Is Kanye’s switch in style a publicity stunt?

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This is the cover art for Jesus Is King by the artist Kanye West. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, GOOD and Def Jam, or the graphic artist(s).

Kanye finally released his ninth solo album Oct. 25. However, it was not exactly what fans were expecting. Kanye had been teasing a project called “Yandhi” for a while, and some leaked tracks got fans pumped up for the release. Instead, Kanye dropped an album titled “Jesus Is King, which disappointed many fans. 

Kanye even references this on the album. On the track “Selah,” he says “Everybody wanted Yandhi, then Jesus Christ did the laundry.” Kanye’s sudden switch in artistic direction has some people questioning the authenticity of his Christian perspective. While nobody knows what is going on in Kanye’s head, here is my take on the authenticity of Kanye’s new artistic direction.

First, it is important to look at Kanye’s previous discography. While he has no other album like “Jesus Is King,” he has some other songs that take a Christian perspective. The two biggest examples of this are “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam,” from the albums “The College Dropout” and “The Life of Pablo” respectively. 

“Jesus Walks” was Kanye’s first song that centered around Christianity. He pleads for God to help show him the way, and criticizes the priorities of the music industry, saying “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?” This song marked one of the first big examples of Kanye preaching about Christianity, and despite saying that his record would not get played, the song received a gold certification and won the Grammy award for Best Rap Song.

“Ultralight Beam” is the next big example of Kanye making a song centered around Christianity, if you ignore his song “I am a God.” “Ultralight Beam” is full of beautiful choir vocals, a powerful verse by Kelly Price, and Chance the Rapper giving glory to God in his verse. Focusing on his faith and God is a far stray from Kanye’s typical musical focus, but the song was well received by critics and fans alike, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song in 2017. So while it is generally unusual for Kanye to discuss his faith in his music, he has done it before with great success.

Kanye also began what is called Sunday Service in January of this year. For those who are not familiar, Kanye’s Sunday Service is typically a private service mostly for celebrities and close friends, with Kanye serving as the rapper-turned-preacher. The service is a mix between a mega-church service, a fashion show and a cult meeting. Guests are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, although leaks still make it out to the internet despite this. Kanye had no intention of keeping his services completely private, as he has discussed it on talk shows and other forms of media. It is clear that Kanye is trying to move away from the political divisiveness he caused in 2018.

While Kanye’s sudden focus on Christianity might be surprising and even disappointing to many fans, I do not believe that it’s solely the result of selfish goals on Kanye’s part. The timing of it seems to suggest that Kanye is trying to garner support after a rocky 2018, and knowing Kanye’s occasional obsession with public image, it is likely that part of the reason he has become so vocal with his religion is to gain some good publicity. However, this sudden change seems to be a natural progression in a lot of ways. He has been vocal about his religion at earlier points in his career, so it is not actually as sudden of a change as it might seem. 

It is also important to take into account the mental health issues that Kanye has struggled with, which he discussed on his album “Ye” last year. Kanye has discussed his struggle with depression, bipolar disorder and paranoia that has caused him to cancel concerts and performances. While I am not saying that this excuses some of his erratic, irresponsible and disrespectful behavior in the past, I think it is possible that religion has helped Kanye deal with these issues.

Kanye should not be constricted by his past, as everyone is capable of change.  Kanye’s critics can assume his new album has selfish intentions, but if Christianity has truly helped Kanye work on making himself a better person and deal with the mental health issues that are plaguing him, then he at least deserves some support regardless of anyone’s opinion on the music itself. It is easy to assume the worst, especially in regard to Kanye and his past behavior, but he is capable of change, and I believe that the change in his artistic perception represents that.

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