After many scrapped projects (Cruel Winter, Turbo Grafx 16, Love Everyone), he announced a summer of album releases all produced by himself (including the incredible Daytona by Pusha T, and the disappointing Nasir by Nas).
We eventually got ‘Ye’, a fun, short album that left many wanting more – which we got, with the fantastic Kids See Ghosts, potentially one of Kanye’s most introspective, creative and vulnerable albums, and a great collaborative effort with Kid Cudi.
Somehow, in the wake of the Times Up movement, Kanye allowed people to separate the art from the artist with fantastic songs like Ghost Town, I Thought About Killing You, Reborn, and Cudi Montage. Most people thought Kanye was well and truly ‘cancelled’ after his terrible comments on slavery, however he managed to distract people enough to momentarily forgive him.
But following this summer of controversy free Kanye, he announced Yandhi (another promised album which missed many release dates).
A few months back, Yandhi leaked online, and despite being unfinished, the music was good. This album transitioned into his most recent release ‘Jesus Is King’ – an unfocused, messy, cliched statement on religion, that unfortunately wastes some fantastic production with egotistical one liners that sound like they were ripped from a bible camp.
The most disappointing aspect of this album is, for the past year, Kanye has been on the road to redemption after turning the public against him. Recently, Kanye has endorsed Candace Owens, Donald Trump, xxxtentacion, 6ix9ine, and somehow survived cancellation. Following a mental breakdown and opiate addiction, Kanye attempted to rebrand himself.
Ye seemed to change his image up when he visited Uganda in October 2018, to work on his religious music. The previews were uplifting, energetic, and powerful. In January 2019, Sunday Service began, and from crowd recordings, we heard some of Kanye’s brightest musical moments, which brought together black communities and churches.
But unfortunately, the end result of Jesus Is King is a rushed, empty album that barely even follows its gospel premise. Every Hour sets the tone, but Selah and Follow God, whilst good tracks, feel like nothing new or inventive for Kanye. The heavily ridiculed Closed On Sunday is actually one of the must melodic moments on the album, the production is lavish and low key, but the lyrics are too laughable to take serious.
On God is a fantastic, energetic cut produced by Pierre Bourne, and re-worked Yandhi leaks like Everything We Need and Use This Gospel (featuring a fantastic Clipse reunion, and a gorgeous saxophone solo) are also strong points that point in the right direction.
But unfortunately, for an album built up to be as a culturally important, pivotal change in Kanye’s career (following important performances at Coachella and Howard University), Jesus Is King is a heavily flawed album that is made even more unsatisfactory due to its occasional teasers of greatness.
The MAGA hat days are hopefully in the past, and it’s good to see Kanye positive again after his suffering with mental health problems, but the music is lacking the focus that made his early masterpieces so good.
Kanye’s albums have always been divisive, but this is the first time he has faced backlash from both critics and audiences. Despite a successful film screening in New York, the album itself has been met with a considerable amount of backlash. It’s sad to think that we might not hear the self-reflective Kanye we briefly heard on ‘Kids See Ghosts’ again, but hopefully the unpredictable rapper comes back swinging with a new concept in the future.
There isn’t much to unpack on this 27-minute album, Kanye has clearly found faith, but it feels impersonal. If Mr West sticks to his promise and continues down this religious route, let’s hope for a more fleshed out, inspired project. But let’s face it, that Christmas album isn’t happening, is it?
Kanye has clearly done some soul searching, but not everyone is ready to forgive. It’s all well and good to find peace within yourself, but you also need to take responsibility for the damage caused in the first place, rather than brushing it under the rug and claiming you’ve found God. Maybe it’s time for Kanye to return to his ranch in Wyoming and take another break.
By Jay Fullarton