On October 25, the celebrity rapper Kanye West dropped his long awaited album Jesus is King. Anyone who is mildly familiar with his name might expect this album to contain profanity and secular themes like his previous work. However, an analysis of the album’s lyrics reveals it is unapologetically Christian.
The eleven track album takes the listener through unfamiliar sonic territory by combining elements of black gospel music (the first track “Every Hour” consists of only a choir and piano) with the lyrical rap and hip-hop typical of Kanye West. This album is unusually melodic for West and popular rap in general. It contains a variety of lines that combine separate musical elements, often adding two or three layers of harmony underneath the spitting of lyrics such as in “On God.” Then, there is the finger picked acoustic in “Closed on Sunday” and a soon-to-be infamous sax solo by Kenny G in “Use This Gospel,” demonstrating that West has apparently undergone both a creative and a spiritual revival.
The album might be categorized as Christian, but the lyrics still leave ample room for criticism. The track “Water” contains lines asking Jesus to give him wealth and to flow through him. Combining prayer for wealth and becoming a person through which Jesus flows goes against some Biblical precedents. For example, a couple of his tracks confuse the gospel message with his political agenda, criticizing the three strikes law and the prison system.“Closed on Sunday” mentions Chick-fil-A three times, causing the track to come off as less than authentic in the context of Christianity.
Despite these criticisms, the album as a whole is relatively free of things contrary to the Bible. In fact, his last song consists of only the lyrics, “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord,” echoing Isaiah 45:23. This last song confirms West’s intent with the album; and it sounds to something the Christian rapper Lecrae might write. It affirms to many that West, who used to create albums composed solely of explicit songs, is now explicitly Christian. Most preachers would love even just proclaiming the title of the album.
Still, Kanye West’s self-proclaimed conversion and the conviction of Christianity that he claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Hopefully his conversion was genuine, and he will continue to write God-honoring music and live out the Christian life. However, his conversion could be a ploy for attention and money. He owns a clothing and shoe brand called Yeezy, a word combining his nickname with Jesus’ name, and has said that he contributes his fame and financial success to being a Christian. Before writing this album, he claimed to be a Christian while having a lifestyle that did not align with Christian values. This hearkens back to when Bob Dylan went through a Christian music-writing stage in his career.
That being said, as Christians it would be wise to celebrate the making of a mostly Biblical, Christian album from someone with as much influence as Kanye West without celebrating Kanye himself. At least, not yet.