Oct 26, 2019

Editorial: JESUS IS KING IS NOT A GOSPEL ALBUM (written by @RamseySaidWHAT)

Growing up, my father always told me to be careful who you hear the word from because not everyone preaching the word is spiritually correct. It doesn't matter if they are a pastor, deacon, or even my parents themselves. My father wanted me to know the word for myself. He made more of an emphasis on spirituality than religion because religion is just politics and man-made. The old folks say no one knows the word more than the devil. He is God's fallen angel and heavenly choir director after all. I'm not calling Kanye West Lucifer. He loves Jesus, but "he don' learned a lot from Satan."

The only way to effectively break down this project is to take a page out of Kanye's book and talk about myself. Perhaps a little less arrogant but to truly understand this take, you must understand my perspective. I didn't want to write a thought piece on Kanye, but someone told me because of my background I'd be the perfect person for it.

JESUS IS KING by Kanye West was released on my 28th birthday. I am a lifelong God-fearer and a Millennial Christian man. A liberal Christian man who just so happens to be in love with hip-hop culture. When initially asked if I would listen to this project I replied no. Considering he's been probably the biggest influence on my adolescent and now adult life it's safe to say Ye has left a bad taste in my mouth in the past few years.

All my life I've been a churchgoer who loves music, gospel, and R&B as well. Being a heterosexual black man, I've been almost every kind of man who attends church. I've been the church drummer and sang solos in the youth choir. I've ushered, been an acolyte, ministered sermonettes as served as a mentor to the youth in my community. I've even entertained the idea of seminary and the ministry. Black men in church are unicorns, we garner a lot of attention because there aren't many of us. Because there is such a gap in ages between one generation in church to another, for me, the church was the place I learned responsibility to the next generation. A responsibility that Kanye feels free from exercising.

This piece is a warning to those who are more easily influenced and less informed than I. This is for the people whose first exposure to the church outside of grandma's funeral was Sister Act 2. Now that you have a gist of who I am, let's begin. I haven't listened to a new Kanye project since The Life of Pablo. In my review, I said something that three years later I still stand by:

"Listening to Kanye makes me feel like a kid in the choir back when we used to get in trouble for singing secular music during rehearsal."

That's what JESUS IS KING is. I hate to burst Kanye's bubble, but this is not a gospel album. If you go into this project with the expectation of it being gospel you'll leave just as misinformed as he. Just because music has gospel elements and features from my favorite Gospel act ever in Fred Hammond, does not make it gospel. Freudian by Daniel Caesar had gospel elements but it was an R&B project. 

Another issue is he doesn't credit some of the classic gospel songs he remixes to the public. Songs by LWSC choir, Hezekiah Walker, and more go unnoticed and ripped to those who don't traditionally listen to gospel. Ye knows what he's doing. His ear is matched by few. Who else samples Steeley Dan and Daft Punk and makes it hip-hop?

This album is entertaining and takes choral elements and messaging about Jesus. When you listen to Kanye speak you can tell he has ignorance of what being a Christian really is. Ignorance is not bad in this case. In the good book, Jesus says to "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." Yeezus is a new believer in Christ, a child. In his interview with Beats One's Zane Lowe he explains his experience as a new born again believer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing something so long as you seek the truth. That has been my issue with Kanye for the past few years. He considers himself an authority on things he doesn't fully understand. Whether it's his own narcissism or laziness, he hasn't taken time to self reflect when someone corrects him. He doesn't feel the need to fully explain his opinions he claims to be factual. For context, check out his interview on David Letterman's Netflix series, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction."

There was a moment in the Apple Music interview that stuck out to me. He's competitive and takes everything as a challenge. The challenge this time was defending his idea of church because at the time he didn't have a pastor. He explained why his daughter, North West wants to "Do church to dance with her friends." He said that church wasn't the most positive memory of an adult's childhood was church the way it is for his daughter.

"Tell me someone that you know that's in our age group, that their most positive memory of their childhood, one of them equally was going to church. Where people are like, I want to go to church."(Kanye West on Beats One)

He blames sitting in those physical pews and traditional church settings versus his circular, outdoor Sunday Service. I don't think his statement is necessarily false, but simply his own experience. Growing up, church was a place where I learned tradition and that those four walls of the Lord's house are sacred; however, the reason church WAS the most positive memory of my childhood is because church left the actual building. The people that grew up in that environment with me would say the same. We had church at 1001 Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park, but we also had church at the bowling alley, the roller rink, Six Flags, or a barbeque in Shark River Park. We worshipped and fellowshipped everywhere we went, and do to this day for that very reason.

More than anything, it seems Kanye wants to feel like he's profound in his deep thought rather than actually taking the time to seek wisdom. JESUS IS KING isn't a gospel album, it's hip-hop. That isn't an insult. That's the nature of hip-hop music. In a book I'm working on, I explain that when you bend genre's with rap, it's still hip-hop. My favorite examples are Walk this Way by Run DMC and Aerosmith or Cool Like That by Digable Planets. Sure, there is a rock guitar playing or big band jazz bassist strumming, but it's still hip-hop. A choir singing about the glory of the Lord over Kanye raps is still hip-hop. Kanye isn't by himself. That's how I feel about Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and Trip Lee as well. They just rap about how Jesus set them free, which is their own testimony over trap percussion.

JESUS IS KING is just an ode to the Great Commission. It's the idea that spreading the Christian faith has to leave the four walls of the sanctuary and go out and meet the people where they're at. See Mathew 28:16 for context. That's the same way I look at Sunday Service. A place where he profits and tiptoes the line of a cult. The problem is Sunday Service isn't church as it is a gathering is for the rich, famous, and elitists. Per Kris Jenner, her California Community Church is invite-only and has a $1,000 a month membership fee after signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement at pre-worship brunch. Church is supposed to be in Jesus' name, but Sunday Service is if you're invited. Granted the word says if two or more gather the Lord is also there. That is what I wish for Kanye. His influence reaches further than most ministers and gospel artists. I just pray he's responsible with his voice in a way he hasn't been yet. He's not that far removed from getting bleach on his T-Shirt after all. He still swearing, "On God." I'm hesitant in listening to the messaging because it's draped in 808s and sex chakra percussion. He explains that with Letterman on a section about light healing and how sonic frequencies work. With that knowledge, he still takes a page out of South Park character Eric Cartman's book by changing sex lyrics to Jesus over Genuwine's Pony. It's as contradictory as religion versus spirituality.

Kanye is capable of becoming a new man, but excuse me if I pump fake on listening to a man with diagnosed and unaddressed issues. I don't think that just because I know more about the Lord than Ye, doesn't mean I can't still learn from him. I'm a firm believer in change. People are not required to be the same person forever. After all, I've been influenced by him since Polos and backpacks too. Lauryn Hill's heart wasn't in rhyming so it was Ye that I listened to. I just recognize ignorance much faster because of the emphasis my father taught me to seek the truth. Although it's difficult, it's not impossible to love the Lord and Kanye West. I just hope Ye loves Jesus more than Ye loves Ye.
Jonathan C. Ramsey
Jonathan C. Ramsey

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

No comments: