Kanye West’s Unfinished Mess JESUS IS KING Fails to Turn Atheists Into Believers

Kanye West's devotion to Jesus is nothing new; it's a recurring subject throughout his discography. On his 2004 single “Jesus Walks,” he raps, “Now I ain’t here to argue ‘bout His facial features/Or here to convert atheists into believers.” In recent traveling-church-service performances with the Sunday Service choir, however, he changes the second aforementioned line to “we here to convert atheists into believers.”

Yet, as my atheist self can testify, Ye’s long awaited Christian rap album JESUS IS KING fails to do so. Even at a mere 27 minutes, JIK, despite its share of highlights, can often be a tedious, lazy, cringe-inducing, surface-level showing of Christian devotion that nearly bores the listener to tears. In particular, though the album is about Jesus, it doesn’t explain why Kanye chose to make a gospel album now (for that, you’d have to dig through the interviews). It features the worst song Kanye ever wrote, replete with shockingly terrible bars, and abominable verses. It sounds unfinished.

JESUS IS KING: A Brief History

In September 2018, Kanye announced Yandhi, a new album set to release after his 9/29 Saturday Night Live appearance. Kanye appears on SNL three times that night: the first with Lil Pump, both jokingly dressed as water, the second delivering a breathy verse on Teyana Taylor’s unreleased “We Got Love,” and the third performing “Ghost Town” wearing a MAGA hat before confusing the cast with a “rant” (or whatever the Kanye-hating media calls it). What about the album? Nope!

A few weeks later, Kanye announces Yandhi’s new release date: Black Friday 2018. That didn’t last long either; after KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ Camp Flog Gnaw performance in a suspended glass box, he realized Yandhi wasn’t ready. It never officially dropped, although the full album recently leaked. Yandhi tracks “The Storm” and “Law Of Attraction” respectively became JESUS IS KING’s “Everything We Need” and “Use This Gospel”.

The Review

Upon Yandhi’s leaking, I concluded that if released in its leaked state, it would’ve been Kanye’s worst album (7.5/10). Shockingly, however, JIK is even worse. Imagine Kanye’s 2016 masterpiece The Life Of Pablo, but instead it’s Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day. That’s JESUS IS KING. It’s a massive disappointment, especially considering that with the Yandhi debacle included we waited 13 months and four missed release dates!

The narrative on JESUS IS KING shows Kanye being saved by Jesus. The first part, from “Selah” to “On God,” starts with Kanye in his egotistical celebrity rapper mindset, yet still knowing he needs to reconnect with his religion. He then commits himself and his family to Christianity (“Closed On Sunday”) and, while showing one last burst of his own ego, thanks God on “On God.” On “Everything We Need” he resets himself (highlighted by the line “switch your attitude”) and on “Water” is cleansed by God. “God Is” shows Yeezy wanting to heal the world with God, which he does on “Hands On.” Finally, on “Use This Gospel,” he encourages people to use their faith to defend against demons. In a way, it connects to KIDS SEE GHOSTS, where Kanye and Kid Cudi confront their internal demons. Here, Kanye’s using his religion to (supposedly) defend against them. Still, the JESUS IS KING narrative is the most shallow and one-dimensional of Kanye’s discography. It also fails the between album connections his best work manages.

Among the album’s biggest problems is simply how Jesus-centric it is. Of course, I expected a very religious album, but Kanye shoehorns Biblical references even when they don’t fit. His devotion to Christianity is, I believe, genuine, but in stark contrast to his famously multifaceted masterpieces, JESUS IS KING suffers from his forcibly making every single aspect of the album about Jesus.

Even worse, however, is the actual quality of the music. Even though Kanye premiered the LP in late September in front of audiences before “fixing” it, it still sounds unfinished and rushed. I really hope he makes to it The Life Of Pablo-level changes, because the current JESUS IS KING is totally incohesive. Although nowhere near the excellence of his previous work, the production is, as usual, good. “Follow God” has an “old Kanye” type beat, Pi’erre Bourne’s “On God” instrumental sounds like a combination of Graduation and Yeezus eras Ye, and “Use This Gospel,” in addition to reuniting the Clipse, makes use of Kenny G in a previously thought impossible great way.

Lyrically, however, JESUS IS KING is abysmal. From “People really know you push your buttons like typewrite” and “I was looking at the ’Gram and I don’t even like likes” on album highlight track “Follow God”, to “Said I finna do a gospel album/What have you been hearing from the Christians?” on “Hands On”, the bad lyrics are never ending.

