He told us what it was from the very beginning. “God, show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down,” Kanye West pleaded on “Jesus Walks.” This was 15 years and eight solo albums before JESUS IS KING, the project where the man who once urged people to call him “Yeezus” resolves to walk solely in the light. “I’ve spread a lot of things,” West tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in a sit-down ahead of the album’s release. “There was a time I was letting you know what high fashion had done for me, I was letting you know what the Hennessy had done for me, all these things—but now I’m letting you know what Jesus has done for me.”
To help spread the good word, West calls on some of the most celebrated voices of both gopsel and secular music, including Fred Hammond, Ty Dolla $ign, and even smooth-jazz legend Kenny G. The album is a declaration of faith, the MC giving his testimony through the art form he’s spent a lifetime perfecting. West himself, who at one time called his seventh project, The Life of Pablo, “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing,” also explains to Apple Music that he’s been actively trying to cut back on swearing and even asked unmarried collaborators to abstain from sex while working on JESUS IS KING. For their efforts, we get gospel rap as envisioned by one of hip-hop’s all-time greatest composers.
The old Kanye (“chop up the soul Kanye”) and his discerning ear for sample selection is present throughout, as is one masterfully wielding the weighty harmonies of the Sunday Service Choir, a Los Angeles group operating in the tradition of the black American church. They shine with a minimalistic piano accompaniment on album opener “Every Hour,” while Kanye makes space for his own voice, singing and rapping over the warm and elastic synth tones of “Water.” It all makes for an album unlike any West has delivered, and one that might set the tone for the future of his music-making. To let West tell it, however, that particular decision is hardly his alone. “I have some visions,” he tells Lowe of his plans for creative projects both musical and otherwise. “But the more that I am in service to God, I just clear my head and wake up more empty every day and let God do the driving and use me as he may. You know, you make plans and God laughs.”