‘Jesus is King’ arrives. Is Kanye’s (musical) legacy still untouchable?

Kanye West has released a lot of music. This is objective. Kanye West has released a lot of critically acclaimed and commercially successful music. This is also is objective.

But is Kanye West is the unquestionably, undoubtedly the greatest human artist of all time? To Kanye West, this too is objective. 

Say what you will, the man is consistent, and he’s also just released a new record. For real this time, we promise. After over a year of promises from West himself, the Chicago native rapper finally dropped ‘Jesus is King.’ 

The record, which was originally titled Yandhi and was set for a September 2018 release, came out last week to divisive reception. 

This is not out of the ordinary. Kanye has always been a man of controversy. Whether it comes to him or he’s chasing it, he and his music have always been talked about for better or for worse.

Or at least, that used to be Kanye West. The times are a-changing, and so is the music. ‘Jesus is King’ is, for intents and purposes, a gospel record. 

For those who know anything about the music of the long-time rapper, singer and producer, incorporating gospel and Christian themes is not a foreign concept. Some of Kanye’s most famous tracks such as Jesus Walks, Ultralight Beam and Reborn all not only hold themes involving God, but those themes are in the spotlight of these tracks

Kanye West incorporating gospel into his music isn’t whats supposedly changed about West. Mostly because he’s done more than incorporate, his music has undergone a full-on conversion. It’s his entire schtick that has changed.

Gone are the days of vibrato and hypermasculinity we saw with his hip hop persona. We’ve entered the rebirth of Kanye West. He has now replaced his old persona with a different type of vibrato and hypermasculinity, that of his own Christian faith. 

Before diving into the album, for context, there must be a discussion of everything that surrounded the release of Kanye’s 11th studio album.

For starters, there’s the Sunday Services and Kanye’s original album rollout. Rachel Tashjian did a piece with GQ about the services, describing it “as a super-secret quasi-religious experience.”

“Is it a party? A new kind of church? One of those “normal” things celebrities do that cannot ever seem normal to the rest of the world? Rick Rubin, Courtney Love, Kid Cudi, and Katy Perry have all attended, and the celebrity and celebrity-adjacent attendees alike have shared images and videos from the services”

Admittedly at the start, it seemed like an interesting twist on going to church on a Sunday morning. A while back a clip surfaced of Kanye playing a beat backed by a huge percussion section and gorgeous choir accompaniment. 

It felt like a fusion of something he would’ve made between graduation and Yeezus. I even remember Barstool Sports made a post about how “this new Kanye album is going to be his best yet” when they posted the clip from the Calabassas service. 

That’s the thing, this was Yeezus’ most hyped release in many years. The rollout for his last two records ‘Ye’ and ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTS,’ the latter being the side project with long-time collaborator and friend Kid Cudi, was relatively tame. The albums are critically acclaimed by most and beloved by many fans, but compared to how these to records were promoted, Kanye’s promotion methods for ‘The Life of Pablo’ and ‘Jesus is King’ got a much more aggressive gameplan of release.

These reason for how these four albums are grouped are not just promotion but the similarities in their production processes as well.

‘Ye’ and ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ we’re unchanged upon release, which is the norm when it comes to releasing a new project of course. Then you have ‘The Life of Pablo’ and ‘Yandhi,’ later renamed and dropped as ‘Jesus is King.

‘The Life of Pablo’ got a facelift months after it’s initial unveiling to the public. The “redux” if you will sound is much tighter, less rough around the edges and even had multiple features re-recorded, most famously Chance the Rappers bar on Ultralight Beam.

These changes were not just heard by hardcore listeners. Casual fans of music were able to notice these alterations, and yes, it was a fairly big deal at the time, but not many saw this as the precursor that it ended up being for the ultimate demise of ‘Yandhi.’

Of course, when discussing the original 11th album from Kanye West, there has to be a mentioning of the leak. ‘Yandhi’ was released unofficially a few months back. It was reception was a mixed bag, but what stuck with fans was how unfinished it was. This was an album that was supposed to be released a full year ago, 29 September 2018, to be exact. 

The ‘Yandhi’ leak was in July. Fans of West, general music listeners and critics all alike started asking themselves the same question. “Are we ever going to get ‘Yandhi.’”

It is now November 2019. Yandhi never came, and instead, the world was given ‘Jesus is King.’

This is not a review of the album, mostly because I still don’t truly know what to make of the record. The production is exceptional but at this point, that’s just the rule of thumb for a Kanye West album. In short, it’s difficult to buy his message. The bars are as courageous and passionate as ever. That previously mentioned vibrato and machismo are still very present.

It’s difficult to take his references to his faith as well as his sparingly quoted scripture while he continues his signature delivery we would get on any other Kanye album. It’s especially jarring when Kanye is in the news denouncing premarital sex and his wife’s “provocative” fashion choices. I suppose this is par for the course when it comes to typical Christian morals, although the argument could be made that Kanye felt more authentic when he used to scream that “only God can judge me” from the top of his lungs.

His old mantra felt more genuine than this. I’m not sure it’s our job to know if Kanye West accepted God into his life as his lord and saviour when he was supposedly baptised not long ago. Or if it’s our job as listeners to connect with him as a “Christan, non-secular artist.”

It’s easy to chalk all this up as “I miss the old Kanye.” It’s more than that. It’s his legacy.

Whenever Kanye made a questionable life, social or even political choices, his legacy as a musical artist never was in question. He was always considered one of the most highly regarded producers and rappers of his time. Divisive sure, no doubt, but a legend.

It’s not like ‘Jesus is King’ is so bad it tarnishes his entire career as a recording artist, but this is the first time since ‘808s and Heartbreak’ where his artistic integrity has been this highly questioned by this many people in the industry, as well as fans and critics. To be fair, that album went on to change the entire landscape of the music industry. Will Kanye’s newest release go on to have a similar effect on what music will sound like in the future?

‘Jesus is King’ leaves the music world with far more questions than it does answers. I feel like I’m reliving Game of Thrones season eight all over again.

Will Kanye West ever release ‘Yandhi’ or any of the tracks from it? Will his newly strengthened faith continue to be his singular muse for years to come? Have the blatant lies about when music will be released, as well as the strong directional change in his music damaged the relationship between West and his fans beyond repair?

Everything involving ‘Jesus is King’ has seemingly affected West’s musical reputation negatively, and it is still completely unclear if that effect will remain negative or shift to a positive light. Does the music world at large still care about Kanye West? For the first time, possibly ever, even that feels as though it is in question. 

Kanye’s prowess, his legend status has always been an objective matter, at least to him but to much of the music world as well, this was a consistent sentiment. That sentiment no longer seems consistent, or even present.