I appreciate his musical and personal evolution, but after this, I miss Kanye rapping about wishing his dick had GoPro. “Closed On Sunday,” the lyrics of which generated the most album content buzz, opens with the line, “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A.” Following that is: “Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away/Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray/When you got daughters always keep them safe/Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate” as well as “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A/You’re my number 1 with the lemonade”/“Follow Jesus, listen and obey.” Online, many people are angry about Kanye giving the homophobic Chick-fil-A owners free publicity (not that he really sounds like he’s supporting Chick-fil-A or its political views), but I’m more appalled that Kanye simply couldn’t think of a better lyric! “Closed On Sunday” is without a doubt Kanye’s worst song, released or not, yet he still performed it on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. On the trying-to-be-epic “Selah,” Kanye lists bible verses as if they’re groceries, and on the self-focused “On God,” he rationalizes the $200+ price tag of Yeezys, to the IRS not acknowledging him as a tax break-eligible religious organization, saying he can’t let his family starve. No matter how much debt he’s in, Kanye’s family will never starve; this lyric only comes across as a miserably failed attempt at “relatability”.

The other major issue: is the album even finished? Doesn’t sound like it. A few days ago, Kanye rerecorded a line in “God Is,” showing that he’s still editing it though not nearly as much as it needs. Some of the songs just end without really concluding. For example, Yandhi’s “The Storm” has a buildup at the end, which is missing on the rework, “Everything We Need.” Had the latter featured the former’s ending, it would’ve been more conclusive and complete, yet somehow Kanye managed to take a finished song and "un-finish" it. At 49 seconds, album closer “Jesus Is Lord” suddenly stops at its end, even though there’s a full length version of the song (instead titled “Every Knee Shall Bow”) in the JESUS IS KING IMAX film’s credits. Why include the truncated version on what is to most the definitive document of 2019 Kanye? I guess we’ll never know.

Shockingly, the film is so great that it makes me like the album even less! At 35 minutes, it shows Kanye and the Sunday Service choir earlier this year performing in James Turrell's Roden Crater. The first half of it focuses on the choir performing traditional gospel material, while in the second half, Kanye performs a raw, soulful rendition of his own "Street Lights" and sings "Use This Gospel" to his son Psalm West. While it ends too soon, the film's artful camera angles and focus on the choir and their surroundings rather than Kanye makes it, compared to the album, a far truer statement of Kanye's faith. It feels like Kanye put 95% of his creativity and effort into the film and the remaining 5% into the album, which is a shame as the album has more exposure than the film (the LP shifted 264k album-equivalent units in its first week, while the limited release film took in $1 million on its first weekend).

On nearly all levels, JESUS IS KING’s sonics are simply atrocious. Kanye’s vocals sound as if recorded through a $10 gaming headset, the choir sounds flat, lifeless, and overdriven; there’s a dumb noise floor on “Hands On,” and you can hear the splices in Kenny G’s “Use This Gospel” solo. The mixing of the original 10/25 release is a sonic crime, even more so than the 2018 Wyoming albums; the beat in “Everything We Need” is mixed way too low, “Jesus Is Lord” is a complete mess, the drums on “Selah” bury Kanye’s poorly-recorded voice, and across the board there’s ridiculous clipping. A day after the initial release, Kanye and producer/engineer Mike Dean fixed the volume issues on “Everything We Need” and “Selah,” but the other problems remain. Since these issues sound baked into the mix and recording, I can’t really comment on the mastering but it’s definitely less than stellar.

I do believe Kanye’s passion and devotion to Christianity is genuine. After all, JESUS IS KING feels like the conclusion to the period from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to now; a ten year journey where, in the trappings of celebrity life and ego, Kanye loses his religious connection and slowly regains it. With that said, however, the Sunday Service events (featuring traditional gospel songs as well as rearranged Kanye compositions) as well as the IMAX film more naturally demonstrate that devotion. By comparison, the album feels forced, as if Kanye, when he really didn't have to, needed to prove something to the wider public. Where he will go musically from here, we don’t know. Hopefully this is a passing sign of mid-life crisis, much like Bob Dylan’s eerily similar gospel period. If Kanye truly abandoned secular music, though, all we can hope for is that he puts more of his time and effort into the recorded music rather than rushing out a half-baked work like this one.

jon9091's picture

I understand you just can’t wait to review the latest release of your favorite rap stars, but devoting an entire article based on MQA files...and then complaining about the atrocities of the sound is ridiculous. Why not just wait until you have the actual ANALOG release in your hands and review the ANALOG version, since this is ANALOG PLANET. That will save us all from hearing about this mess TWICE.

