Kanye West is one of the most popular, the most praised, respected, and controversial artists of our generation, and he has taken another “sudden” turn in his life and music style by really connecting with his childhood religion, Christianity. But is his latest album, Jesus is King, really Kanye West’s first attempt at connecting with God and Christianity? Or is this a long awaited journey by the rapper himself?
Ye was Christian by his parents choice, and he never really took interest in it throughout his childhood, but having a long journey of being born again as he says himself into Christianity, his music style has followed too. The release of his new album Jesus is King has gotten many people talking about his religious status and why make such a big deal out of it.
Gospel artists have supported his personal choices. American gospel musician and pastor, Travis Greene, said “Kanye’s album is a breath of fresh air, full of energy and passion” leaving only positive comments for Ye. Koryn Hawthorne who is also a gospel singer stated “I’m super excited about the journey Kanye is on. It’s a journey we all have taken, and I’m so proud of his boldness in this season of his life! As a young gospel artist, I cannot wait to hear the diversity he will bring into this genre.”
But many of Ye’s original fans have other thoughts, asking for the “old Kanye” back and highlighting their personal issues with the new album and the reborn rapper by putting them out on social media.
Although this album might appear to some to be the rappers first encounter with religion, he actually has been mentioning it for quite a while in many of his previous albums. In fact, Christianity has been a theme in his work from the beginning. “Jesus Walks” from his debut album The College Dropout release in 2004, talks about how Ye admits to be a sinner, and wants to ask God for forgiveness before it’s too late. “God show me the way because the Devil’s tryna break me down,” Ye raps. “I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid ’cause we ain’t spoke in so long.” The track also features a faint choir in the background chanting “Jesus walks with me” periodically.
Two years after that album was released, the rapper was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, posing as Jesus Christ. This may be an example of his egomania but the fact that Kanye specifically dressed himself as Jesus shows his Christian mindset. He could’ve easily made the cover of him reaching out to God.
Still, the image offended many Christians, since it looked like he was mocking the Religion. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, stated “Of course, that doesn’t surprise me too much for Rolling Stone. To them, using Kanye West as Jesus in this way would probably be no different than using him as any other icon.”
The cover was also released a week before the Grammy’s, where Ye was nominated for eight awards.
In 2005, Kanye began G.O.O.D Fridays which was a 5-month project, releasing a new single every Friday as a promotion for his upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. A few of those tracks’ titles have shown slight connection to religion like “Lord Lord Lord” and “Christmas in Harlem.” The project ended after a total of 15 tracks released with many features including Jay Z, Kid Cudi, Pusha T and many more.
With the release of Yeezus, and on tour for the album Kanye brought out an actor on stage who was dressed and looking like Jesus himself. Later fans started theorizing that the rapper was actually creating his own religion, under the name of Yeezus. In fact, in 2014 a fan named Brian Liebman went forth with Ye’s vision and personal beliefs and created the somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Yeezianity” religion. Brian’s original goals were just looking at it as a fun little thing, maybe Kanye would notice it and tweet about it and that’s it. But the religion actually interested many news media companies, requesting interviews with him. The religion appeared to have the 5 pillar rules. The same year a Los Angeles fan painted a mural of the rapper as Jesus being crucified. A message at the bottom of the image read, “The New Messiah?”
When his daughter North West was born, the family traveled all the way to Jerusalem to get the newborn child baptized.
In 2016 the rapper dropped his 7th studio album, The Life of Pablo, which he himself has claimed was a Gospel album. In an interview for Big Boy’s radio show, Ye calls it “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing.” This was the beginning of the love for Gospel for Kanye, and he wasn’t shy about it either, putting various parts of choirs chanting or a young boy preaching gospel in three different songs: “Ultralight Beam”, “Father Stretch my Hands pt. 1”, and “Low Lights”.
The producer’s most recent album and gesture of his own religion, Jesus is King, is probably the most controversial work he has made yet. This is an entirely Christian Gospel rap album, where Ye is accompanied with his fairly new project: The Sunday Service Choir. The group of singers was brought together by Kanye with the help of Jason White, and it performed every Sunday as a promotion for Jesus is King. This project has benefited him in multiple ways, his wife Kim Kardashian said in an interview that Ye started the Sunday Service Choir to heal himself but then it turned into something he loves to do on a weekly basis and loves to share with his friends and family and his fans.
But the entire album has gotten many Christians talking about if Kanye really is a newborn Christian or is this just another one of his crazy ideas.
Greg Laurie is an American author and pastor who fully supports Ye’s decisions and actions to put himself on a new path. “Pray for him. Pray that he gets grounded in his faith” says Laurie and then adds that he applauds anyone who puts themselves on the path to God and will encourage them not critique them about it.
It seems that most Christian and Gospel celebrities or artists are welcoming Kanye with open arms.
On the other hand there will always be someone who has a negative attitude towards big changes, for example American rapper N.O.R.E, who says that Jesus is King is “trash.”“I feel like Jesus ain’t even co-sign this one,” N.O.R.E. said.
West’s interesting relationship with religion wasn’t always about religion, but more so about himself at first. It started off as his “I am a God” stage, where his ego played a very main component in his life, placing Kanye in the middle of any situation and at every turn of his career, it seems as if Kanye has always been the center of his religious portrayal.
But eventually this settled, even though Kanye is still always the centre of attention with the incredible radiant energy he always has, he has stepped down quite recently to really give the top spot to God himself. And he proved it by releasing an entire album, creating an entire choir, and living a full Christian lifestyle with the goal of not only evolving himself with the help of Jesus Christ but also to inspire as many fans to at least change their mind about Christianity.
Relating to his energy and central attention needs, West has said “I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector.”
Cover image: Getty images