Kanye West has caused quite a buzz in the music industry and the Christian community recently.
When the rapper confessed his newfound Christian faith, some greeted him with open arms, while others offered skepticism.
Is West’s conversion genuine?
The rapper’s latest album, Jesus Is King, can offer some insights into his new faith.
The newly-converted West has described his new album as “an expression of the Gospel.”
It’s an eleven-track exploration of Christianity in modern America, with a heavy gospel musical influence.
The album opens with a rousing chorus called “Every Hour.”
A choir exhorts listeners to “Sing every hour / Every minute / Every second / Every millisecond / … / Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down / Let everything that have breath praise God.”
The name of the next track—“Selah”—might prepare listeners for a quiet reflection, but the opposite is true.
“Selah” is a rhythmic confession of faith, featuring such lines as “John 8:33 / We the descendants of Abraham / Ye should be made free.”
“Selah” is also a foreshadowing of the tensions that surface later in the record. West shouts such Biblical truths as, “Even when we die, we raise up,” and “Love God and our neighbor, as written in Luke,” however, his theology can sound raw and underdeveloped at times.
What should listeners think of the line, “I ain’t mad, I’m just focused,” after West admits he “scream[s] at the chauffeur” on his way to heaven? West also makes references to those who have “stabbed him in the back” and looks forward to victory.
Overall, though, “Selah” is a strong, warlike chant about the army of God going forth to spread the Gospel—and even if Kanye doesn’t fully understand the theology surrounding that yet, it’s encouraging to hear him weave Scriptural references into his lyrics.
“Selah” rolls into “Follow God,” which is an honest and bold confession of weakness. “Lifelike, this is what your life like, try to live your life right,” West raps, frustrated at his inability to be “Christ-like.”
“Screaming at my Dad, and he told me, ‘It ain’t Christ-like’ / But nobody never tell you when you’re being like Christ,” West continues. “I’m just tryna find, I’m just looking for a new way / I’m just really tryna not to really do the fool way.”
Kanye wants to become more like Christ, but confesses that it’s hard. And isn’t that true for all of us?
West acknowledges his deep need for Christ in “Water,” a collaboration with other artists that preaches the theme of purity that can only come through God.
“Jesus, flow through us / Jesus, heal the bruises / Jesus, clean the music / Jesus, please use us,” West prays in “Water.” “Jesus is our safe / Jesus is our rock / Jesus, give us grace / Jesus, keep us safe.”
These prayers lead into “God Is,” a psalm-like celebration of God’s presence in Kanye’s life. “Everything that hath breath praise the Lord / Worship Christ with the best of your portions,” West begins.
“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.”
West extols God’s blessings in his life in both Biblical and modern language, acknowledging God as the source of his success and calling God’s faithfulness “miraculous.”
These are the kind of lyrics that make the album an encouragement to Christians: reminders to praise God, confessions of faith, assurances of His faithfulness.
But what about the moments where Kanye’s ideas don’t quite match the Bible?
West touts the idea of a prosperity gospel in “On God,” “Water,” and “Everything We Need.” The references are subtle but obviously influential to West, who views his financial success as an important component to his relationship with God and his witness to the world.
West also likens himself to a prophet or a martyr, claiming that the secular world didn’t take Noah seriously, either (“Selah”), and that Christians will be “the first one to judge me” (“Hands On”). He positions himself as a cultural outsider to both circles, someone who is perhaps speaking directly to God when everyone else isn’t.
Overall, Jesus Is King offers some uplifting messages that are mixed with mild confusion about the Gospel and the nature of relationship with God.
It could be easy for Christians to judge Kanye’s lyrical fumblings and pass them off as slurs toward Christianity. But one thing is clear throughout the album – Kanye is trying to draw closer to God, and that’s all any of us can do.
If we “only see the wrongs, never listen to the songs,” as West raps soulfully in “Hands On,” we might miss the important messages here such as the soulful plea to “Use this gospel for protection” because “it’s a hard road to heaven” (“Use This Gospel”).
Jesus Is King is clean and appropriate for all ages. For those who aren’t seasoned rap fans, the album is relatively short and an easy listen (skip forward to “Use This Gospel” to hear a stunning saxophone solo by the great Kenny G). Find it on Amazon today!