Yeezus vs Jesus: Kanye West's Faith in 5 Songs
Kanye West's rap is rooted in gospel right from The College Dropout days. These five songs, which explore the relationship between Yeezus and Jesus, show that his recent album, Jesus Is King, isn't an aberration.
The internet was buzzing over the delay in Kanye West's Jesus Is King (2019) release. As with everything he does, Kanye released the new album when he wanted to, not when the whole world wanted. The 'new Kanye' who goes around the country and hosts Sunday Service in style didn't come out of nowhere. When you pay close attention to his earlier music, you realize he has been "there" all along.
1. "Jesus Walks"
In his debut album The College Dropout (2003), Kanye rapped about the Devil and Jesus. "God show me the way because the Devil's tryin' to break me down." He set the song against the background of war cries and drumbeats. The man is at war with the evils of the world and also with himself.
He acknowledged that Jesus is not a cool topic for rappers to talk about. "They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus/ That means guns, sex, lies, video tape/ But if I talk about God my record won't get played". With this revelation, Kanye announced himself to the world as someone who isn't afraid to speak his mind and swim against the tide.
Kanye's transformation from a successful producer to a kickass rapper didn't happen overnight. He didn't get a record deal straight away as he didn't have the street credibility or a gangsta image. He signed with Roc-A-Fella records. While working on the album, he was involved in a terrible car accident in California while going home from the studio. He survived the crash and had to go through a surgery to reconstruct his shattered jaw.
In "Jesus Walks", Kanye raps about lawlessness on the Chicago streets, with a focus on chain snatching and car jacking. He didn't want to be another rapper that glorifies guns and violence. He acknowledged the racial profiling by the police and quoted his mother, who said only Jesus can save us. But to reestablish his communication with Jesus wasn't going to be easy. "I want to talk to God, but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long, so long."
2. "Put On"
After the success of his debut album, Kanye didn't mention Jesus for a while. In 2007, he lost his mother, Dr. Donda West, to complications from plastic surgery. He broke up with his then-girlfriend, Alexis Phifer. It might have been a difficult time that forced him to question his faith. He turned up with a very personal and underrated verse in Jeezy's "Put On" in the album The Recession, released in 2008.
He raps, "I lost the only girl in the world that know me best/ I got the money and the fame, man, that don't mean shit/ I got the Jesus on a chain, man, that don't mean shit/ Cause when the Jesus pieces can't bring me peace."
This on-off relationship between Yeezus and Jesus is an interesting one. His faith in Jesus hasn't always been stable.
In the same verse on "Put On", Kanye mentions that he was 'high as a satellite' during this phase of his life and seeking solace in casual sex. Amber Rose was featured as one of the models in the "Put On" music video. Kanye would go on to date Amber Rose, before settling down with Kim Kardashian.
To segue this to "Stronger" from the album Graduation (2007), Kanye suggests that if God has put him in front of his girl of interest, then she can't be resisting him. "But I know that God put you in front of me/ So how the hell could you front on me?/ There's a thousand you's, there's only one of me".
3. "I Am a God"
It's easy to accept that Kanye was in overdrive on 2013's Yeezus. He got bored with making triple-platinum albums, so in Yeezus he gave fans a bitter pill. He opens the first verse of first track with the message, "Soon as they like you make 'em unlike you/ Cause kissin' people ass is so unlike you".
It's OK to wonder if Kanye was being religious or sacrilegious by declaring, 'I Am A God'. Yeezus was probably 'close high' to proclaim Jesus as 'most high'. He recalls an imaginary conversation he had with Jesus.
Jesus: What up, Yeezus?
Yeezus : Shit—I'm chillin. Tryna stack these millions.
This song gave us a glimpse of the Kanye we know today. Kanye's declaration that he's "a god" is an intended pun. "I Am a God" is an empowering Nietzschean declaration that is meant to make listeners believe that they are capable of overcoming any internal and external barriers they face. Nietzsche employed a bombastic style to make a point. For example, Nietzsche's famous statement "God is Dead" can be interpreted as his way of saying there's less God in secular and enlightened people's lives. Similarly, Kanye employs a bombastic style to get the attention of the listener.
