Kanye West’s 10th studio album, Donda, made its debut after a week of hype that was capped off with a global live listening event hosted on Apple Music on Thursday (July 22). The much-anticipated compilation, however, is still not available (as of July 24) even though it was scheduled to drop the day after the listening event. Nonetheless, fans now know that a myriad of talent of the highest order, from Lil Baby and Lil Durk to Jay-Z have contributed to the project which has a production value one would only expect from a 22-time Grammy winner.
If you paid any attention to rumors leading up to the release, there were speculations on whether Donda would echo the religious sentiments of Jesus Is King, which had no swearing and stipulations that collaborators abstain from premarital sex.
The truth is that no two Kanye albums sound the same. But what’s abundantly clear after catching the stream is that his venture into spiritual music is not a shtick. Kanye as a Christian artist is here to stay.
One of the elements that separates the father of four from other artists is his ability to continually reinvent himself, forever pushing the boundaries of what and how he creates. That has not changed. What has changed is his recommitment to Christ. And even if you don’t believe the 44-year-old by what you’ve seen, it’s crystal clear in what you hear. One deep dive into the trajectory of his discography and you’ll see that his entire career was leading up to a moment like this.
Just look at what he’s done lately: including Donda, the last four projects Kanye’s worked on have had a Christian focus. After Jesus is King was released in October 2019, the Georgia native executively produced Jesus Is Born, featuring the Sunday Service Choir a couple of months later on Christmas. He did the same last year, releasing Emmanuel with the Los Angeles singing group on the 25th of December as well. And that’s just within the past four years.
“Jesus Walks,” arguably the biggest single from his debut album, The College Dropout, took religion to the streets. Yeezus had spiritual motifs, with songs like “I Am God”. He’s on record identifying The Life Of Pablo on Big Boy’s Neighborhood as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it,” If anything, Kanye has been consistent with what he believes. Only now he’s made it a lifestyle.
Even still, imagining Ye — who took home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Album last year — as a gospel mainstay or even as a Christian in general, may be hard for some to accept. Especially considering that leading up to his newfound devotion, he amassed a treasure trove of soundbites and viral clips that made him public enemy number one in the very industry he has dominated. Incidents with the former President, saying Black people could have freed themselves, a 2020 presidential run, made him fodder for the blogs and open to questions around his recommittal to Christianity.
During his appearance on “The Late Late Show,” for example, West gave praises to the Most High for doing what his accountant couldn’t. “God is using me as a human being. … As humbly as I can put it, he’s using me to show off,” he explained.
How does one know this gospel stuff isn’t for show? Or even more Grammys, given he’s in a new category he would surely dominate?
The answer is in the music — it’s when the Yeezy CEO is the most honest. He encapsulated it perfectly in his interview with Zane Lowe ahead of the release for Jesus Is King back in 2019. “There was a time I let you know what high fashion had done for me, I was letting you know what the Hennessy had done for me… now I’m letting you know what Jesus has done for me,” West told Lowe. Albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy represent the Henny, Yeezuz is the fashion and now we’re in his new iteration — God.
Older Kanye fans who haven’t abandoned him could very well be annoyed with his Jesus rhetoric. And on the flipside, the new fans who only know him as this Christian/secular hybrid are happy nonetheless. From the sounds of Donda, he may have found a happy medium between the two.
Whether this ends up being a phase he grows tired of, a calculated move for another presidential run in 2024 or a way to add to his Grammy room (you know he probably has one), it’s registering authentically in the studio and he’s still making the best music of his life. God has always been in Kanye’s music. The bigger difference is that now God is also now in Kanye’s life.