Music Review: Kanye West – Jesus is King

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Kanye West

Jesus Is King

[G.O.O.D./Def Jam; 2019]

Rating: 0/5

Last time Tiny Mix Tapes published a Kanye West review, a crack was exposed through which something new grew: an interrogation of meaning squeezed through clenched fists. Our own Adam Rothbarth didn’t convince anybody of ye’s divisiveness or its cultural import; its existence itself was a battleground, and Rothbarth’s review was a sobering reflection on not only what makes us human, but also what makes us fear and hate other humans. I still stand by Rothbarth’s positive ye review, and a year later, it remains a material feature jutting up through trodden soil, not a monument, but a fixture built into a foundation irrigated by dissent and acclaim. Kanye’s long-awaited follow-up, Jesus Is King, presents an existential problem for listeners and critics alike that is inherent in its form: this is not a political treatise or a gospel anthology or a mémoire; it’s a worship album, and as such, it’s claim is that its value is beyond evaluation.

Jesus Is King is almost entirely about, and purportedly for, Jesus Christ. There are no curse words. No sex jokes. No winks or nudges. Unlike gospel music, which is communal by nature, Jesus Is King feels hermetic, its collaborators (Clipse, Ty Dolla $ign, Kenny G, Ant Clemmons, Fred Hammond, Sunday Service) presented as expressions of Kanye himself from different times in his life — like Luda rapping nostalgic on a Justin Bieber song about his first love — so inconspicuously woven into King’s well-worn sonic stoll that it feels as much a departure from Kanye’s genesis as a grand bridger of worlds as it does a return to his bedside chapbook. What is notably missing here, however, is any sense of internal tension between these worlds that Kanye has famously straddled for his entire career. There are no apologies here, no clarifications, no enumerations, no hidden messages, no endorsements (except for maybe Chick-fil-A); Kanye’s redemption on King is simply stated as testimony. It’s new territory for Kanye, but it’s a decades-old strategy of contemporary Christian music.

In 1969, Larry Norman, founder of a since-forgotten rock band called People!, had found Jesus and released an album called Upon This Rock; it has since been considered a milestone in contemporary Christian music. A dense stew of folk stylings, psychedelia, and gritty rock, its goal was, in Norman’s words, “to push aside the traditional gospel quartet music, break down the church doors and let the hippies and the prostitutes and other unwashed rabble into the sanctuary.” Unsurprisingly, it was controversial; televangelists renounced it as Satanic, while secular rock critics brushed Norman off as a try-hard Jim Morrison impersonator. Perhaps unexpectedly, its lasting influence was propped up by a warm embrace of its intended audience. Upon This Rock briefly became a counter-culture touchstone before eventually becoming a ubiquitous fixture in Christian bookstores. Ironically, its departure from earlier worship albums has since inspired a cavalcade of Christian stand-ins for popular artists. “You dig Eminem? Check out KJ-52.” Nevermind KJ’s weird hawkishness and patriotism. “You like Kanye? Check out Kanye, Reborn. Pusha even lends a verse over a Pi’erre Bourne beat.” In a stunning piece in GQ titled “Upon This Rock,” John Jeremiah Sullivan considers contemporary Christian music’s shrewdly devised saving grace: “So it’s possible — and indeed seems likely — that Christian rock is a musical genre, the only one I can think of, that has excellence-proofed itself.” Jesus Is King seems similarly critic-proof, as any lack of Kanye’s former grandeur or iconoclasm is by design. As Kanye himself professes: “That’s on God.”

What remains both puzzling and remarkable about Kanye’s progressive foray into Jesus music is that his faith journey has been one of increasing reclusiveness. King sounds as closed-off as it is collaborative. Even Kenny G’s out-of-nowhere serenade reminds that he once turned down a gig because he wasn’t allowed to perform in the middle of a forest. Kanye’s Sunday Services started out VIP-only, and even his recent attempts at democratizing these spaces have been reportedly alienating and confusing. His reunion with frequent collaborators belies a rich history of discovering and championing new voices. This ostensible distance from which Kanye preaches reveals King’s true tension: Kanye, like Kendrick on DAMN., is asking for our prayers, while also distancing himself from our hands and our mouths.

And it doesn’t work.

