Kanye West’s new music language

Apart from those who’ve been culturally cryogenized throughout 2019, you’ve probably heard the rumours about Kanye West’s conversion to Christianity. Following a series of stops and starts, his newest album is now released, with the unambiguous title, Jesus is King. If it is anything to go by, the rumours seem to be true.

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The album consists of 11 songs which repeat a before and after picture of Kanye West’s life, with the dividing line being the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

West opens up about past decisions and struggles and the effect it’s had on people around him,

A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those

And in my arrogance, took a camera pose

Without any of the cultural subtleties that we’ve come to expect from public religious figures, Kanye switches on the spot light and points it directly at the person of Jesus.

I bow down to the King upon the throne

My life is His, I’m no longer my own

Shai Linne tweeted out today how Jesus is King,

“exposes the notion of hiding Jesus to reach the culture for the foolish philosophy that it is. It also exposes hearts like mine- tempted to grow complacent & lack the zeal we once had as new converts, before we had all our theological i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

So true. Where Christians so often feel like they’re as wanted as a possum in a Melbourne suburban street, Kanye West has blown open the roof. At a time when Christians have convinced themselves to tiptoe around the topic of Jesus, Kanye West has walked into the room and announced Jesus is King. For this reason, the album is a breath of fresh air. It’s like a warm weather front has hit the town to dethaw hearts that have been frozen with fear by the surrounding culture. 

It’ll be obvious to anyone who knows me, even a little, that rap is hardly my music of choice (and neither is Kenny G!). Ask me about Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff and we can have a conversation. Ask me about ‘Christian’ music, and I’ll most likely roll my eyes down the corridor. Ask me about rap, and I’ll have to turn to my son for help. I know the name Kanye West. I have some vague awareness of his mega-stardom in pop culture, but like many things circa 2000, I defer to my kids to point out who is what in the world of pop music.

That means I had better leave the critical evaluation of the music to others. Maybe Jesus is King will be praised or perhaps it’ll be thrown into a box tagged ‘musical heresy’; I don’t know. I have asked my drummer playing son for his thoughts about his album, for he sees something in this musical genre that has clearly evaded my imagination.

What I do love about this album is that even though the musical style is foreign to me, I sure understand the lyrics. Isn’t a Gospel truth that the Gospel both transcends culture and language and that it can also speak into any culture with precision and power?  The musical language may not be in my lane, but the theological language is familiar and exciting and encouraging.

Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Contemplating an answer, and despite declaring Jesus to be innocent of any wrongdoing, Pilate then proceeded to have Jesus crucified. In that rejection, God revealed the answer, yes Jesus is the King and he is the saving King. Ever since that day, generations have asked the same question, Is Jesus the King, often asking and hoping that the answer is no. Through a musical language that is understandable to millions, Kanye West is declaring that the answer is yes. I hope and pray that these songs will reach a generation of Aussies and Americans, and encourage them to consider this great and momentous question.

Let me leave you with these great lyrics from the song God is,

Everything that I felt, praise theLord

Worship Christ with the best of your portions

I know I won’t forget all He’s done

He’s the strength in this race that I run

Every time I look up, I see God’s faithfulness

And it shows just how much He is miraculous

I can’t keep it to myself, I can’t sit here and be still

Everybody, I will tell ’til the whole world is healed

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store

From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door

You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name

Listen to the words I’m sayin’, Jesus saved me, now I’m sane

And I know, I know God is the force that picked me up

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup

I know God is alive, yeah

He has opened up my vision

Giving me a revelation

This ain’t ’bout a damn religion

Jesus brought a revolution

All the captives are forgiven

Time to break down all the prisons

Every man, every woman

There is freedom from addiction

Jesus, You have my soul

Sunday Service on a roll

All my idols, let ’em go

All the demons, let ’em know

This a mission, not a show

This is my eternal soul

This my kids, this the crib

This my wife, this my life

This my God-given right

Thank you, Jesus, won the fight