Kanye West’s Jesus Is King Isn’t An Album, It’s A Life Event

Pop Culture

Kanye West’s Jesus Is King Isn’t An Album, It’s A Life Event

Illustration: Hitesh Sonar

Imagine if a version of the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, or the Bible were to be released for the first time today. It would obviously be welcomed by a barrage of thinkpieces flooding websites; some hailing the radicality of this new religious belief, and some poking holes in it. There’d be quizzes that would judge whether you were the right fit for this particular religion based on strangely specific questions about your random interests, alongside an assortment of entertaining, flippant memes. Noise would be generated, hashtags would trend, and someone may even get a Netflix documentary out of it. But one thing is for certain: In due time, the buzz would die down, and the idea of this one singular belief would fade into page two and onwards of a Google search until another distraction arrives.Kanye West on the other hand, has never adhered to the fickleness of this cycle. That, despite his multiple divisive assertions, he has succeeded in sustaining interest in him for this long, through ill-advised outbursts and hurriedly hatched music, is a testament to his radical genius. The difference between talking about Kanye West and talking about anybody else is that Kanye is rarely talked about in terms that involve “respect” anymore. It’s got less to do with skill and prowess and more about calculating whether he continues to fit within our set definitions of the term “genius”. To me, he isn’t an artist or a celebrity but a walking, talking event plugged in with a personal existential crisis that comes with a Twitter account for us to follow. Honestly, you don’t even talk about Kanye or his offerings any longer — you discuss him, debate him, tear him apart to figure out what exactly he is trying to communicate.

Everybody has an opinion on Kanye West. There are two prevailing schools of thought — you either think he is a shining beacon for the arts or a straight-up lunatic. Kanye, of course, doesn’t care what you think of him as long as you indeed are thinking about him — passionately, and furiously — and by extension, encouraging the myth that actualises what he’s been rapping about for so long: that he is a god. There was Jesus, Allah, Buddha, and now there is Kanye.

When Kanye makes claims about being the greatest living artist, it may come across as bragging from a person infamous for arrogance and self-obsession. But it’s also a statement that is difficult to contest. Since The College Dropout released 15 years ago, each subsequent album has gone more maximalist, more challenging, and more confident. Listening to a new Kanye song was once like the auditory equivalent of seeing a new colour. Perhaps that explains why his fans have repeatedly crawled back to him, despite him. Over the years, Kanye has exploited this blinded devotion as a license to be whoever he wants to be. 

But in praising the Lord, Kanye has committed a cardinal sin of hip hop — he’s released a boring album.

When the date of Jesus Is King’s release was announced and pushed a total of three times, it didn’t matter, solely because the Kanye Myth persisted. But something feels different about the hype this time. There’s very little point in forming a real opinion on the songs in Jesus is King, for their purpose has gone beyond being just songs. Instead, these are roundabout ways for him to announce to the world who he is at this point in time. 

Since the controversy of the MAGA hat last year, Kanye had uncharacteristically receded from the spotlight, only to return a few months later, as a more fleshed-out version of a man who claimed that “slavery was a choice”. He embraced Christianity and began praising Jesus to absolve himself of the sins of his past — sex, drugs, and cussing. Jesus Is King then, feels like a natural progression: Here, he has embraced the role of being the Lord’s personal hype man. But in praising the Lord, Kanye has committed a cardinal sin of hip hop — he’s released a boring album.

And Jesus is King is boring, from back to front. My body was ready to be pummeled by Kanye’s angelic verses about Jesus and the gang; I was mentally prepared to give my soul to the Yeezy-fied version of Church. Instead, these are 11 tracks that seem unfinished and unexciting. His lyrics try too hard to be interesting (“Closed on Sunday/You My Chick-Fil-A”) and his insistence on placing himself front-and-centre drags down an album that begs us to believe that it is actually not about him. His natural propensity to go loud falls short on almost every track, many of which begin with promise but then pull away from that trademark explosion of Kanye ideas. If Kanye West ever made elevator music, I suppose this entirely forgettable album is how it would sound like.

From now on, Kanye’s albums will only be incidental to Kanye as an event — mere chapter breaks in the longer reality show that is his life.

I’m not sure what it is. Maybe, this is all God’s divine light could muster. But in this outlandish journey from Yeezus to Jesus, Kanye’s dizzying self-assuredness is gradually turning into a veneer for his fading music. From now on, his albums will only be incidental to Kanye as an event — mere chapter breaks in the longer reality show that is his life. We once judged (and forgave) Kanye because of the musical standard he set for himself. But now, as his reality, rather than his music, becomes our only window into his mind, there is this distance between him and the rest of us, which makes his music more alienating than invigorating. It’s why fans still raving about him are beginning to resemble audiences in evangelical church videos, palpitating and violently vibrating, when they sense that God dwells within them just because an overpaid pastor told them so. In many ways perhaps, Jesus Is King marks Kanye the Genius’s descent into musical anonymity. But it also does something else: it situates him as a broken god for our godless generation.

2013’s Yeezus had a song bluntly titled “I Am a God”. Six years later, he runs with that thought in Jesus Is King. There is no escaping that he has always wished to be mythologised and like Jesus, Buddha, and Allah, he is now being debated and dissected, hated and loved with equal amounts of vigour. It doesn’t matter that his new album isn’t great and it also won’t matter if his follow-up falls flat, as long as he is in our minds. In that sense, he seems to be doing just fine.