Not because there aren’t people who still care for him (I still rep his impact on my self-development), but because he has artistically lost track of his audience and himself in its midst. In plain language, he’s asking for forgiveness from fans who have found truth and salvation and confidence and humility and self-acceptance in his beautiful dark twisted fantasies. And yet, Jesus Is King still haunts me; I feel like my own maturity depends on my acceptance of its flaws or my realization of its deeply hidden truths. In his breathtaking denouement of “Upon This Rock,” Sullivan reflects on his own falling out with God:

My problem is not that I dream I’m in hell… It isn’t that I feel psychologically harmed. It isn’t even that I feel like a sucker for having bought it all. It’s that I love Jesus Christ… He was the most beautiful dude. Forget the Epistles, forget all the bullying stuff that came later. Look at what He said. Read The Jefferson Bible. Or better yet, read The Logia of Yeshua by Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia, an unadorned translation of all the sayings ascribed to Jesus that modern scholars deem authentic. There’s your man. His breakthrough was the aestheticization [sic] of weakness. Not in what conquers, not in glory, but in what’s fragile and what suffers — there lies sanity. And salvation. ‘Let anyone who has power renounce it,’ he said. ‘Your father is compassionate to all, as you should be.’ That’s how He talked, to those who knew Him. Why should He vex me? Why is His ghost not friendlier? Why can’t I just be a good Enlightenment child and see in His life a sustaining example of what we can be, as a species? Because once you’ve known Him as God, it’s hard to find comfort in the man. The sheer sensation of life that comes with a total, all-pervading notion of being — the pulse of consequence one projects onto even the humblest things — the pull of that won’t slacken. And one has doubts about one’s doubts.

Kanye’s breakthrough was the “aestheticization” of weakness. Kanye was so powerful for me as Yeezus that I find his piety here so uncomfortable I’ve crafted paragraphs justifying how this kind of endeavor, a worship album by a once self-proclaimed God, is beyond human comprehension. Maybe it’s trash, maybe it’s secretly brilliant. Maybe there’s something interesting about admitting how weird it feels imagining a celebrity in a metal fold-up chair at a Wednesday morning breakfast and church service for homeless folks, knowing that’s not what a typical Sunday Service looks like. Maybe there’s something begrudgingly comforting about its brevity and insistence on “family values.” Maybe there’s a potent commentary lurking here on how celebrity’s entanglement with capitalism traps consumers into false allegiances based on brand loyalty disguised as liberation. One has doubts about one’s doubts.

“What have you been hearing from the Christians?”

Buried beneath all of this, however, is Kanye’s unwavering distancing and deflection of his haters, of racist and ableist accusations of his inauthenticity; this is what saves Jesus Is King, for me. Kanye maintains an explicitly Christian viewpoint on suffering and slavery, albeit one that’s consistently misunderstood and misremembered (by Kanye himself). On Jesus Is King, Kanye asks something of us that he has never asked before: that we grant him grace and pray for him. Not that we understand him or praise him or exonerate him, but that we offer him up to Jesus. It’s an awkward and sad ask, especially for a struggling Christian, a Catholic no less, but it’s one that also exposes his own artifice without desecrating its sacredness. Maybe King’s value is not beyond logic, but instead enshrouded inside its Biblical allusions. Maybe this bizarre ritual of resolving my own cognitive dissonance by tearing its materiality apart is one of forgiving myself for letting Kanye shape me positively. For as much as Jesus Is King doesn’t work as a set of songs, it accomplishes something much rarer, something only religious music could do: it destroys its own curse by surrendering its grip on negativity. Curiously, this is Kanye at his most Christlike, and as much as I wrestle with letting Him in, I’ve witnessed that kind of power before, and I’ve felt it in Kanye’s music. Jesus Is King made me miss so much about Kanye, but it also made me miss my faith, its greatest letdown that it wasn’t compelling enough for me to rekindle it.

Watch: Kanye West – “Follow God”

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Kanye chills with his dad in the video for “Follow God.” Pretty cute!

Jesus Is King is available here.

Kanye West finally releases his new fucking album, Jesus Is King

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Remember Kanye West 2016? When he reinstated G.O.O.D. Fridays, unexpectedly dropped a new track, took the new track down, re-upped the new track, took the new track down again, re-upped the new track again, took the new track down again, re-upped the new track again, took the new track down again, re-upped the final version of the new track, re-named his new album from So Help Me God to SWISH, announced the album’s release date, missed the next G.O.O.D. Friday single, upped that new single the following Monday, tweeted SWISH’s tracklist, renamed SWISH to Waves, posted its revised tracklist, posted yet another revised tracklist, announced the album/Yeezy Season 3 premiere event at Madison Square Garden, teased a new “secret” album title, announced the new title as The Life of Pablo, announced a new clothing line for kids, revealed another revised tracklist, dropped the cover art, dropped another possible version of the cover art, launched his Yeezy Season 3 line and premiered The Life of Pablo at MSG, upped another new track for G.O.O.D. Fridays, revealed that the new song is on an even newer version of the tracklist, missed the album’s release date because Chance The Rapper fought to get an older song back on the tracklist, went back to the studio to finish the song and master the album, revealed who Pablo is (Paul the Apostle), and performed twice on Saturday Night Live before finally, finally, FINALLY releasing his new album, The Life of Pablo, only to revise it several times afterward?

