Friday, October 25, 2019

"Jesus is King" Album Review // Once Again Kanye Creates A Moving Musical Experience

I'm a fan. I've always been a Kanye West fan. Antics and all. Actually, sometimes I feel like it's because of the antics why I can appreciate Kanye's creative journey even more. This industry is not for the weak, nor is it for the super strong. Sane, insane, or otherwise. We know it's a mess. We know it's hard to navigate, as are fame, scrutiny, and aging. Some of us are old enough now to have lived and witnessed the full career trajectory of so many of our favourite artists. For me, Kanye west is one of those favourites.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm at the point where I can take all of his music, good and bad (and there's definitely been some baaaaad), because I'm now more interested in the long-term progression of his sound and his mind and can overlook the glitches and questionable judgement at times. On a personal level, it's difficult...on a musical level, it continues to intrigue me.

Sure, I could have done without the red MAGA hat. Absolutely, his comments on slavery were disappointing, to say the least. The Taylor Swift thing, the Kardashian link up, there are a plethora of reasons why Kanye West is not to be liked or to be easily dismissed. And then...on the other side of the proverbial scale there is just one reason: the music. OK two reasons: the music, and the production!!


I'm writing this in real-time as I listen to the "Jesus is King" album for the first time. Why? Because that's what good music does to me, it inspires words to form, and fingers to type, and vibes to turn up. Good music is the consummate conduit for productivity, as far as I'm concerned. More often than not, I have experienced these vibes at the hands of Kanye.

I didn't know when the album was coming out. I was hoping for last night, but when that didn't happen I stopped paying attention. Funny how my automatic response when I heard the first song today was to get to my laptop and is an automatic response at this point. The music moved me. Literally.

It was the video clips of his pop-up Sunday Service concerts that drew me back into Ye this time around. Starting in Calabassass with a handful of California's elite gathered around a then relatively unknown gospel concert, mounted on a hill and raising their hands in praise. It was quaint. It was moving. It was spiritual, and I appreciated the attention pointed upwards...instead of on his shoes, his wife, his brand, on the President, or onto other Kanye-esque gimmicks.

Selah. Is. Officially. My. Track. That's the excerpt of choir singing "he is wonderful" that I have been binge watching for months now, and I was hoping the passage would find its way into the album. Phew. Love it. The spirit of it is impeccable.


Boy, this album is moving quickly. So where was I...yes, I appreciated the nod towards Jesus, and the collective voices of worship, and the African-American soul, and the natural feeling of gratitude that the choir evoked. What's not to like?

I ignored the Kanye doubters/haters over the past couple of years, and continued to tune in to the Sunday Services. Eventually more "stars" started to show up at the outdoor sessions, and then the outdoor sessions moved indoors, into domes and churches...and then they went on tour. As this was transpiring, I was able to connect online with many of the talented musicians participating in the musical experience. The choir members. The keyboardists. The other instrumentalists, and they too became familiar faces on my IG timeline.

I appreciate that this style hasn't changed much. He's singing much less, which is a relief. His cadence and thought processes still remain. They've evolved, but they're classic Kanye at heart.


A music lover from birth, I loved everything about the organic joining of the instruments at the Sunday Service, the passionate voices, and of course the creative genius of Mr. West, sitting behind his keyboard, jamming to his own gospel interpretations of various R&B hits. How do you not love a choir's rendition of Soul II Soul, Genuwine, and other classic songs? It was brilliant! A clever way to bring the "secular" and the "spiritual" together in a joint love for sound.

These song are really brief and to the point, right? They're flying by.


When the Sunday Service began to tour, I was excited each and every time the new footage emerged, and I had the opportunity to see the effect that the singers, and the dance moves had on the music. I thought to myself, that it was a good move for Kanye to use his influence and visibility for good. To bring good energy, and good messages through music to crowds of supporters, fans, and curious on-lookers.

