With his latest release, ‘Jesus is King,’ Kanye West has obviously and aggressively entered the culture war. He declared the most divisive and dangerous truth imaginable.
The title of the album alone is THE culture war from a Christian perspective. During Jesus’ trial, Pilate said that he could find no fault with him because he saw his kingship as philosophical and not practical. His flippant response to Jesus’ explanation of his kingship as being “not of this world” in the Gospel of John is the sarcastic “What is truth?” Pilate was worried about actual zealots, not philosophers.
But to declare ‘Jesus is King’ is an epic middle finger to the decadence and cynicism of the modern West. This isn’t Bob Dylan’s ‘Slow Train Coming,’ it’s much more like Dylan going electric or maybe even Jon Lennon’s death. This declaration is a shock to the system that Kanye has been a part of for a long time. The old Kanye is dead and the new Kanye is gonna be just as crazy as the old one but in a totally different direction.
This was the most rock ‘n’ roll thing he could do. He is being truly rebellious for the first time. It’s the exact same attitude that caused him to snatch that mic away in defense of Beyonce.
From a culture warring perspective, everything about this album is interesting. In fact, everything about Kanye in this current culture war moment is interesting. But this is still about Yeezy the Rapper and ultimately whether his music is any good. The truth is I have never liked his music very much. Aside from DMX and the occasional Eminem track, the entire hip-hop genre has never had much appeal to me. I find the lavishing of praise upon Kendrick Lamar (none of his music is distinguishable from itself) truly bizarre. ‘Jesus is King’ is doing and saying things ‘Ye’ has never done or said before but it’s still basically the same music. That means lots of overproduced incoherent tracks laced with poorly conceived lyrics. Kanye has always been first and foremost a production artist.
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That being said, ‘Jesus is King’ feels far less inorganic than his previous work. Each track still feels pulled from multiple sources created in a DJ’s lab instead of music composed by a true (or maybe just traditional) artist. This is a near-universal problem with contemporary music. The best producers still operate Rick Rubin style, attempting to bring the true artist to the surface but the true Yeezy is production. It isn’t possible to dig deeper.
In fairness to Kanye, he’s never shied away from this. He’s never presented himself as anything but who he is. He isn’t scared of sampling or over producing. He isn’t scared of using distortion and repetition on a Gospel or RnB track.
But there is a newfound passion and maybe even some anger here, after all, he has entered the culture war. His spoken words may still be in the same lackadaisical rhythm but with more bite. This clearly matters to him in a way that his ‘pagan’ music never did. His music has newfound soul.
From a critics perspective, his music should still be evaluated in the same way every album is. ‘Is this a good album?’ is the only relevant question, not ‘Is this album woke enough?’ (as if anyone used that word unironically anymore) or ‘Is it politically incorrect enough?’ His “politics” shouldn’t be relevant to whether or not his music is good. Calling new-found Christianity politics seems silly but, in the contemporary West, it often feels like nothing is more political than being publicly religious, especially if your religion is Christianity.
By John Lee Reed, an American Conservative who specializes in cultural and political commentary
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