I do. Which is why the rollout for his new album, Jesus Is King, is not all that bad, as long as you ignore the fact that another album, Yandhi, was actually supposed to come out first — it was originally slated to come out over a year ago, then delayed until November 2018 for more recording sessions in Uganda, then shelved indefinitely soon after, then the VICTIM of several notorious leaks — that Jesus Is King has had three different tracklists, that the accompanying performance documentary was initially announced as Jesus Is Lord but is now also titled Jesus Is King, that last-minute mixing and re-recording (announced the day of its broken release date) is the reason it had been rescheduled for two days later, that it had been delayed again with no word on why, that it was later reported as having no confirmed release date because Kanye was apparently still tweaking it, that Kanye was holding weekly Sunday Service performances around the world without saying a word about the missed release dates, that he was too busy releasing short af trailers for the documentary (including one that was taken down within an hour of its upload) to formally address the holdup, that he finally announced today as the actual release date from his own Twitter account without addressing the missed release dates, that he announced yet another new album called Jesus Is Born (scheduled for Christmas Day 2019) before Jesus Is King was even released, that midnight EST came and went with no album in sight, that he tweeted 18 minutes after midnight CST how he was still mixing three songs and won’t sleep until the album is finished, that he obviously still went to bed and had a fantastic rest while his fanbase was looking up different timezones and posting memes, before FINALLY releasing Jesus Is King around 1 PM EST.

So, yeah, the rollout for Jesus Is King has been great, in comparison!!

Get your Jesus Is King album here (or here), Jesus Is King apparel here, and Jesus Is King IMAX tix here. Waiting for a leak so you can save money? Don’t wanna shell out dollars for a 30-minute film subtitled “A Kanye West Film”? Refuse to buy a $170 hoodie?? GET OUTTA HERE!! WE CAPITALISTS, SON!!


Jesus Is King tracklist:

01. Every Hour
02. Selah
03. Follow God
04. Closed on Sunday
05. On God
06. Everything We Need
07. Water
08. God Is
09. Hands On
10. Use This Gospel
11. Jesus Is Lord

Music Review: YG – 4REAL 4REAL

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YG

4REAL 4REAL

[Def Jam; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

As a document of a city, Los Angeles is endlessly fascinating. It takes all manner of people to come together and live there, crashing against a vast, sprawling empire of a domain. With that in mind, it is a city with gangs, with tribes and cohorts banding for commonalities within each other. There are actual criminal gangs too, and YG belongs to one. In fact, it’s one of the biggest, most illicit groups in the world. It’s an L.A. way of life. Bildungsromans don’t happen at a Vermont college; they happen at a South Central corner — if you believe YG, that is.

Rappers nowadays. It’s loaded to say. Crosses between industry plants and kids plucked from the hood at 16, Baltimore and Philly, hood, approachable? Keywords on an SEO. Trend a Twitter beef for clicks. That’ll really get the youth lit. Pop cycles sandwiched in between 300 Entertainment and TDE, another Ken doll dressed in Vetements and Supreme. Not in Compton, bro. It’s rep the set all day. Piru life, red plaid shirt, posted up on the fucking BLOCK. He won this shit. Got it made. But he’s never gonna change. No fugazi persona, always putting on for the homies. YG is classic Los Angeles through and through.

4REAL 4REAL comes back to the tropes off of which YG has made his name: his identity as a blood, the trifling antics of hoes and thots, the latent paranoia that runs in his veins, sourced from the mean streets of South Central. Pivoting from Stay Dangerous, both he and DJ Mustard dismiss any new-school technology and stay in their 64 Impala lane, complete with matching hydraulics and urethane finish. The classic L.A. cars are a perfect metaphor for the record: sleek, sexy, and undeniably impractical.

While features unsurprisingly lean on the Cali rap scene from both NorCal and SoCal, YG loves to pull on artists from all over that fit his ethos and mentality. Ty Dolla $ign, Tyga, and Boogie show up as fellow Compton brethren, while Kamaiyah and G-Eazy make appearances as Oakland’s signs of approval for the young gangster. On opposite ends of the location spectrum, DaBaby, Meek Mill, and Valee voice love from their own regions, each rapper distinctive enough to provide a reprieve from the sun-drenched atmosphere of 4REAL 4REAL.