I almooooost made it to the Chicago show, at the invite of an Illinois-based friend, but the last minute timing made it near impossible. I contemplated the Detroit staging, watched the Howard Homecoming longingly, and sat in sheer envy of the pop-up at Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica the other day. It was a movement that I wanted to be a part of, simply because it felt so good. The music reverberated. The choirs moving in unison moved me, visually. The spirit of God was coming through Kanye's productions...and I appreciated it.

The implementation of choir is something that I've loved about Kanye in previous works of his. My favourite Ye album My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy (2010) was very musical, and very spiritual in a way that inspired me beyond words. I have craved that level of album-listening experience ever since. I had yet to find a series of songs that moved so beautifully in narrative (and visual, thanks to the extended music video) like that album did.


The music listening experience has changed for me drastically over the years. Where I used to be a serial album-buyer, and someone who didn't mind spending money to get a physical musical product in my hands...the digital/streaming era has not been a productive one for me. I'm sure I have missed out on a lot of gems because of my inability to seek, download, and listen to new compositions this way. While I'll definitely listen to DJ mixes and tune into the radio during musical listening opportunities, I found it more and more distracting to have to use an Apple Music or Spotify to hear what I needed to hear. Yeah. I miss CDs.

That being said, DJ Khaled and 2 Chainz had awesome albums this year that I streamed...and never listened to again, just by way of delivery method. If don't catch the top hits in the club or through other mainstream methods, I rarely dig into the "B-side" tracks like I used to. Perhaps it's a generational error, but I do feel the effects on my relationship with newly released music. Particularly hip hop. Soca and reggae have other means of keeping up, that have remained constant regardless of technology.

So I'm happily taking in Kanye's album RIGHT off the presses, and in real time. I'm not going to even go back online until I've listened to it in its entirety. When the pundits, the fans, the naysayers, and the gossip outlets start to critique and analyze this album obsessively over the next 24 hours, I need to know that I've heard every single instrument, riddim, and lyric and had the opportunity to form an unbiased opinion. I do admit, that my opinion may expand as a result.

At present, I like what I hear. It sounds like Kanye. It sounds like I figured it would sound, and I can appreciate that. It's on brand, it feels spiritual and musical, and everything that I've loved about the 7-month Sunday Service marketing campaign that he's embarked on, leading up to this album's release.

Part of the joy of taking in a project by Kanye West, and other creative minds, is that the entire experience is a process. Their personal life, their public remarks and actions, and then the steps they take in the months and days leading up to their latest project.

I hated to watch him break down in the Oval Office hugging up that man, and I was saddened to hear when his mental health issues had him hospitalized, overweight, and subdued. It's been tough to watch him suffer and as a legit fan, I tried to remain open to his experience and really tried not to judge him too harshly as he was clearly going through some shit.

On the flip side now, the choirs, and the praying, and the Bible, and the pseudo-preaching...I dig it. It shows evolution. It shows growth. Even if it is just a Kardashian-level elaborate marketing scheme, at LEAST the scheme is leading people back to God. At least it's led me to at least a dozen singers and instrumentalists who have dedicated their life to praise. If this was all just a fancy trick to get us to "buy" his album (do people still buy online through streaming...I actually have no idea?!)...then it worked.

The deadlines, and missed deadlines, due dates, and past due dates, it's all been a roller coaster and test of patience for fans that have been eager to hear what has been brewing in Kanye's mind over the past year. The false alarms and video releases, etc. It's been a trip to say the least.


Wait, that's it? The album is done? That wasn't very long, was it? I think I need to start again and take it in on another level now. This is the part of the process I love. I'm pretty sure I'll be listening to nothing else for the remainder of the weekend. It's weird, it's frustrating, and it's hard to figure out...but I enjoy the process because of the way I feel right now. INSPIRED.

I want to hear what future Kanye is up 50 and what 65-year-old Kanye is producing. And beyond. The journey has been nothing less than interesting and entertaining thus far, and I'm definitely here for the long haul.

OK. That last song was literally 30 seconds.

Kanye is something else. I've been telling y'all since '05. That's on God.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.