It is not hyperbole to call West a genius. With his Sunday Services and “Jesus Is King,” West is once again testing the boundaries of his talent.
By Steve Krakauer
In May, Sia, the uber-talented but famously enigmatic pop singer and songwriter walked onstage wearing a hoodie and no makeup and belted out a gospel rendition of her hit “Elastic Heart.” The seemingly-impromptu performance (she was holding her phone to make sure she remembered the changed words) was backed by a gospel choir, and was incredibly powerful. The performance was tweeted by Kim Kardashian West, who said “there wasn’t a dry eye in this room.” The setting? An early iteration of Kanye West’s “Sunday Service.”
“Sunday Service” is West’s music-focused, faith-based experience (it has a “a Christian vibe,” says Kim Kardashian) that has propelled the artist’s music over the past year. Sunday Service went to Coachella. It went to Atlanta. More recently, it went to Wyoming, where thousands joined in. And it is also the foundation for his latest film project and album, “Jesus Is King,” which dropped on Friday (after multiple delays).
West is a cultural chameleon, who has remained one of the most talented, fascinating and controversial pop culture figures for 17 years and counting. He has evolved from mostly-anonymous producer to dynamic young rapper to awards show stage crasher to fashion designer. But his most recent turn toward faith has renewed the cultural fascination — and with it, plenty of scrutiny.
He has evolved from mostly-anonymous producer to dynamic young rapper to awards show stage crasher. But his most recent turn toward faith has renewed the cultural fascination.
Full of gospel-inspired hip-hop — and just literal gospel — “Jesus Is King” contains allusions to West’s past and the evolution that brought him to this point. “God is king, we’re just soldiers,” are the first lyrics on the album in his opening song “Selah.” Just six years ago, West repeated the chorus “I am a God” in a song of the same name on his “Yeezus” album. Although West has long been prone to hyperbole, especially when it comes to his career aspirations, “Jesus Is King” spends a lot of time trying to position West as less the center of his own universe and more the servant of a higher power. “Cut out all the lights, He the light,” he says on “Hands On.”
West has made religion a centerpiece of his art in recent years. But he’s rarely preachy — there’s a cheerfulness to his turn to God. Others in pop culture have reached levels of uber-fame and subsequently taken similar paths — Justin Bieber, once one of the world’s biggest teen pop stars, has been speaking with increasing openness about how faith has helped him deal with drug abuse and anxiety. West protege and sometimes collaborator Chance the Rapper also has a new album featuring faith as a major theme.