Pretzel Logic's picture

...also, reading about Kanye's dick in a piece written by a 13 year old is kinda...gross.

Anton D's picture


This is Kanye's navel gaze album....but he came up a few inches too low.

Remember Latrell Spreewell: " Why would I want to help them (the T -Wolves) win a title? They're not doing anything for me. I'm at risk. I have a lot of risk here. I got my family to feed.”

Or Patrick Ewing: '“Sure we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too.”

Kanye stepped on that aforementioned wiener with his 'Gospel of Prosperity' BS about Yeezy shoes and his wealth.

He's about as sincere as Joel Osteen.

At least Joel Osteen isn't releasing music.

I would venture to predict none of Malachi's critics bothered to listen to the album. Malachi produced a lament about Kanye's lost opportunity, that's all.

MalachiLui's picture

I had the vinyl on preorder but cancelled it. I don’t like it enough to pay $31 for it.

also, many rap LPs come after most people have moved on from the album. and if the mix sucks, the vinyl isn’t going to do that much to fix it. further, the music comes first - something that I think many older audiophiles tend to forget.

J. Carter's picture

Considering that the record will most likely be cut from those files I don't see why it makes much of a difference here.

UrushiMan's picture

When anyone declares themselves the "greatest artist of all time". Meh.

If it's crap music then who cares what the vinyl sounds like?

MalachiLui's picture

I think he’s the second greatest musical artist of all time (behind David Bowie), and has masterpiece after masterpiece to prove it. College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, MBDTF, Yeezus, Pablo, ye, and KIDS SEE GHOSTS all range from great to amazing. even Watch The Throne (LP collab with JAY-Z) and Cruel Summer (G.O.O.D. Music label comp) have some fantastic songs. JESUS IS KING is really Kanye’s first miss.

UrushiMan's picture

But he's not my cup of tea anyway, I like the rap from the 1980's (as I'm old!) and love finding 70's soul and disco tracks where breaks have been used.

I will say this Malachi, I purchased IGOR on the back of your review but have not as far as I can remember ever purchased a record based on Michael's reviews. SO there you have it, don't go anywhere and keep up the good work mate!

Paul Boudreau's picture

Prefacing a statement like yours with “I think...” is exactly the way to do it.

jon9091's picture

“also, reading about Kanye's dick in a piece written by a 13 year old is kinda...gross”

I’m not thrilled about the direction this site is heading in, and I guess that’s the point. I feel like I am no longer the target audience. I used to love reading CREEM magazine when I was 14, but I’m 58 now, and the supposed young blood irreverent attitude that’s being served up here is falling flat IMO.

Anton D's picture

Hey, maybe there's a Koln Concert remix we could talk about?

It's a record review.

isaacrivera's picture

So one in 5 posts is aimed at a younger audience, which this hobby desperately needs and is probably its fastest growing demographic anyway, and you feel left out? I would argue these posts haven't even replaced others, but rather have added to the frequency of articles published. In fact, I was quite annoyed by the reposts of 1995 articles, which these seem to have replaced. Not every piece of music reviewed here has a place in my collection and neither does every component or accessory and that is OK. They are probably exactly what someone else was hoping to read about.

Anton D's picture

You said it better than I did!

Cheers to you!

Michael Fremer's picture
I could follow a detailed Nat King Cole review with Kanye and you’d be more accepting.
mememe2's picture

I heard an African American Minister give this assessment of Kanye's newfound religious zeal - he said Kanye was speaking from a position of privilege and self absorbed introspection. Hasn't Kanye heard about the Christian homily that states that a camel can more easily pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man can enter Heaven. Kanye talks the talk but has no idea how to walk the walk. Pathetic.

mraudioguru's picture

"Rap Boy" doesn't like a rap album, by a rap artist? Oh no! I'm really surprised his parents even let him listen to this crap.

Anton D's picture

What music do you like and what were you into at age 13?

mraudioguru's picture

...13, I was into The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, The Beatles, most of the Laurel Canyon crowd.

Yes, I'm sure there were people who thought that this music was offensive. Actually, you could take almost any snippet of time and say the same thing, but rap music really took it to another level...IMHO.

Anton D's picture

I was curious!

