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Album review: Kanye West is the worst part of sonically incohesive ‘JESUS IS KING’

(Courtesy of Def Jam)

“Jesus is King”

Kanye West

Def Jam

Released Friday

By EJ Panaligan

Oct. 26, 2019 6:27 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 27 at 10:15 p.m.

It’s not a Kanye album unless the release experience is chaotic, frustrating and ultimately disappointing.

Missed release dates, announced albums that never come out and released albums with out-of-order track lists are familiar territories for Kanye West.

Despite those release date hiccups, the rapper’s past albums, such as “The Life of Pablo” and “Kids See Ghosts,” were compelling and sonically innovative enough to be worth the wait. This is not the case, however, with “JESUS IS KING,” which was released Friday. The 11-track album instead merges to become a 27-minute moshpit of incredible gospel-infused production weighed down by idiotic, lackluster lyrics, shaky singing, questionable mixing choices and an overall incohesive album.

On Oct. 20, a simple tweet – his first since early January – announced the album title and cover, along with the release date. Fans had every right to be excited, but in an album filled with praise for Jesus Christ and begging for his forgiveness, West would do well to beg for his fans’ forgiveness instead.

The opening track of the album, “Every Hour,” features vocals from his Sunday Service Choir alongside a brash, fast-paced piano backing track. The song, lacking West’s vocals, emulates the intensely soulful performance one would see at their local church’s Sunday service. It beautifully sets the tone for the strong gospel-influenced sound that carries through the rest of the album.

[Related: Album review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ constructs a highly relatable, mature narrative of love]

As the album transitions into its second track, “Selah,” West’s first vocal appearance, his verses carry a tone of aggression reminiscent of his 2013 release “Yeezus.” The sound of a pipe organ lingers in the background of the minimalist instrumentals, as hard drums clash in rhythm with West’s verses. The Sunday Service Choir provides a whispering “Hallelujah” refrain that explodes into a full-blown yell over a corresponding bassline, epitomizing the sheer power of their faith in the Lord, a height that much of the rest of the album fails to capture.

And the third track, “Follow God,” continues the album’s admittedly strong start with a stripped-back soul instrumental sampling Whole Truth’s “Can You Lose By Following God,” which serves as a throwback to West’s classic “Late Registration” sound. But that’s where the record’s good times start to fade out.

The abysmal lyrics of the fourth track, “Closed On Sunday,” is undeniably the album’s biggest offender of uninspired songwriting. In singing about the Christian concept of Sunday being a day of rest, the lines “Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A” are repeated throughout the chorus, with every repetition exemplifying the song’s subpar lyrics. Additionally, the gentle acoustic guitar-backed instrumental allows for West’s terribly mixed vocals to take center stage, as if they were recorded on an old voice recorder from the 1980s.

West’s offensive attempt at singing on “God Is” completely wastes the lush, soul sample instrumental and choir-backed production. Passionate lyrics about his love for God and the strength of his Christian faith aren’t well-received because West’s dry, raspy vocals sound like he had been encouraged by a friend to get on stage at a karaoke night.

He hasn’t always been this awfully bad at singing – past efforts like “Ghost Town” and “Street Lights” have fared far better for him.

But this is a new low.

[Related: Album review: ‘FANDOM’ creates diverse sounds to show true nature of rising fame]

In contrast, Ty Dolla $ign’s feature on the laid-back sixth track, “Everything We Need,” hits the ears with grace, fullness and pleasantry – serving as a palette cleanser for listeners being subjected to West’s attempts at singing on this record.

A standout track hidden in the middle of the tracklist is “On God,” which takes a departure from the primarily soulful, gospel-inspired sounds present throughout the album. The upbeat, arcade game-inspired instrumental curated by producer Pi’erre Bourne brings a wave of arrogance to West’s verses that echo a familiar tone synonymous with his previous works.

Through his verses, West repeats similar religious themes while also addressing his controversial “slavery was a choice” comments, along with trying to justify the outrageous price tags of his clothing lines. But the energy and cadence in West’s delivery makes “On God” a rarity where the production, along with West’s vocals, are harmonious with one another.

The penultimate track, “Use This Gospel,” ruins a Clipse reunion with questionable mixing choices that traps their voices under overbearing choir vocals. Moments of West crooning in an attempt to harmonize with the song’s melodies ultimately fail to provide anything of substance.

West, the rapper and vocalist, is undoubtedly the worst part of “JESUS IS KING.” West, the producer and orchestrator of sound, is far and away the shining star of this album. More often than not, his ineffective lyrics and putrid vocals ruin moments of incredible production and instrumental choice. Furthermore, the lack of cohesion and flow from song to song makes the album quite perplexing to listen to.

With such a disappointing, jumbled and unfinished final product, the 27-minute runtime will help fans forget about West’s newest record as quickly as possible.

And with another album titled “Jesus is Born,” apparently slated for Christmas, Santa would serve many well to leave it behind on his sleigh.

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EJ Panaligan | Opinion editor
Panaligan is the Opinion editor for the Daily Bruin and hails from Carson, California. He was previously an Opinion columnist in 2018-19 and an assistant Opinion editor in 2019-20 and wrote about higher education and student life issues. He also contributes to the Arts and Entertainment section and has a fervent love for the Los Angeles-based sister band Haim.
Panaligan is the Opinion editor for the Daily Bruin and hails from Carson, California. He was previously an Opinion columnist in 2018-19 and an assistant Opinion editor in 2019-20 and wrote about higher education and student life issues. He also contributes to the Arts and Entertainment section and has a fervent love for the Los Angeles-based sister band Haim.
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