Word on the street is Ye is a changed man. Out goes Yandhi, now Jesus does the laundry. His new album, Jesus is King was released yesterday. I gave it a first listen Friday night, liked what I heard, and decided to dedicate this weekend to monitoring the confusion, pain, and rage from the critics as they posted their reactions. On first listen, it was obvious this new album wasn’t going to fit the narrative of a courageous, woke artist speaking truth to power. He wasn’t spitting any rhymes attacking any soft political targets or throwing shade at people who have, like, backwards religious and conscientious opinions and need to calm down.
The not-so-hidden irony here, though, is that speaking truth to power is literally all this album does. After all, the last bastion of bigotry is that which is directed against Christians, especially of the born-again variety. But leaving aside hot, overgeneralized takes, the swag that Kanye brings to this record isn’t his own – it’s the swag of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. He’s speaking truth to his own past, his ego, his mistakes. He’s examining the power an artist convinces himself he has to create his own self, only to realize that the only path to happiness is a far harder road that clings to faith.
This album proves once again that, if Jesus is King of the Universe, Ye is still the King of Samples. The music on this album is really good, ranging from 70s gospel to the dinging of a car door to something that sounds like Sonic the Hedgehog getting ready to get crazy on a rad obstacle course. This review isn’t about the music, though, it’s about the critics. It’s about the cultural phenomenon that is Kanye and way he’s twisting the brains of the tastemakers.
I read a lot of reviews. I think I understand now. The new Kanye is corny. He’s a hypocrite. He might be faking this to get attention. He doesn’t deserve our attention. It’s a troll-job. Kenny G is on the album and that’s kinda good because irony? No women are on the album and that can’t (just can’t) be an accident. Seriously, the music itself doesn’t matter anymore, Kanye himself is quite clear about this in the track, “Hands On,” which is a fascinating exploration of how people have reacted to his journey towards faith. That’s why I’m not even going to mention how “Selah” is a banger with all the typical wit and verve we’re used to from Ye and how he manages to rhyme “Closed on Sunday,” with “Chick-fi-la.”
Ye is bigger than a musician. He’s a cipher who, as a celebrity, has become a mirror into our souls, revealing our insecurities, not because of who he is but because of who we are. He’s confident to a fault. He’s an independent thinker. He doesn’t care about your assumptions and doesn’t care to fit into your idea of what a person should necessarily be, so we decide to judge his intentions and motivations as if we know anything about it at all. If we do that, then we can easily dismiss both him and his music without grappling with the fact that this man is pouring out his heart, vulnerably begging us to think, simply to think about the fact that Jesus is Lord. Admit that, though, and you just might have to change your life and everyone will make fun of you just like they make fun of Kanye.
The current criticism of his work, let’s be honest, is puritan. It first looks for signposts of right-thinking, evidence of wokeness, and gestures to reigning (but unwritten) ideologies. It’s weird how, once Ye started developing opinions that went against the grain, his music suddenly became bad. According to critics, his talent disappeared in an instant. Poof. In the meantime, his albums are selling and people absolutely love them. I remember passing a fella in my neighborhood rocking Ye while walking down the sidewalk the day after it came out. This is the same album all the critics trashed. Someone should tell that guy that Kanye is terrible now.
Here is what Kanye has taught me. You can’t say abortion is bad. You can’t preach an ersatz homily on Jimmy Kimmel. You can’t work with a republican President for prison reform. You can’t attempt to change your life in a way that seems counter-cultural. You can’t practice religion unless it’s the right kind of religion. You can’t do those things, and if you do, something must be wrong with you or you must be a cynical faker.
Is the new Kanye for real? How could we possibly know that?
He isn’t trying to lead us to Jesus, after all he only half-way read Ephesians. But he does have questions: You gon’ do what Adam do? Or put this back on the tree? Even when we die we raise up.
Listen to the music. It’s good.