A West Movement

Kanye West’s new album is a religious next step in his musical evolution

Graphic+by+Jordan+Hom%2FSAC.Media.

Graphic by Jordan Hom/SAC.Media.

When Kanye West first broke into the music industry with his debut album “The College Dropout,” the rap world was taken by storm. His intricate lyricism and one-of-a-kind production was a new flavor of hip hop that would carry him to superstar status. But how did a young producer from Chicago go from Ralph Lauren polo shirts and pop beats to oversized vintage sweatshirts and gospel music?

Kanye’s relationship with God has been a long and complicated one. Messages about Kanye’s faith have always been present in his music ever since “The College Dropout” in 2004. His single, “Jesus Walks,” was his first expression of religion in mainstream hip hop. In the song, he addresses the media’s acceptance of religion in music. He says that even mentioning Jesus keeps songs from getting airplay, but talking about violence, sex, and drugs garners plenty of listens. Along with the strong message, the production is outstanding, featuring what can only be described as a chilling marching chant accompanied by a chorus proclaiming “Jesus walks with me.” “Jesus Walks” is the definition of religious rap.

As West grew in popularity, his music grew alongside him. Albums “Late Registration” and “Graduation” brought him more into the spotlight even though the two were not as heavily influenced by his Christianity. Kanye still included references to the Bible in songs like “Touch the Sky” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” But songs based on religion would not return until 2010 with the critically acclaimed “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

In the album’s bonus track, “See Me Now,” Kanye calls himself a “rap god.” His belief in his own abilities and influences on hip hop had created a new mindset that put him as equal with higher powers. He even utilized biblical imagery in music videos for songs like “Power” and “No Church in the Wild” from his 2011 duet album with Jay-Z, “Watch the Throne.” This new religious viewpoint would lead up to “Yeezus” in 2013.

“Yeezus” marks the peak of Kanye’s religious evolution and newfound god complex. The album title is a combination of his name and Jesus’s, solidifying his stance on his stardom and belief. The track “I Am a God” is Kanye’s most ambitious religious song, featuring lyrics like, “I am a God, even though I am a man of God.” West has fully embraced his mindset of being a musical deity and doesn’t appear to be abandoning it anytime soon. He even brought an actor to portray Jesus Christ on stage during his “Yeezus” tour, telling Jesus that he had been searching for him his whole life. Though Kanye believes himself to be a god, he still puts Jesus above him.

In 2016, Kanye released “The Life of Pablo,” which was what he called “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.” The album’s most-gospel sounding song, “Ultralight Beam,” begins with a sample of a little girl’s prayer that went viral on Instagram, showing that Kanye had stepped off his high horse and somewhat returned to reality. With his god complex gone, his music became less braggadocious and aggressive. He was beginning to return to his faith that he had ever since he was young.

Kanye’s projects in 2018, “Ye” and “Kids See Ghosts,” signified his struggles with mental and spiritual issues, but also the start of his road to recovery. At the time, Kanye had faced backlash for his support of President Trump and for questionable remarks regarding race. The album “Ye” was not only a reference to his nickname but also to a term used heavily in the Bible. The word ye is the religious word for you, and Kanye’s goal with his album was to relate to his audience more and humanize himself. And with “Kids See Ghosts,” West was repenting for his mistakes and the statements he had made.

Finally, we come to “Jesus is King,” Kanye’s first and true gospel album. During his recording of the project, Kanye had said that fellow Chicago musician, Chance the Rapper, had brought him back to God and restored his faith. This return to Christianity sparked a turnaround in his attitude, resulting in him rededicating himself to his faith. His newfound purpose led to him hosting Sunday Service, which are concerts that feature a choir, gospel remixes of his best hits, and an occasional sermon. Sunday Service started as a small event that took place in a few states, but now serves as Kanye’s official album tour.

Kanye is a new man. He has dedicated himself to his faith and has completely changed his lifestyle. Reports came out that during the recording of the album, he told collaborators not to swear or have premarital sex until the album was done. His reinvention of himself has brought a lot of attention, both good and bad. “Jesus is King” marks a new chapter in Kanye’s life that brings a promising future. For now, Kanye is happy and healthy, and all we can do now is wait and see where Mr. West takes us next.