For the better part of a decade, a cavalcade of headlines and controversy accompanied each fresh Kanye West release, causing as much of a stir as the rabid anticipation from diehard fans. His game-changing ninth album, Jesus Is King, was no different. Between 2018's complicated Ye and this 2019 gospel rebirth, West's position as a cultural firebrand and his own worst enemy was further amplified by inflammatory interviews and controversial political stances. At one point, he even threatened to quit the rap game, citing the genre as "the Devil's music." During that period, West also recommitted himself to Christianity, spreading his personal gospel throughout the land with his trademarked Sunday Service crusade. Praising the Lord but also selling expensive branded merchandise, West proved that, beneath the talk of faith and a life turned around, this is still business and religion is often just a tool. With all that in mind, the loaded Jesus Is King proffers a new Kanye, one loudly dedicated to Jesus Christ and the fruits of faith. No longer the scumbag of "Runaway," West -- born again and repenting past sins -- fully commits to this direction, forgoing curse words and lewd rhymes in a complete turnaround from the rest of his catalog. While his grasp of Christ's teachings is elementary -- giving detractors further ammunition to question his true intentions (which he tackles on "Hands On") -- his seeming sincerity and vulnerability help temper embarrassing rhymes about fast food chicken sandwiches ("Closed on Sunday") and his troubling alignment with prosperity gospel teachings ("Water," "On God"). Despite the occasional lyrical misstep, Jesus Is King is a wonder of production, housing some of West's most focused and inspired work since 2013's Yeezus. From the rapturous choral sweep on "God Is" and the slapping beat of "Follow God" to the digital swirling "On God" and the languid flow of "Water," the true power of this set lies in what West has accomplished with all his meticulous studio tinkering, crafting an immersive sonic experience that only improves upon repeated listens. Well-utilized guests Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons bridge the secular with the religious, joining gospel singer Fred Hammond and the Sunday Service Choir to add further heft to the proceedings. West even manages to match a reunited Clipse with saxman Kenny G. Considering his new message, the reinvigorated production, and the communal spirit that courses through the album, West seems to be in a healthier place. Presumably reborn in Christ, Jesus Is King reframes Kanye West as a work in progress and, despite the controversies, demonstrates (as humbly as his ego will allow) that he's at least trying.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung