Kanye West has always been one to subvert expectations, both as an artist and as a public figure. For over a decade he has zigged when expected to zag, always departing - to electronic music to punk aesthetics, and in the latest pivot to a messenger of God and a gospel artist.
Jesus Is King has arrived, once again in an unexpected manner. After a month of delays and an additional 12 hours to finish some final mixing, it’s an LP expressly dedicated to West’s pursuit of faith and where he stands within it. The focus remains on Kanye, but with more concentration on his relationship with God and how he uses it to combat the evils of the world.
Sonically speaking, West remains sharp as a producer with a master control on the mood. Finding room in the equation for more organ and choirs than on previous LPs, Kanye still excels at building epic soundscapes to house his message. However you feel about him as a personality or even as an artist, it's tough to discount his skills in this arena, and not note him as one of the best.
After a first pass there are a few moments that stand out on Jesus Is King. On “Closed On Sunday,” West works off an analogy of Chick-fil-a we are still wrapping our brain around. Elsewhere, on “God Is,” Kanye delivers a sincere spiritual, pushing bars aside to sing it out himself. Finally, on “Use This Gospel,” Kanye brings together the unlikely pairing of Clipse rappers No Malice and Pusha T and Kenny G, with the saxophonist feeling like a late addition, cut and paste to the composition. There are some very bright spots too, with "Selah" arriving as urgent and epic and West using contributions from Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons expertly on "Everything We Need."
However you feel about the latest direction for West, it feels like an earned turn after months of Sunday Service. The influence of those events are in every inch of Jesus Is King, and might be for the foreseeable future of Kanye’s music.