VALDEZ: Kanye's new album does well conceptually, but ultimately falls short


Column: The Power of an Open Mind

Talk about commotion.

The release of Kanye West’s new album "Jesus Is King" has been met with a mixture of excitement, disappointment and downright confusion. This might be the most polarizing album released in 2019. If you ask five people about their thoughts on it, you are likely to get five different opinions. 

Every Monday, WRSU-FM — Rutgers University radio — holds its music department meetings, where we listen to and talk about music. Of course, Kanye’s latest project was a major topic of conversation at the last meeting. 

Some people in the room loved it, and some called it trash. Some others, like myself, were in the middle. 

In a way, the discussion in that room was a microcosm of the reaction online. On one hand, you have the Reddit Kanye page treating the album like the best thing to ever happen to planet Earth. On the other hand, you have esteemed music reviewers such as Anthony Fantano giving the project mediocre reviews.

With Kanye being one of my favorite artists and creative inspirations, I am always excited when he releases anything. My friends and I rejoiced when he finally released it after several delays and push-backs. 

I found it on Apple Music when I woke up last weekend, and I was ready to have a spiritual start to my day with a gospel album. I am not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but since it was Kanye, I was willing to give it a chance.

The first song, “Every Hour,” was about what I expected. It features a choir singing about god, and sounds passionate and soulful. It is not necessarily my cup of tea, but it sounds pleasant enough. After that song, though, the project took a different turn.

The rest of the project is much more of a Christian rap album than a gospel album. While “Selah” does have some epic Hallelujah choir vocals mixed in, the project features a lot of rapping over non-gospel instrumentals. “Follow God” sounds like vintage Kanye, flowing over a chopped-up soul sample. “Closed On Sunday,” “Selah” and “Hands On” all have skeletal, haunting beats. 

Additionally, there are also more relaxed songs, like “Water” and “Jesus Is Lord." While I appreciate that he switched up the sound and vibe of the songs, the problem is that it is not cohesive. 

As a tracklist, the project is all over the place. For example, the fast-paced “Follow God” is sandwiched by two slow songs, “Selah” and “Closed On Sunday." The songs individually are cool ideas, but they do not flow well together as one project.

With that being said, I can definitely jam to a lot of these songs without shame. I love the passion on “On God,” the classic sound of “Follow God” and the soothing aesthetic of “Water.” Even though I am not Christian or religious, I still appreciate the songs for their production and Kanye’s honesty. 

Even if you do not like the album, you have to respect his spiritual awakening. As a man that is constantly under public scrutiny, much of it deserved, I am happy that he has found solace in religion. I hope that he continues to be at peace, because he might not have made it otherwise. 

With numerous mental breakdowns and outbursts in recent years, it is entirely plausible that he could have lost his life due to the trauma. Thankfully, he seems to be somewhat recovering with the help of his belief in god.

I try to be level-headed and rational when I react to anything, and that includes a new album by one of the most controversial public figures of this generation. While I honestly enjoy several tracks on the album, I know that it is nowhere near his best work. In fact, it is one of his worst projects. 

The other day I discussed the album with my friend, a music expert, and watched him listen and react to the album. His reaction mirrored my thoughts. “The songs have good production value, but this album will not be remembered in a few years. It is only being played a lot now because it just came out,” he said

If I hear one of you blasting “On God” in a Rutgers bus, I will jam along with you. But let us not act like this album is really anything special. 

Kanye’s albums used to be trendsetting. This one is more of a cool idea that was not fully executed. 

Hopefully, his next attempt will be back at his usual standard of excellence.

 Joshua Valdez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and double-minoring in creative writing and cinema studies. His column, “The Power of an Open Mind,” runs on alternate Fridays. 

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