But the album’s in tribute to a former collaborator, the late Ermias Joseph Asghedom, known to most as Nipsey Hussle. If YG’s past seems stickied to the gang history of Los Angeles, his relationship with Nipsey was framed as his future. The two were from rival gangs, the most unlikely of collaborators, joined together by a joint hatred of one Donald Trump. If YG is the soldier, Nipsey was the creator, the erstwhile craftsman of a better L.A. At the end of the album, a live speech touches on this, with YG waxing poetic about a man who wanted better for not only himself but also for his community.

The album’s sleazy underbelly is YG’s boorish treatment of women. It’s not that I expect entertainers to be moral paragons; YG’s songs about women are just clumsy from a basic storytelling standpoint, rehashing the same clichés that you’d find on a Hotep Facebook group. It stunts the flow of 4REAL 4REAL, consecrating weird values as sacrosanct among the Compton universe. But while he oftentimes plays the role of hyper-masculine rapper, he also defines his anxiety in deeply traumatic and thorough ways. He has a knack for boisterous exuberance, stressing the finer things while being relatable to regular people on every block in every town. That’s a tall order in today’s rap economy, where put-on Instagram stars shout loudly and say nothing, jockeying for memetic attention that flitters away instantaneously. YG is a true original, a superstar undeniably defined by his geography. But in between all the idiosyncrasies and candor, he’s just a dude who keeps repping his city and his people.

Music Review: Kanye West – ye

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Kanye West

ye

[G.O.O.D./Def Jam; 2018]

Rating: 4.5/5

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost….”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

The title of Kanye West’s eighth studio album ye refers to “Ye,” Kanye’s nickname, but it can also be read as “ye,” the old English pronoun for “you,” which can mean either one person or a group of people. It’s an interesting ambiguity, one that gets directly to the heart of his recent work: it brings up the relationship between the singular and the plural, the alienation between the individual and the world, the friction at the intersection of Kanye and everyone else. This double meaning of “ye” asks a crucial question that’s haunted most of Western civilization’s Kanye discourse for the past decade: What’s the difference between Kanye and the rest of us?

“Well, a lot!” you’re probably thinking. “I’m not rich, and I’m certainly no Trump supporter!” Or maybe you just stopped at “Well, he’s crazy and I’m not!” Whatever it is, if it’s important to you to feel like you’re different than Kanye, you’ll find a reason. Why make the distinction at all? Because everyone wants to believe that the problem is someone else, something outside of themselves — it’s the basis of essentially every political and social movement we have today. We can no longer stand the thought that’s different from our own, so we turn against it, believing that if we can find a way to successfully resist it, it will simply disappear. We therefore come to fear and eventually hate the Other, the thing that’s different from what we think we are, the thing that seems outside of what we take ourselves to be. But the Other is a real phenomenon, just as real as you are. And it only exists because you do.

In Kanye’s music, the Other has always appeared to him as something about himself that seems alien, untenable, out of control. If Yeezus was about experiencing the Other and The Life of Pablo about trying to grasp the Other, ye is about accepting the Other. His new album is, in other words, about reconciliation. It’s about trying to understand what kind of person he is and what kind of person he wants to be. It’s about parsing out what his real commitments are. In many ways, ye is a reckoning with the fact that there are people in Kanye’s life who do accept him: his wife, his children, and many of his fans. In a review of “Wouldn’t Leave” for Pitchfork, Jonah Bromwich said that Kanye should know that he doesn’t deserve Kim’s forgiveness. But what does Kanye need to be forgiven for? Having his own opinions? In a sense, he’s fulfilling and negating the image of the “free artist” that society presses on us every day in advertisements for liberal arts colleges and in AT&T commercials. Be yourself, they say! Find yourself! Get a scholarship! Subscribe! But don’t forget to read the rules and regulations — if you don’t meet them, your contract will be voided.

One doesn’t need to be forgiven for having and expressing an opinion, or for behaving erratically, or for having beautiful dark twisted fantasies. Working through the content of ye, this album makes it pretty clear which of those desires he’s willing to act out and which ones he’s not. To think that ye is simply Kanye’s plea for forgiveness is to miss the entire point of the record. “Told her she could leave me now, but she wouldn’t leave,” Kanye raps in “Wouldn’t Leave.” Their relationship is meaningful not because Kim constantly forgives him, but because she has accepted him all along.

