by Joel Vaughn
Hello, I didn’t see you there. My name is Joel Vaughn. Like all good armchair critics, my bonafides include sometimes sitting through a full album, paying $15 a month for my own Spotify family plan and close reading lyrics since I don’t actually know anything about music.
Today, we’re looking at three tracks from Mr. Kanye West’s ninth studio album, “Jesus is King,” a fraught recent release with an extra tumultuous lead up. From scraping the original Yandhi album to an unsavory appearance on TMZ to a troubling Oval Office rant, the skinny is that West has deservedly been the subject of public ire.
To cover our asses from libel though, our judgements of West’s art aren’t necessarily judgements of West himself. Rather, we’re assessing the shared cultural idea of West and how said idea is trying, and in many ways failing, to redefine itself in Christendom with “Jesus is King.”
“Follow God” baptizes us into the forlorn refrain of “Father, I stretch / Stretch my Hands for you” pulled straight from the gospel-infused highs on “Life of Pablo.”
Suffice to say, the track is a minute-and-30-second high point in a fairly middling album, but, cutting through the beat to the verse, we find West molding his identity like clumpy Play-Doh by “screamin’” and proclaiming that “it ain’t Christ-like.”
This lyrical motif pictures a son chastised by both a spiritual and literal father for not being “Christ-like.” This can be read as West reaching for a handhold of self-awareness yet not possessing the lyrical and critical grip strength to grasp it. In this instance, West is fixated on the act and mournfulness of his scream with nothing beyond a thin paternal context.
It plays with the tropes of a confessional without going beyond an admittance of sin.
“Closed on Sunday”
Yes, we’re talking about the Chick Fil-A track. “Closed on Sunday” opens with guitar plucking and a low choir hum as West fellates the Fil-A’s closed on Sunday policy.
Like many cringey born-agains, West sings the praise of a brand’s religiosity; apparently corporations can be devout too. But this ain’t amateur hour. We at 22 West know a metaphor when we see one, so who is West’s “number one with the lemonade?”
Returning to themes explored more wholesomely in “Violent Crimes” on “Ye,” West spends the chorus shifting his brand to not just a fatherly subject but that of a Christly patriarch protecting the family from vipers, indoctrination and Jezebels. You know, just like Chick Fil-A.
“Violent Crimes” established Kanye as a concerned and self-critical father—cute new dad stuff. “Closed on Sunday” has us catching up with that now short-fused papa eight years later as he’s stuck in the Chick Fil-A drive through, yelling at his kids in the back of the minivan on their way to Sunday school.
“Hands On” opens with a rich, tinny, low-fi refrain calling for the raising and laying of hands, calling for prayer. It’s truly a wonder that some of West’s worse lines can’t quite bring the lavish, soulfully palpable mood set by this track’s sample and instrumentals.
In the verse, West tells God and the Devil about the shift in his brand by “going on strike” from the sins and iniquities of his past. It’s a hokey line but not one that’s unsalvageable, however, the sentiment falls victim to the supernova pull of West’s ego dodging context and reason for that turn.
The lines: “What have you been hearin' from the Christians? / They'll be the first one to judge me / Make it seem like nobody love me,” lays bare the faults in West’s current identity crisis. Even in coming to Christ, West is the center of his own universe, scorned by the lack of acceptance of religious boomers who lost their culture way back in the last Bush administration.