Kanye encourages his fans to have self-belief and self-esteem. In an interview with Zane Lowe of BBC Radio in 2013, Kanye said about Yeezus and his earlier works, "Go listen to all my music. It's the code to self-esteem. If you're a Kanye West fan, you're not a fan of me. You're a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself."
4. "Ultralight Beam"
In 2016, Kanye went back to Jesus in the opening track of The Life of Pablo. The album is inspired by the life of Saint Paul the Apostle. Saul was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians when he was blinded by a light beam from Heaven. The ultralight beam is the connection or message from Heaven to transform Saul into Paul.
After "Jesus Walks", this is probably the most straight forward gospel song that can be played in a church -- but only after taking out the verse about Chance the Rapper, which contains the "F" and "N" words.
Kanye opens the song with a sample from an Instagram post featuring a playful prayer of a mother and her girl child.
Kanye repeatedly declares " I'm tryna keep my faith," and goes on to deliver a prayer as a slow rap "Deliver us serenity/ Deliver us peace/ Deliver us loving/ We know we need it/ You know we need it." The piano keys, drumbeats and the chorus make Ultralight Beam an ultimate gospel song. The song ends with a powerful prayer feature by Pastor Kirk Franklin.
5. "Kids See Ghosts"
In the title track of 2018's Kids See Ghosts, Kanye teams up with Kid Cudi and confidently confirms his total faith in Jesus. "Got a Bible by my bed, oh yes I'm very Christian/ Constantly repentin' 'cause yes I never listen". In "Cudi Montage" on the same album Kanye repeatedly begs, "Lord shine your light on me, save me, please".
Whatever else he may be, Kanye is a master producer who samples from soul, pop and reggae schools of music. He produces his songs with immaculate attention to detail. No line or beat is just there in a Kanye song. They are there for a reason. His work has us wondering if Jesus has chosen Yeezus to spread His message as Kanye seems to say -- or if Yeezus has chosen Jesus to rehabilitate his image and help him refocus on music with a renewed passion.
Kanye openly confesses his love for porn and Jesus, although at different points on his artistic timeline. He is equally comfortable hosting a porn awards function as conducting a Sunday service. In September 2018, Kanye was the creative director for the first ever Pornhub awards. A year later he is going around the country and conducting his musical Sunday service sessions.
For Kanye, being honest and having an open discussion about everything is essential, including opioids, liposuction, bi-polar disorder, porn, fashion, race, and politics. Posturing as someone with no flaws isn't a game that Kanye plays. But Kanye's unabashed naturalness and 'free thinking' can make him unbearable. His political comments and admiration for Trump has many people wondering about his state of mind. SNL tried to spoof Kanye's meeting with Donald Trump at the white house. But everyone knows that the actual meeting was more funnier and bizarre than the SNL skit.
If album sales are an indication of an artist's popularity, then it's clear that fans love the sensitive and soulful Kanye more than the cocky and braggy Kanye of Yeezus. While The College Dropout sold north of three million units, Yeezus sold less than a million. For Kanye, the album sales number is probably irrelevant as compared to expressing himself and his state of mind through music. Can the MAGA-hat wearing new Kanye transform back to the old Kanye from Chicago by showing his faith?
"I ain't feelin' you like I ain't feelin' new Kanye," Rapsody says Kanye in the song "Whoopi" on her latest album Eve. For Kanye, there's only one constantly amorphous Kanye. Many Kanyes mentioned in his "I Love Kanye" track from The Life of Pablo are just perceptions of others.
If Kanye has to choose between being in Jesus' good books and being on the top of the charts, there's no doubt that Kanye will choose the former. This is what makes Jesus Is King unique. If fans connect and feel the 'old Kanye' in Jesus Is King, then it's set to break at least a few records set by gospel albums or even Kanye's previous albums.
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