“But sometimes I think really bad things/ Really, really really bad things,” Kanye says in ye’s opening track, “I Thought About Killing You.” On his new album and in his pursuits on Twitter and in public — neither of which can really be discussed without the other at this point — Kanye has continued his quest to find and accept the darkest parts of himself using whatever means necessary. He still wants to “go dumb,” to “set the nuke off on ‘em.” For Kanye, provoking people by challenging the status quo is part of both his self-exploration and theirs — at least that’s his hope. In forcing to the surface the issues people have with his behavior, he’s encouraging them to explore their own reactions. That is, of course, one of the tasks of being an artist. Maybe what he wants most is to represent the Other for us. If so, are we willing to think about that?

The reason his work has always been so relatable is because he explores alienation via the activities we all participate in. On Yeezus and The Life of Pablo, he rapped about things like family, business, sex, going to church, feeling alone, crashing cars, buying couches, eating croissants, staying in touch with friends, taking medication, going on vacation, and using Instagram. And the music on those two albums largely reflects the dissonance those things produce in him: we hear screams, detuned keyboards, disorienting texture changes, weird soul interludes, moments of silence, deafening synths, and Street Fighter II samples.

In “Ghost Town,” followed by a purposely gnarly Kid Cudi refrain, Kanye offers an elegant vocal performance in which words like “Fentanyl” have never sounded so sweet. Lyrics like “Talk like I drank all the wine/ Years ahead but way behind” seem like a change in consciousness from The Life of Pablo’s “I can see a thousand years from now in real life/ Skate on the paradigm and shift it when I feel like.” It’s weird that a song about the difficulties of being in a relationship would have one of Kanye’s most anthemic outtros, but it’s true: his magnificent production sets the perfect foundation for 070 Shake’s cyclical “And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kind of free/ We’re still the kids we used to be/ I put my hand on a stove to see if I still bleed.” Some have argued that the best parts of ye come from Kanye’s collaborators, but that would be like saying that a great painting is great because of the quality of the paint used. That’s usually an important component, but paint also requires vision, transformation, organization, and context to become something truly meaningful.

It’s easy to take for granted the ease with which Kanye switches texture and mood on “I Thought About Killing You;” the way he uses space and silence on “All Mine;” the way the dark, Yeezus-esque production of “Yikes” reflects the claustrophobia at the convergence of mental illness, 2CB, and DMT; the way he discloses his hopes and fears regarding his daughter in “Violent Crimes.” The sparse production of “All Mine” is some of his most interesting, especially in its second half, with its bare-bones bass, snare, and occasional earth-shattering crashes — in a sense, it’s the stormy sequel to “Ni**as in Paris,” but better. I, for one, really love his much-hated line, “Let me hit it raw, like fuck the outcome/ Ayy, none of us would be here without cum.” I mean, he’s not wrong. There can be consequences to having pleasures, but those consequences aren’t always bad.

ye really does what a self-titled album should do: it says “Hey, this is who I am.” Even at 23 minutes, it almost feels like two different albums: an aggressive, dissonant one, and an empathetic, soulful one. Yet, those aren’t the two sides of Kanye, because those things exist in him simultaneously, all the time. On some level, he knows that in order to be who we really want to be, we have to reconcile who we are with what we most desire. He’s a husband and a father, but he still wants to go out and fuck; he’s been dealing with mental illness, but he’s still probably going to go H.A.M. and do that Fentanyl; he’s black, and he has unusual thoughts about slavery. Is it possible to have taken so many girls to the titty shop that you’ve lost count and also strive to become a good, protective father? Of course it is — that’s what makes us human, that we’re capable of change.

So what’s the difference between Kanye and the rest of us?

Logic and Marshmello Drop Spring Anthem “Everyday”

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This is what music is all about right here. Bringing together two powerhouse artists at their respective crafts and creating a damn shwinger. Since taking on the industry, there has not been a second to breathe for the man in the Mello helmet. He has been traveling the world playing at the greatest festival and

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Ansel Elgort Releases Highly Anticipated Single “Supernova”

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Formerly known to the EDM world as Ansolo, Ansel Elgort has steered away from EDM and taken on the big screen and front man vocals as a solo act. Let me tell you something, there aren’t many dual-talented people out there like this dude. His work in recent box office hit “Baby Driver” earned him

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Ansel Elgort Finally Releases Single “Supernova” Accompanied by Music Video

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Formerly known to the EDM world as Ansolo, Ansel Elgort has steered away from EDM and taken on the big screen and front man vocals as a solo act. Let me tell you something, there aren’t many dual-talented people out there like this dude. His work in recent box office hit “Baby Driver” earned him

The post Ansel Elgort Finally Releases Single “Supernova” Accompanied by Music Video appeared first on EDM Sauce.