We don’t have the album, but we do have some clues about it.
In 2016, Kanye West dragged us through what may have been the most chaotic album rollout in history. The Life of Pablo underwent multiple title changes, moving from “So Help Me God” to “SWISH” and then “Waves” before settling. Multiple iterations of the tracklist were shared on Kanye’s Twitter, altering every time another artist passed through the revolving-door studio. The album’s release was delayed, too. It was originally slated to drop on February 11, but only appeared on TIDAL three days later after Kanye’s SNL performance. Even after it finally arrived, Kanye continued tweaking the songs and forcefully swapping the contents of listeners’ music libraries.
This rollout wouldn’t have been nearly as hectic if the public wasn’t allowed a peak of the entire process. Kanye reverting to using his Twitter account to provide updates regarding every change made to the album is what made it all so stressful, but also so entertaining, for his followers. While the TLOP rollercoaster was a fun experience, I don’t think anyone wished for artists to start adopting this model of excessively transparent releases.
When Kanye simply tweeted out a cover and release date for Yandhi in September 2018, it came as a relief. Perfect. Let’s spare the beefs and the revisions and quietly drop an album like the good old days. Well, anyone who thought this would be the case proved to be deluded. Two days after the anticipated release date had passed, Kanye sent out his minion, Kim, to deal with the masses and inform them that he was not ready yet – foreshadowing a practice that would become unfortunately common. Kim presented the new release date of November 23, but about a week before that Black Friday, Kanye tweeted that Yandhi was still not ready and he’d “announce the release date once it’s done.”
In the words of Tyler, The Creator, “so that was a f*cking lie.” Kanye once again delivered a release date that he did not follow through on, but this time, it was for a different project. While Yandhi continues to be its own leak-filled mess, let me walk you through what we know the parallel rollout of Jesus Is King.
BORN AGAIN YE
Kanye has always been a religious man, but he wasn’t always drop an album titled Jesus Is King religious. Yes, this is the same man whose music career skyrocketed largely due to a song called “Jesus Walks,” but Ye has recently taken his commitment to the Lord to the next level. To the best of our knowledge, his spiritual journey commenced around the end of 2018. On December 3rd of last year, Kanye tweeted out an icon of a Holy Bible app, proclaiming it his “favorite app.” He later revealed that his turn to religion was inspired by another openly devout artist, Chance the Rapper. “I need to speak about how Chance demanding that we record in Chicago reconnected me with my roots and also my faith in Jesus Christ,” Ye tweeted.
SUNDAYS ARE FOR THE LORD
On January 6, 2019, clips of a choir performing gospel renditions of Kanye’s hits surfaced on social media. While people were able to make sense of a choir praising God on a Sunday as an ordinary occurrence, Kanye’s involvement with the whole ordeal remained unknown. At the time, it was not public knowledge that these gatherings would be taking place every Sunday, each week taking on different Kanye songs in different locations. They started as invite-only events and those who were not invited had to piece together what was going on based on tidbits of digital content.
Eventually, a clearer picture emerged of what these Sunday Services entailed. The choir is led by Kanye’s cousin and frequent collaborator, Tony Williams, who dispelled the rumors that Kanye was starting a church. While Sunday Service sometimes includes sermons – even from Ye himself – its focus is the music. Kanye emphasized the simplicity of the gospel concerts when he appeared on Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman. “It’s just an idea we had to open up our hearts to make music that we felt was as pure and as positive as possible and just do it for an hour every Sunday, and have something where people can just come together and feel good with their families,” he said.
JESUS IS COMING
For months, Ye laid low. We mostly only saw him in videos, smilingly playing keys or smashing a sampler at Sunday Service. Talk of any upcoming album from him dissipated. He seemed occupied and content. After months of stirring up MAGA-related controversies in 2018, a break from Ye was welcomed. Then, at the end of August, Kim tweeted out details of an imminent Kanye project. A photo of a notepad announced that he would be dropping a 12-song album, titled Jesus Is King, on September 27.
The tracklist included a song called, “Water,” which circulated the Internet after it was performed at Kanye’s Coachella edition of Sunday Service. Other than that, fans were left relatively in the dark. However, based on the title, they could speculate that the project would possess a heavy gospel influence.
September 27nd arrived and Jesus Is King did not. Kim tweeted an updated tracklist and claimed the album’s release would be pushed back to September 29th due to final mixes. Rather than drop the album on Friday, Kanye set off on an action-packed weekend. Over three days, he hopped from Detroit to Chicago to New York City. He hosted Sunday Services in each location, but also followed them with another type of event. “Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Experience” premiered the film that serves as a companion piece to the Jesus Is King album. Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Film, which is set to debut in IMAX theatres on October 25th (Ha!), documents a Sunday Service that took place over the summer in the Roden Crater, a never-before-seen installation created by James Turrell in Arizona’s Painted Desert.
According to Billboard, when Kanye previewed Jesus Is King at the “Kanye West Experience” in New York, the album consisted of merely ten songs and ran for less than half an hour. It was also revealed that the tracklist had been radically changed from the one initially tweeted out by Kim. The only songs that remained from that version were “Water,” “Selah,” and “Hands On.” The tracklist now reportedly looks something like this:
1. “Beauty From Ashes”
2. “Follow God”
3. “On God”
4. “Closed on Sunday”
5. “Water” Feat. Ant Clemons
7. “New Body” Feat. Ty Dolla $ign & Nicki Minaj
8. “L.A. Monster”
9. “Hands On” Feat. Fred Hammond
10. “Use This Gospel” Feat. Clipse & Kenny G
And the cover looks something like this:
However, Rolling Stone reported that the album “still sounds like a work-in-progress”, with “Kanye’s vocal performances [travelling] the gamut from alert and masterful to rushed and mumbled.” That being said, don’t be surprised if the final product ends up not resembling the above tracklist.
THE WORD OF THE GOSPEL
Kanye made headlines for announcing at his listening party in Chicago that he would no longer be making secular music. Snippets of his raunchy lyrics played in the minds of readers everywhere (cue “I’m In It”). However, then many remembered that The Life Of Pablo was deemed a gospel album by him and still included that infamous verse on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2.”
Based on reports from those who got a chance to hear Jesus Is King, the album isn’t straying too far from his previous secular work. While “New Body” has been cleansed of the plastic surgery and sex talk that abounded on its leaked version, other songs still feature some unchristian motifs. Kanye has enlisted Pi’erre Bourne’s production chops for “On God,” which is being referred to as JIK‘s sole banger and features Ye declaring himself “the greatest artist resting or alive.” This lyric appears despite him stating on “Beauty From Ashes,” “I come to you empty, free of my pride.”
This sort of tension between hubris and humility may be what necessarily defines a Kanye West project, or Kanye West in general. It seems unrealistic to expect that Jesus Is King will present a full-fledged rebirth, a flattening out of Kanye’s complex musical and public personas that we’ve been exposed to for over a decade. JIK will likely be fraught with as much contradiction and chaos as its rollout and that’s what will make it, not just a gospel album, but a Kanye West gospel album.