Kanye West, Jesus Is King

There is a pernicious problem in religious media (and in these United States, this generally means Christian media) that because it's religious, religious people nod and say it must be good, even when it isn't. This is a big reason why I don't review Christian music here generally, even being Christian personally, because since the dreck isn't skimmed off there's actually more artless junk in Christian record catalogues than secular ones and I don't need to wallow in that sad realization. Yet now and again a religious album appears of such artistic quality and/or sophistication that given how high it stands above its contemporaries I end up feeling terribly wrong in praising it. With at most rare errancy West crystallizes his journey towards and with God into eleven tracks bookended by gospel and livened by hip-hop, and even at its clumsiest the album is smarter than people want to give it credit for. "What have you been hearin' from the Christians?" he asks in "Hands On," predicting accurately "they'll be the first one to judge me." At the same time, though, he shares their same aspirations and voices the common struggle to righteousness, "Made a left when I should've made a right ... told the devil that I'm going on a strike; I've been working for you my whole life." His metaphors on Christian reliance may be a little hamfisted in "On God," and his alleged tribulations might ring hollow to the struggling masses, but how else could a net worth of $250 mil pass through the proverbial eye of the needle? (On the other hand, although I'm hoping "Closed On Sunday"'s Chick-fil-A references were tongue-in-cheek, it just comes off as kinda dumb.) Musically, however, the production is exceptional as it splices more traditional gospel pieces to wrap around the singles (the rich "God Is" being the best example), and the performance quality is stellar. If it weren't for the fact it's unforgivably short, almost EP length, I would be seriously faced with the prospect of giving an album half this readership merely on principle will despise a full five stars. I don't know what's gone on in Kanye's life and I don't know how to walk a single inch in his shoes. I won't judge what he believes and I won't know how long he'll believe it. But here is a religious album that is still as scrupulously professional as his other productions yet unambiguous in his belief that it's his time to stand up for God. What he's saying here will bother or offend many and this album's unapologetic proselytizing makes it deeply controversial, yet he's determined he's still gonna say it and say it with the highest artistic level of quality he can muster. My beliefs may be my bias, but to my great personal astonishment I too nodded and said it was good, because it is. (Content: as stated.)