“Damn” is the only curse word you’ll hear on Kanye West’s latest album.* Jesus Is King is gospel rap, and not only in the usual sense. With the help of the Sunday Service Choir and Fred Hammond, the gospel influence is potent; although rhymes and beats are present, the latter are especially minimal. Opening track, “Every Hour,” includes no rapping at all and reminds me a little bit of Tonéx. Lyrically, the album is forthright in its expressions of Christian faith. Bible verses are referenced in “Selah” in such a way that would make even Goliath dizzy, while “Water” mentions Jesus’ name 16 times. The best song, “Use this Gospel,” also finds Kanye stating truths about spiritual warfare: “Our demons are tremblin’ / Holy angels defendin’ / In the Father, we put our faith.” If the demons needed any more convincing, the euphoric synth arpeggio in “On God” might just take them out. To my surprise, Jesus Is King sounds more “Christian” than the Christian hip-hop I usually listen to.
* In the new version of “God Is,” the line “this ain’t ‘bout a damn religion” has been altered to “this ain’t ’bout a dead religion.”