After multiple delays and the literal scrapping of an entire album, Kanye West has returned on this good Friday (get it?) with his new record, Jesus Is King. It’s a different, more Christian, more Kenny G–reliant Kanye. And so after listening to the new songs, the Ringer staffed rushed here to unpack it all, from Kanye’s newfound religion to the rapper’s legacy to the quality of his Chick-fil-A metaphors.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Jesus Is King?
Justin Charity: It ain’t Christlike.
Donnie Kwak: A good album.
Sean Yoo: John 11:35—Jesus wept.
Andrew Gruttadaro: Jesus Is King is like assigning a writer to a 3,000-word piece and then the writer hands it in late and it’s only 800 words—but hey, at least those words aren’t so bad!
Tyler Tynes: It would’ve been better if Kirk Franklin made it.
Kate Knibbs: I’m glad the prosperity gospel is working out for Kanye, I guess.
2. What is your favorite song on the album?
Gruttadaro: “Use This Gospel,” the song with Kenny G and actual rappers, and also the only song on the album that seems complete.
Charity: “Selah” sells the whole endeavor pretty well.
Kwak: “Follow God” is a superlative Kanye rap song.
Tynes: “Follow God” is an absolute banger. It is also probably the only banger on this confusing, warped, silly, unnecessary addition to the Kanye West legacy that has spiraled into a Candace Owens fairy tale that I’d personally like to see end already.
Yoo: Disregarding the car alarm that’s going off nearly the entire run of the song, I think putting Clipse and Kenny G on a song together is a beautiful thing. I’m going to create a Kickstarter to get Pusha T, No Malice, and Kenny G to record an album together. Please donate.
Knibbs: “Follow God” is great, and I wish it wasn’t the only song I wanted to listen to again.
3. Least favorite?
Charity: “On God” is the cheapest, most honking, most Mario Paint bullshit since “All of the Lights.”
Knibbs: “On God” sounds like a discarded demo for a Sonic the Hedgehog level where Sonic goes to heaven but then it turns out it’s actually hell and the IRS is there.
Tynes: Everything that’s not “Follow God,” a Ty Dolla $ign hook, or a Kenny G sax riff.
Gruttadaro: “Water,” a song as boring as its namesake tastes.
Kwak: “God Is,” because I just can’t really get with earnest-singing Kanye—as opposed to unserious-singing Kanye (“Closed on Sunday,” “On God”).
Yoo: The one about Chick-fil-A that’s obviously supposed to be about keeping the Sabbath holy. I can’t believe there is a Genius annotation about that line.
4. When is the last time you went to church?
Tynes: Chill, dog, my momma read this website. What are you, the police?
Kwak: If last month’s Jesus Is King NYC listening doesn’t count, I’d say maybe like … three or so years? I went to Hillsong in Times Square.
Charity: My girlfriend is a minister.
Yoo: Last week. I hope my mom is reading this!
Gruttadaro: Shit—listening to this album doesn’t count?
5. What will be the most quoted line from Jesus Is King on Twitter?
Knibbs: Probably that dumb Chik-fil-A bullshit.
no one:— Andrew Gruttadaro (@andrewgrutt) October 25, 2019
Taylor Swift: You're like the West Village
Kanye West: You're like Chick-fil-A
Kwak: The whole “Closed on Sunday” Chick-fil-A bit is the leader in the clubhouse, but “On God” has a lot of gems: “Oh my God, Bust said, ‘That’s on Tribe’” is one.
Tynes: Twitter is a social construct. Only Kanye can tell me about Kanye.
Charity: I’m happy for Kanye, but John’s Gospel is already one of the most frequently quoted documents of all time.
6. Do you believe in Jesus—or rather, do you believe in Kanye’s turn to Jesus?
Kwak: I believe in both, to varying degrees, the former edging the latter.
Tynes: Y’all really making it hot. Kanye died after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Gruttadaro: Sure. Religion—both its ability to enrich and its ability to wield power—has always been an interest of Kanye’s; “Jesus Walks” is a 15-year-old song. I believe that Kanye is earnest in his turn toward Christianity, at least insofar as I believe that he earnestly thinks it’s a salve for past mistakes and present criticisms.
