Reviewed by Lins Honeyman
Megastar rapper, producer, entrepreneur and general object of media attention Kanye West's decision to seemingly proclaim unequivocally that Christ is his Lord and Saviour, set up a new church and then release a gospel-themed album with a no messing title has met with almost simultaneous confusion, joy and derision amongst fans and detractors alike. However, there's no doubting that West has pulled an intriguing and opinion-shattering offering out of the bag with an album that states with supreme clarity the change that appears to have taken place in his life following mental health struggles and a subsequent urge to talk to God once again. Despite kicking off in frantic gospel fashion courtesy of West's Sunday Service Choir on "Every Hour", one of the big surprises here is that this album is, for the most part, a sonically stripped-backed affair with a cappella stretches, classical guitars and simple keys replacing bombastic beats and electro bleeps and clicks and, at one point, everything drops out to let Kenny G take a sax solo unaccompanied - all of which showcases a determination to create a progressive piece of art as well as a bold religious statement. Absent is the lyrically triumphant stance one might expect from a hip-hop artist of West's standing and instead this is a fairly sombre piece which reflects the fact that following Christ is not always easy in a way that exudes realism and apparent commitment on the artist's part. There are times when West is achingly honest with the candid "Hands On" - featuring backing vocals from gospel star Fred Hammond - containing chastening lines like "What have you been hearing from the Christians?/They'll be the first one to judge me/Make it seem like nobody love me" whilst the advisory "Use This Gospel" communicates that the path to Heaven can often be a hard one. Elsewhere, the solemn "Closed On Sunday" seems to be a stark command to his wife Kim Kardashian to put the Instagram away, reject the celebrity culture and help him to raise his kids in Christ with lines like "stand up for my home, even if I take this walk alone" signalling West's intent to take a solitary stand to protect his family if he needs to. Critics may balk at a multi-millionaire rapper worrying about letting his family starve if he doesn't continue to make vast sums of money in the forthright "On God" but, on the whole, West tempers his VIP status to put across his message with dignity, humility and sincerity. In contrast to Chance The Rapper's potty-mouthed Jesus-referencing 'The Big Day' album, West has refreshingly resisted the temptation to use any expletives whatsoever making the man's claims to have had a life-changing encounter with the Son of God all the more convincing although only time will tell.
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