I think we are pretty similar, but I was maybe more Stones than Beatles. But, definitely shared loves!

I was 19, or so, when rap hit and I liked it, so I have stuck with it.

The caveat for that is that I am terrible at lyrics, so I do not get as excited or put off as many people do when hearing that music.

For fun, give Anderson Paak a listen and see what you think!

Cheers, fellow audio-nut!

Michael Fremer's picture
Has also written some very perceptive jazz record reviews... did you miss those?
MalachiLui's picture

quite a few rock reviews.

also, I loathed the new Post Malone record so I don’t like everything that comes my way... also expect an upcoming mini-review of the new Earl Sweatshirt album that I didn’t like that much.

mikenc's picture

Just look at the author and you can easily avoid these in the future. I must agree they're nothing like what we are used to getting from Mr. Fremer.

Narayan's picture

So telling people to skip Malachi´s articles is nice in your book? Because they´re nothing like what you´re used to getting from Michael? That´s the whole point of Malachi´s writing, a young and fresh point of view on different music. As much as it might be heartbreaking to read, Malachi Lui is not Michael´s mini me, nor is it fair to compare a talented rookie 13 year old player to an established veteran super star.

To those of you who feel left out, I understand, when you were thirteen Verdi was writing "Rigoletto" and this new Schiit is hard to relate to. To those of you who feel uncomfortable because a teenager uses the word "dick" don´t be too hard on yourselves with tonight´s self flagellation and say 10 Hail Mary´s (I´m partial to the Tupac Shakur version).

Anton D's picture

Malachi probably tops 20KHz.

Me, you, and Mr. Fremer, not so much.

I can sense 17K, not hear it, but I can only hear out to 15K.

I see Malachi and Mike's relationship kinda like Bob Hodges and Danny McGavin's approach to cattle breeding in the movie "Colors."

Rap seems to be the great snowflake avalanche trigger of audiophilia. Fascinating.

I actually like Kanye's record more than Malachi does. Perhaps because I am so old I can just imagine it as a stack of individual 7" 45s rather than hoping for an integrated whole?

I hope Malachi continues the rap discussions...there are some pretty great artists out there! he has broad tastes and I find that refreshing.

Michael Fremer's picture
You will miss some very well written jazz and rock reviews. That would be too bad. If you don't like rap or Kanye skip those but really!
minormist's picture

Well written article.  I've never been a big Kanye fan, but he has his moments.  It's good to know this isn't one of them.  

And props to Michael for giving a very young writer a chance, and for injecting a greater degree of relevancy into the musical reviews available to audiophiles.  I'm in my thirties and grew up listening to my parents' music, which included a lot of audiophile staples.  I can appreciate many of the audio show classics, but some new music - stuff recorded in the last twenty years by people my age or younger - would be refreshing to hear at shows and see reviewed by audiophile sites that consider sound quality alongside music quality.  It happens, but not enough.  In the meantime, reflexively dismissing younger generations' music and their views about it with variations of "stay off my lawn" or "when I was a boy" comments really benefits no one.  If this hobby is going to become relevant for younger generations, it needs to start with the music.

Chemguy's picture

...to announce that Kanye’s album fails to turn atheists into believers. You can certainly speak for yourself, Malachi, but you cannot speak for everyone.

Once again, Malachi is exhibiting that his youthfulness and inexperience is getting him into trouble.

GD's picture

Try taking yourself a little less seriously. It is nothing more than an album review (and a well written one at that).

GD's picture

Another great review. The GoPro line had me rolling!

Like his last few albums, Kanye has yet again been unable to capture the magic that made College Dropout and Late Registration so incredible.

I'm looking forward to more hip-hop reviews! Any chance you'll review the new Gang Starr album?

MalachiLui's picture

no plans to review that one, tho expect mini-reviews of Earl Sweatshirt and JPEGMAFIA soon.

I think KIDS SEE GHOSTS and ye are great albums (tbh, all of Kanye’s pre-JIK albums are great), but I can see why the “old Kanye” crowd doesn’t like them as much.

jon9091's picture

You know, I overreacted here today, and I was wrong. Malachi is quite a fine writer and has an amazing future ahead of him. I look forward to his next article.


