Let me preface this article by explaining my background. I am a writer and a rapper that was inspired by Kanye West who shook a fist at the inferred need for college for my generation back with his 2004 debut album the “The College Dropout.” I followed his career very closely since then and listened to each of his albums at the point of release. I am also a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ who wholly committed his life to Him in 2008, just four years after Kanye hit the music scene. Even though I had a newfound faith and changed a lot of my ways, one thing never changed, and that was my devotion to hip-hop and the artists I loved.
Kanye was one of those rappers that was safe to listen to due to the Christian element in his music, but something changed with him back in 2010 when he dropped “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he went dark. (I still love this album regardless) The gospel element that allowed him to make songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Never Let Me Down” was absent from the project that many championed as his magnum opus. He turned up the volume on his sexualization with songs like “Hell of a Night” and even got downright blasphemous by the time we got to the “Yeezus” album in 2013 with lines like “Tight Dress dancing close to him, Yeezus just rose again” on ‘Send It Up.’ He even had the audacity to call his 2016 project “The Life of Pablo” a gospel album with curses when the content veered far from anything Christ-centered with a song called “Father Stretch My Hands” where he talks about having sex with models that have decided to bleach their..,well you know what.
Now, I’m no prude, and I don’t mind explicit lyrics, even as a Christian, but I just don’t like when something like the Gospel is misrepresented. (I’ve even written some sexual tracks myself that still get spins by my friends and family to this day.) But Kanye was clearly confused in what he actually believed and caught up in some wild sexcapades at the same time. In the process, he married Kim Kardashian, started a billion-dollar company with Yeezy, and pledged his devotion to Donald Trump. His rants started becoming more entertaining than his music and I admired Kanye the man more than I revered him as an artist.
All of this brings us to Sunday Service, “Jesus Is King,” and Kanye’s newfound faith in Christ. Kanye set out on a spiritual mission after suffering with a bout of mental health in 2017. He started dressing his crew in white and flipping mainstream hits into Gospel songs in a festival setting. That eventually brought him into what he described as a salvation experience. Most people know about this aspect of the holy-roller Kanye. What they don’t know is that there was a lot going on behind the scenes that led to his new hardline view.
Pastor Adam Tyson of Placeria Bible Church in Newhall, California explained his side of Kanye’s transformation with Christian outlets like Apologia Studios. To paraphrase parts of his interview, he revealed that Kanye had someone cleaning his house that was a devout Christian that attended Tyson’s church. The man invited Kanye to their church after hearing about his salvation experience and Kanye showed up at their service several times. He began to establish a relationship with Tyson who would go on to teach him Christian fundamentals and lead Bible studies at his house. Kanye later invited Tyson to preach at his Sunday Service event in Detroit. To any Christian paying attention to the developments, it seemed like Kanye was being sincere in his newfound faith.
Fast-forward a few months and “Jesus Is King” drops. Kanye now has a better understanding of his faith according to Tyson, and Christians like me were curious to hear how this would affect his music which had been lacking both spiritually and cohesively since 2013’s “Yeezus.” Kanye wasn’t exactly a clean artist before that point, but there was a certain soul element to his music that left after his mother died and he devoted his life to fashion. I, like many, would have been happy with quality music that touched on his newfound faith, but in no form was I expecting an all-out Christian rap album. I feel like the project was exactly that, except it was a bit more clean and rigid than I had originally expected it to be. Kanye came out two weeks before and said he’s done with secular music, but I didn’t know what he meant by that since he often misspeaks. (see TMZ incident of 2018) Unlike “TLOP”, “Jesus Is King” is cohesive and features a central message. He also sounded a lot more inspired than he did on his 2018 album “Ye” which was easily his most forgettable project. I thought that “Jesus Is King” was a solid effort and I classified it as Kanye, not Christian music despite the change in tone. He still kept it very himself in my opinion despite many critics trashing the project over its perceived lack of depth.
Then there were the interviews. One with Zane Lowe, and another with Big Boy. These talks provided a better window into the new person that Kanye had become and what I discovered was that he hasn’t changed in some key areas. He still appears to be an ego maniac declaring himself the best living or dead artist to Zane Lowe and is still very much obsessed with getting accolades for his genius in fashion and American industry. He thinks he can reinvent the church by showing pictures to his daughter and is unwavering in his support of Donald Trump. He says he loves Jesus but lacks the humility that normally goes with that affection. In other words, he’s still very much Kanye West. He also tried to trademark the term Sunday Service. These things do not disqualify him in the hall of faith as new believers often need room to grow, but it is worthwhile to report on some of these statements so that believers looking to jump on the Kanye West bandwagon have a clear view of who they’re dealing with.
With all of that being said, I think Kanye is an innovator and master marketer. But he was a better musical artist than any of those things. As a writer, I respect and take influence from much of his work and try to have that blind faith in myself that he shows. Kanye is a narcissist that could just be selling Jesus and as a believer, I don’t trust anyone’s salvation experience, so it doesn’t mean much to me either way. I constantly hold a microscope to all of my proclaiming friends and mentors and hold the largest one to myself. Kanye might be peddling Jesus for the wrong reasons, but unless I get next to him on a personal level, I really can’t judge him. All I could do is watch the media circus that he normally creates and try to enjoy the rants and music.
This is what I see. But I am a mere man. God could use Kanye to spread the word in places that it did not previously reach. In the spiritually mixed atmosphere that is hip-hop, Kanye, in some respects, is displaying a clearer orthodox view of faith often missing from pop culture and even many churches. He’s declared Gospel living in many parts of his life including his confessed addiction to porn and his first-ever clean album with no curses or gratuitous sexual content. The former could be interpreted as good fruit but shouldn’t be assumed as such. Despite his flaws, God is using Kanye to spread an unadulterated gospel message to his rabid fanbase on a regular basis. Also, as arguably the biggest influencer in music, Kanye could encourage other artists to be more open about their faith in their music including Christian rappers that dumbed down their lyrics to the point where there is nothing Gospel about them. I’m sure most pastors never expected revival to come from such a person, but God is in the business of doing things that humans don’t understand. People like Kanye move the needle in terms of culture and who better to bring the message of Christ than him in this age of social media addiction and fast-food churches.
We also have to consider the enemy’s vantage point. Star, of The Star Report, a popular YouTube call-in talk show posed the question of Kanye being the Antichrist. Kanye’s new, Christian influence could be used to mislead Christians who are quick to follow his lead. This is problematic for believers especially if he starts a church without the right theology. Pastor Tyson went on record to say that he explicitly told Kanye that Sunday Service is not a biblical church and that the rapper is not capable of establishing one on his own. Tyson further explained that he has discouraged Kanye from the idea. But during the Zane Lowe interview Kanye continued to hint at his desire to turn Sunday Service into a church. The idea seems like a church that would be created in Kanye’s image rather than God’s. But only God knows his heart.
For Christians, it’s important to consider these things before championing Kanye, and for non-believers, it’s necessary to seek other council from a biblical church if you enter your faith-journey through the words of Mr. West. Either way, this is not an evaluation of Kanye’s faith, just a simple look at the fruit he is producing. Like all new believers, Kanye will need room to grow and find himself and we should all be giving him the space and time to do that. But we all must be careful not to idolize him because of how much we love his music. He’ll always be one of my favorite musical artists, but that doesn’t make him take the place of a biblically sound pastor.