When a well-known artist embraces Jesus with passion and fervor, it can be hard to know how to respond. Is this for real? Is it a phase? Is it going to last? Is it a gimmick?
Kanye West has talked about Jesus since the beginning of his career. “Jesus Walks” put him on the rap map back in 2004, and nods to Jesus have permeated his work from time to time since.
But in the past, shout-outs to Jesus have often competed with lyrical excesses in other areas: harsh vulgarity, sexually explicity lyrics and Kanye’s famously outsized ego.
What seems wholly different on Jesus Is King is that those inconsistencies are almost completely absent. Almost. What Kanye has given us instead is an album that draws stylistically from rap and gospel, but one that focuses exclusively on Jesus and His identity as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Album opener “Every Hour” is one of several songs featuring the gospel vocal talents of his Sunday Service Choir (which you can read more about here.) On it, we hear, “Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down (Let everything that have breath praise God)/ … Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down (For His mighty works and excellent grace and His mighty power, yeah).” The song’s finale exhorts praising God continually (“Sing every hour/ … Every minute/ … Every second”) and recognizes our dependency upon Him (“We need You”).
On “Selah,” Kanye raps, “Everybody wanted Yandhi [the name of an unreleased album Kanye had been working on]/Then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” Later, he adds, “Won’t be in bondage to any man/John 8:33/We the descendants of Abraham/Ye should be made free/John 8:36/To whom the son set free is free indeed/He saved a wretch like me.” And this: “Everything old shall now become new/ … Love God and our neighbor, as written in Luke/The army of God, and we are the truth.”
Instead of the luxury-brand shout-outs we’re used to hearing in many rap songs (Bentleys, Bugattis, etc.), “Closed on Sunday” lifts up … Chick-fil-A. Here, Kanye emphasizes the importance of the Sabbath as a day set apart from the other six: “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A/Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away/Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray.”
The song also mentions protecting daughters from predatory influences (“When you got daughters, always keep ’em safe/Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate”) and discipling sons (“Raise our sons, train them in the faith/Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake”). And that verse concludes, “Follow Jesus, listen and obey/No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” The chorus recognizes the price Kanye might pay for his outspoken convictions (“Even if I take this walk alone”). Then it highlights humility (“I bow down to the King upon the throne”), dependence (“I pray to God that He’ll strengthen my hand”) and recognizing the spiritual battle we face (“I got my weapons in the Spirit’s land”).
“Everything We Need” focuses on finding contentment in God’s provision. “Water” talks of being cleansed and forgiven, then offers this prayer (a litany of petitions quoted only in part here due to its length): “Jesus, flow through us/Jesus, heal the bruises/Jesus, clean the music/Jesus, please use us/Jesus, please help.”
On “God Is,” Kanye sings, “God, God is/He, He is my all and all (and I’ll never turn back).” We also hear, “Worship Christ with the best of your portions/I know I won’t forget all He’s done/He’s the strength in this race that I run.” The song acknowledges the Gospel’s invitation to all (“From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door”) as well as Jesus’ transforming power when we accept Him (“You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name/ … I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup.”
“Jesus Is Lord” concludes the album with West echoing Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11: “Every knee shall bow/Every tongue confess/Jesus is Lord.”
On “Selah,” we hear these odd lines that might be heard as rationalizing self-centered behavior: “When I scream at the chauffeur/I ain’t mean, I’m just focused.”
“On God” complains about paying taxes: “The IRS want they fifty plus our tithe/Man, that’s over half the pie.” The song also justifies high merchandise prices (which some have complained about) at Kanye’s events: “That’s why I charge the prices that I charge/ … No, I cannot let my family starve.” “Water” prays, “Jesus, help us live/Jesus, give us wealth,” the latter request one that could be interpreted as promoting a prosperity gospel.
Kanye West’s laser-like focus on Jesus here is breathtaking. But Kanye suspects that some Christians may still have doubts about his sincerity—an experience it seems that he’s already had, according to the song “Hands On”: “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?/They’ll be the first one to judge me/Make it feel like nobody love me.”
None of us can know whether Kanye will sustain his current level of Christian conviction in the years to come. But his earnest spiritual fervor is undeniable on Jesus Is King. On this album (and in the accompanying short film of the same name), Kanye West takes the spotlight off of himself and shines it unabashedly on Jesus Christ, proclaiming Him King and Savior.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.