Tom L's picture

Jon, we all say or write things off the top of our heads, but coming back and apologizing for a remark that missed its target shows real class on your part.

avanti1960's picture

That at your very young age you have decided there is no God, no creator that made us and loves us.
Arguably the work of a boastful artist may not pose a formidable challenge to non-believers but do you consider your life to be blessed? Could the gift of music be a blessing (maybe not THIS record :) How about the sense of hearing, the emotions of joy and love?
Did they truly arise at random or are they gifts from a creator who loves us and wants nothing more from us than to love him back and love others as our selves?
Please challenge yourself to do some exhaustive investigation and due diligence on this important topic.

JoeESP9's picture

I'm no fan of religious music. I'm even less a fan of 99% of Rap releases. Kanye's latest gets placed in my, never in a million years would I buy it category.

FWIW: Science does not support the idea that there is a God or that he/she/it loves us.

mememe2's picture

How about reality. For something that is supposedly omnipotent and all seeing, all knowing - the coming catastrophic impact of the coal ash in Texas is not important enough or his all powerful intervention. Look at the state of our planet - and tell me where the hand and heart of god is. Fairy tales will not save us.

avanti1960's picture

when it comes to explaining the extremes of our physical realm- inner space and outer space. There are no proofs- only unproven unbelievably complicated theoretical equations that will fill several white boards in hope of defining the subatomic and outer space universes creation and structure. our realms are so complex that we haven't cracked the surface of fully understanding them- yet people are to believe they came together with a spin of the galactic roulette wheel.
tragic occurences, disasters and injustices do happen on our planet yet our lives on this earth are like fleeting vapors when compared to eternity.
I applaud Kanye for getting people to think about their lives and beyond.

Anton D's picture

The consensus of my kids is 3 good songs and one big thumbs down.

I showed my 19 year old this thread and he says that while it may not turn any atheists into believers, Kanye just might succeed at turning some believers into atheists.

MalachiLui's picture

I agree about the "might turn some believers into atheists" part solely because it's the worst album of Kanye's career and it's all about Jesus.

I agree about the 3 good songs: Every Hour, Follow God, and Use This Gospel. no reason to return to JIK otherwise. I'll probably be going back to the Yandhi leaks more.

Vinylghost's picture

I wouldn't ever be able to trust an atheist judgement on a Gospel album. Maybe about the sound quality, but not the content. I don't even know if Kanye is a true believer. Time will tell.

Malachi, maybe you should go and ask the milkman before you review another "Gospel" album.

Anton D's picture

What are your exclusion criteria for who you would 'trust' on any given album?

Can you trust a 'believer' to review an album by Björk or Brian Eno?

Can you trust a New Yorker's review of an Allman Brother's recording?

Can a liberal review a Ted Nugent or Charlie Daniels record?

Can a conservative review an album by, essentially, anybody except Ted Nugent or Charlie Daniels?

Are you allowed to have an opinion regarding Cat Sevens' music?

This is fascinating that we have music police telling us who is qualified to review music.

Vinylghost's picture

Exclusion criteria? Tin ears. Malachi seems to have good ones.

Bjork, Eno? More performance art than music. Ears optional.

New Yorker, Allman Brothers? You've got to live it to understand it. So no.

Only a Liberal would throw out Daniels and Nugent. I demand better from you to answer your question.

Who's this Cats7 you speak of?

Music police? I must have hit pretty close to the mark for you to
get this upset.

I added it up. I win.

jamesbythebay's picture

Yet another attempt to pass a tribal politics rant as an intellectual own. Triggered by what? AntonD standing up for a fellow human being's right to express an opinion?

The logic you think you're hammering AntonD with is pretty weak. Flaccid, even. But...it might be better to simply point to the irony of your completely missing the irony AntonD civilly employed to make his point.

Seriously: think better.


UrushiMan's picture

Otherwise you are precluding music which does not agree with your ethos. Religion, Same-sex love songs, War, Drugs.

Anyway, I'm an atheist but this is a cracking tack and I love it;


Goatboy's picture

The wildly eccentric Mr West has been doubling down on the crazy lately, so not surprising his music has also gone off the rails. Well written and thoughtful review. Loved reading it and keep them coming.

Glotz's picture

The review was truthful and intelligent and it's a shame most people tried to wreck that- less a few adults who know how to communicate online. (What did you win- The scorn of several people??)

There is no accounting for taste and passing judgments makes one look like a schmuck. (How DARE you impugn Bob, Malachi!?)

And Xmas is coming up... What would St. Nick think?? COAL 'EM!

I truly love those in here that promote a great conversation or even get into philosophy and religion. The coolest part of the internet, alongside the worst.