Yoo: I believe in Jesus and have been extremely conflicted with Kanye’s recent dip into the holy water. Half of me feels really good about Kanye outwardly proclaiming his faith and love for Jesus. He’s using scripture within his lyrics, while taking inspiration from some foundational gospel songs, and at times it seems like he’s doing it the right way. But the other half of me feels extremely worried, and I can’t help but be a little cynical about Kanye using Jesus’s name to sell an album along with $170 hoodies. It’s hard not to judge him based on the mistakes he’s made in the past, but at the end of the day I don’t put my faith in Kanye; I just listen to his music.
Knibbs: I do believe that Kanye genuinely believes in Jesus. I also believe that Kris Jenner has done her research on the benefits of establishing a religious nonprofit and the market for Christian music.
7. Who has the best guest appearance on Jesus Is King?
Knibbs: I’m not sure who is the best, but I’m voting Chick-fil-A for worst.
Tynes: Anytime Ty Dolla $ign sings, an angel gets its wings.
Yoo: KENNY. FUCKING. G.
Kwak: The choir. The album intro serves its purpose well.
Charity: Jesus Is King doesn’t really have “guest appearances,” apart from the Clipse, so much as the album has musical contributions. That said, Kenny G flourishes.
Gruttadaro: No Malice has been gone so long it sounds like he forgot how microphones work. I like it.
8. Has your opinion of Kanye West changed after listening to this album?
Kwak: You mean, is he still our generation’s defining celebrity? Yup. So, nope.
Knibbs: No, I still love a ton of his work and think he’s capable of greatness as an artist, and I also still think he’s an obnoxious egomaniac with bad politics as a person. “Follow God” is going on my gym playlist, and I plan to ignore everything the man says while promoting this album.
Yoo: My opinion on Kanye changes as frequently as his mood swings. Right now, I’m cool with Kanye as an artist and just indifferent about him as a person. But ask me again in two weeks.
Tynes: This question is interesting because it assumes that I’ve paid Kanye enough attention this decade to form a cogent opinion about all of the people he’s tried to tell us he is. The writer David Dennis Jr. wrote Friday that black folks don’t owe Kanye their time anymore, that it is a measure of self-care to ignore a man who was once proclaimed as a god of the genre. Listening to Kanye West at this point in life is more of a chore than it is a pleasurable reprieve from the day’s antics. I came to the album to see whether Kanye could flip his undesirables into a Kirk Franklin album on steroids, perhaps giving us a modern Melodies From Heaven. Instead, he’s the same man he’s always been: a narcissist, a genius producer, and a troubled mind who’s supposed to be a sign of our times but is, in fact, just a detriment to our ever evolving culture.
Charity: My big problem with Kanye albums—and Kanye album rollouts—has been the oversaturation and overdetermination of his fame. So I appreciate Jesus Is King as an album that doesn’t really require me to process the artist’s persona when I’d rather be enjoying some new music.
Elsewhere, Kanye West appears to appropriate Christian worship as a pretext for building a cult around Kanye West. But I really think the music on Jesus Is King is refreshingly disinvested, for the most part, in Kanye-as-egomaniac.
Gruttadaro: My opinion of Kanye—that he’s a musically gifted egomaniac whose only guiding principle is attention—solidified a few years ago, for better or worse. I’m not swayed by his every step anymore, which feels like the right call, since 14 months ago Kanye “nobody have premarital sex cuz Christianity” West was Kanye “let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome / none of us would be here without cum” West.
9. At this moment, what is Kanye West’s legacy?
Yoo: It’s complicated …
Kwak: See no. 8.
Tynes: Kanye will always be a hit maker, a super producer, the man who said George Bush doesn’t care about black people, an icon from the aughts, and the sound of a generation. His turn this decade is as important. I don’t know what it says about what wealth can do to a man, or grief from a lost one, or even a weird ideological turn that’s boosted him into a figure confident enough to shake hands with the president and espouse beliefs suggesting that the enslaved were victims of their own imagination and not a kidnapped band of black people. Kanye isn’t smarter than anyone, though he’d like us to think otherwise. He’s simply a metronome bouncing between inspiring and incorrigible. His legacy will be his music. But it’d be a fanciful dream to go on not linking him to the public persona he’s given us for years: a modern man-made Icarus who was burned by the sun long ago, who fixed his wings to fly again thinking he could conquer his past, only to be a victim of his own arrogance time and time again and end up brutally burned.
Gruttadaro: He is the defining artist/celebrity of his generation; his generation has not been a very good one, though!
Charity: He’s had so much notorious sex, but he still raps like a virgin. Miraculous.