I’m not a huge fan but I saw Kanye live back in 2006, supporting U2 in Australia.
I remember him describing some car accident or incident that God revealed himself in. But there were and have been since then, so many other dissonant lyrics, questionable antics and self-aggrandizing behaviour, that has kind of left me thinking…hmmm, that’s a celebrity faith, not a real one. More like, Jesus is cool in some ways, but I’ll keep my cake and eat it, thanks.
Plus, over the past decade we’ve all been ‘damaged’ in different ways by the carnage of social media, and who could ignore the contribution of the ‘butt-ress’ of Instagram, Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian.
But then came the Sunday services and the release of ‘Jesus is King’ last week and on first listen I can’t help but hear the sounds of conversion.
The thing is rap is king and it’s the music of our kids. So, as parents, like it or not, we should engage. For me, I like moving forward, I like hearing new music, I don’t listen to the music of my past that much. I created a rapper for my kids show, Anton’s Antics called Skito. Skito’s music started as a musical interlude and celebration that invited the kids to see God’s word in another way.
Here is a rap album, from a major artist that you can unquestionably unleash on your kids. I've been giving it a spin and wanted to share my initial experience of the track listing, ready?
No holding back, relentless and unashamed
What strikes me clearly is that there is no holding back, no sense of cynicism or pontificating, only a genuine heart that is open to Jesus. And let’s be clear, it is raw, and Jesus’ name doesn’t get softened down to ‘God’ or ‘it’ or ‘love’. Instead it is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. I’m tired of people referring to God, when they mean Jesus. Jesus is the name above all names. God is just a term for divinity. Anyone can co-opt it for their purposes. Jesus is unmistakable and often offensive, but Kanye has plastered it everywhere.
From the album’s opener, you might expect a church gospel album from the deep south and in many ways, you do get that. But Jesus is King is much more than that. I’ve listened a couple of times through and have to say, I’m really enjoying the music and am intrigued by his journey. Notably there isn’t a track that’s more than 3.5 minutes, in fact most are under, and the album is book ended by two tracks under 2 minutes, the final ‘Jesus is Lord’ a fitting coda.
Is it preachy? No.
But the “Jesus is King” is unavoidable and unmistakable. It’s not a trick or a gimmick. It’s not a cypher or cynic. It’s butt in the breeze, come after me if you please, I’ve found what I’m looking for, my life is at peace.
I love that.
Jesus is King is a person’s journey and a celebration of the transformation Jesus brings to an idolatrous life (remember all of us were once idolaters, not just Kanye); it is a soulful album and this invites his fans to enter and share that journey, maybe take a closer look for themselves.
So, be ready, it’s a stirring, surprising and fast listen.
What does his journey look like on ‘Jesus is King’?
The album’s opener, is probably my least favourite track, reminded me of the blues brother’s movie and its gospel church vibe put me off a little as I was expecting rap. But it does give you the heads up…Kanye’s not going to be sneaking Jesus in the backdoor… we in church baby…if you thought I had everythin’, think again. Here’s everything…
Thumping concert opener. Something big has happened, something outside of me. True freedom that Jesus can only give. Hallelujah chorus. Praise.
-Follow God reminds us of everything that makes rap so cool combined with the unforgettable lyric loop ‘Christ like, tell me what your life’s like’. Sounds of man ready to wrestle with God and get serious about following Jesus. Repentance.
-Closed on Sunday
lead your family on ‘Closed on Sundays’ as he tells them to put Insta away and get together to pray and fight the culture that enslaves. ‘Raise your sons, train them in the faith, to temptations, make them wide awake’.
-On God synth heavy, ‘the devil had my soul, I can’t lie’. Emphasis on ‘had’.
-Everything We Need – faith is sufficient, God is sufficient, stop looking elsewhere: ‘we have everything we need so let’s put the apple back on the tree’.
-Water- Big (cheesy??) gospel choir number. Closes with a petition to Jesus but opens with an acceptance that His path may not be easy but since we have the ‘living water’ flowing in us, we’ll get through. ‘Give me a chance to be pure and glorify you’. Adoration.
-God is Aretha style jazz gospel sensation. Love this. ‘Everyone I will tell till the whole world is still…. Jesus saved me now I’m sane’. Gratitude. Thankfulness. What is God for you? Ashamed I can’t find this much joy in from Christ.
-Hands On, Dark, lonely song…will Kanye be left in the cold by Christians? Hurt from the Church, hurts more. Love the lyric: ‘’Told the devil when I see him on site, I’ve been working for you my whole life…Gonna tell the devil I’m on strike”
-Use this gospel – ‘your car door isn’t closed properly’ or ‘you’re seat belt isn’t on yet’ chime is hypnotic. Beautiful sax outro. We all need protection and the gospel is it.
-Jesus is Lord –Tiny track. ‘every knee shall bow’. need I say more?
I’m embarrassed (aren’t we all by new Christians???!!) by his exuberant, honest, no apology, joy he expresses in Jesus. Embarrassed, because I can’t find that in my own work and life. Embarrassed because I want a piece of what he’s got. I don’t mean his riches or fame. I mean his joy. Let’s pray others see that too and want in.
Ok he’s got celebrity and money and maybe his faith is yet to be tested…let’s not go putting him up for leading a church (Sunday Services???) or as a prime example to follow. We recall ‘an overseer must not be new to the faith’, Paul says to Timothy for good reasons, let’s they be tempted and cause a great deal of damage. Another reason for us to pray for Kanye.
We also don’t want to focus too much on celebrity faith…they are only human, more prone to fall and be entangled by things that destroy faith. We often think that a celebrity will pull people into faith, but Paul also warns us against having ‘favourites’ and remember that they are just servants, sowing and watering, Christ is the foundation and builder. But it’s still great to have such public, artistic, expressions of faith and a determination to alter culture from such a big artist.
Kanye’s aware that people are going to criticize his work and expression of being born again, especially Christians as he says on ‘On My Hands’, ‘Christians will be the first ones to judge me’ but we all should be careful, recalling the spectacular conversions of Paul and how difficult it must have been for some to ‘rejoice’ with him as he preached the gospel.
Non-Christians may quickly switch off; he may lose a lot of fans; but that’s what witnessing for Jesus does. It divides. He’ll be painting a target on his back for all the haters, all those who oppose the Word. Time will tell how well this conversion sticks. Will it be ‘a harsh sun that scorches the plant’, will it be the weeds of the world strangling his faith? For now, all I can see is a plant bearing fruit from the implanted Word.
I think anything that brings the good news out into the open is good. It can be a disaster or a celebrity or just the pedestrian conversations we pray for and have the courage to use. Art and artists can draw our attention into God’s word and its impact on life in ways the church and its formal structures and familiar approaches can’t. I love, love, love the idea of taking the good news out into the streets in ways that people can’t avoid and give us all the opportunity to get talking. Kanye’s ‘Jesus is King’ is one of those.
Let’s pray for Kanye