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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Jesus Is King, the new album from Kanye West.
Writer’s Note: In the spirit of Kanye West’s recent discography, this review was composed and “finished” at the last moment, after much delay… The Journalism voice will do these feelings no justice, so ride witcha boy.
Living in a Kanye West rollout - particularly a Jesus is King rollout - means choosing a square and purchasing which hill one will likely die on. There’s a thirst for martyrdom, for a pariah, but mostly for bops no matter how saintly! I’ve elected to table my stanhood and closet my lingering hopes, maneuvering through the Ticketmastered shadows trying to make something of the steepled spectacle for myself. Maybe Jesus is the friends we made along the way, but if He is everyone, that nigga’s as confused as I am about the whole thing. That also means He is the older Black Chicagoan on the Sunday Service-bound 146 bus who arched her voice towards the shade. “You’re a fan of that?” she asked a younger passenger; y’all know who and what that is.
He is every pastel Coachella sweatshirt in the flock. He is the Sausage McGriddle I peeled the egg and cheese off at 7 a.m. that morning. He is my homie Caleb: a white man eager to slide behind enemy lines with me, who’d never been to any Black church service before and definitely no church service with both Kanye West and Chancelor “The Rapper” Bennett in attendance. Watching Ye rap “Jesus Walks” with a congregation let my hope trickle out, even as it hit visibly different. Like, how-do-you-rap-that-with-Trump-on-the-text? kinda different. The Sunday Service Choir is unbelievably talented, but I cannot say I left any more enlightened or fearful of God.
Jesus is Billy: another white homie who plugged me with his Ticketmaster login when I didn’t make the queue for the Jesus is King listening. Jesus is a Yondr pouch. I was nosebleed-high, with many more cancelled souls, for seemingly no reason before Kanye arrived and gave his blessing to take the hundreds of open seats below. Kanye led a prayer, played an album, gave his testimony, even played the IMAX film without asking for $20 to see all 35 minutes of it. (It was gorgeous, but not much else.) Jesus is the older Black man in the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, the one who kept me and a white man I just met from roaming down the wrong hallway that night. Once we went back up, I realized we were one level above KimYe and North, maybe Saint, hence the guard’s presence.
Kanye played “Selah” twice; the choral arrangement swelled through the hall, engulfing us in beauty even as we couldn’t make every word out. We did the humming thing together, the one from “Use This Gospel.” I turned to my other Other white homie Justus, and said “...At least it’s better than ye.” I can assure you the crowd wasn’t all white people; several Chicagos were present. Still, I knew better than to ask any of my niggas to slide wimme… it’d hurt too much, and I’ve seen enough kickbacks ruined. I heard a woman got a Jesus Is King sweatshirt for free, and someone offered $4k for it outside.
I neither posted my flicks from either event, nor did I mention my attendance on my socials. I wanted no smoke… because I knew this moment was coming.
The Jesus is King we heard at Roosevelt is similar to the one we’ve heard on Spotify, spare for two songs being cut. It’s arrived after almost a month delay, and manages to sound like its own birth: hurried, sloppy, and painfully par the course these days. I don’t regret covert caring, but it’s gravely unrewarding to have JIK hit the plate like boneless gospel, tossed in a fantastic sauce. No, Jesus is the underdone croissant that hit the table since Kanye rushed the kitchen that one time. Right as the listener’s granted a chance to coast through the arresting, refreshing sonic moments the concept allots, Kanye arrives to somewhat tread more inspired optimistic waters until rendering himself comical until he falters in his own deliverance. I’m unconvinced the secular rebrand is a setup, but that’s what makes the sincerity come off alarming. We still don’t know what we’re watching, and there’s the danger.
As faith remains a driving thematic force in Kanye West albums, the most overt attempt somehow rings hollow and rough, with the most heart coming from everyone else involved. But even as a frustrating step, Jesus is King remains a slightly-promising one, however alienating or… alien the execution is. (Murder’s accessible, but faith isn’t… but that’s another qualm for another time.) Kanye prefers the term breakthrough to breakdown, but how long can our surveillance prevail? At least we have a reason for Kenny G to trend without him dying or goin’ out politically sad on the timeline?
I still don’t know, y’all. Was my hand in the cultish dance worth all the CTA time? I’m left with even more questions, but here are a few: What’s a redemption arc if the mix don’t hit the way it should? What’s a Clipse Reunion if the vocal takes are slightly outta step, like, in a millisecond-timing way? When a Chick-fil-a bar is one of the most quotable moments on a gospel album, does Jesus get the #1 with lemonade as well? Would Jesus buy a Yeezy Boot to feed a Kardashian mouth? “Jesus is Lord” is far longer than 50 seconds - it’s in the credits of the IMAX film! - so… why? And why does the rollout hit more than the album, and the artwork?
There’s an angle about Black celebrity and mental health in here somewhere… and fandom, and cancellation, and cooptation.
I’d finish my tangent, but I’ve yet to destroy my idols.
I can always edit it later. It’s en vogue.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.