When Kanye West’s latest album, Jesus Is King, was released on Friday, my interest was immediately piqued. Not because I’m a big Kanye or rap fan, but because Twitter immediately erupted with hot takes, memes, and commentary.
This wasn’t just a new Kanye album — which would have garnered enough attention because he is without a doubt one of the most successful rappers of all time — this was his first all-gospel album. Kanye made this album in response to a conversion he experienced in April that fully immersed him into a life of Christian faith.
In addition to his success (21 Grammy awards, 3 XXL Magazine “Classic” rated albums, a successful fashion line), Kanye has always been outspoken, to say the least. But up to now, it’s always been about himself.
Speaking to his own greatness is a common theme throughout his music. “I Am A God,” is literally the name of a song — and he believed it fully.
This album is different. From its title, to the lyrics, to the way Kanye is promoting it — everything about this album is about God and faith.
As Kanye told Zane Lowe in a recent interview: “Now that I’m in service to Christ, my job is to spread the Gospel to let people know what Jesus has done for me. You know, I’ve spread a lot of things. There was a time when I was letting you know what high fashion had done for me. I was letting you know what the Hennessey had done for me. I was letting you know all these things. But now I’m letting you know what Jesus has done for me. And in that, I’m no longer a slave. I’m a son now — a son of God. I’m free.”
This is different. It’s new and in many ways unexpected based on the way Kanye has presented himself to the world up to this point in time. And, of course, not everyone likes it.
All art has critics. But one form of the criticism stood out to me — and honestly hurt me: the skepticism about Kanye’s conversion. Especially the skepticism that is justified by pointing to his past actions. It is a judgment call not on his music, but on his spiritual journey.
People are suggesting that what he is saying is the most important thing in the world to him now is invalid because it wasn’t the most important thing to him in the past.
Is Kanye not allowed to love God because we all expect Kanye to love Kanye? Because he said, “I am a god,” he isn’t credible for saying he now believes in one?
Four years ago, I went through my own conversion. I loved myself like Kanye loves Kanye. I lived a party-girl lifestyle and made some pretty destructive life choices without regard for the people around me.
It left me feeling empty and I started seeking something more. And over time I rediscovered meaning for my life in my Catholic faith. But my process of, first, turning back to God, and then actually letting that decision affect my actions was a slow one.
And, like Kanye, my spiritual exploration was met with criticism and skepticism. Some friends told me it was a phase. Some people of faith doubted my authenticity because of the choices I had made in the past.
I don’t know if Kanye is actually hearing the skeptics or letting them affect him. In many ways, he anticipated it. He wrote in “Hands On”:
I deserve all the criticism you got
If that’s all the love you have, that’s all you got
To sing of change, you think I’m joking
To praise His name, you ask what I’m smoking
Yes, I understand your reluctancy, yeah
But I have a request, you see
Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me
Please, pray for me.
He knows he has made mistakes in the past. He’s not saying he is perfect — he’s saying he is different now.
“I think and feel differently now that I am a Christian,” he told Zane Lowe. “I’m not a theologian — I’m a recent convert.”
No one can see into the human heart — what we hear there and what we respond to (no matter where it leads us) is sacred ground. Kanye is listening and responding to something.
Why should his past actions diminish that pursuit? The Church has a well-documented history of sinners changing their ways — that’s the whole reason the Church exists, in fact.
I’m not saying that Kanye West is a saint. Nor does he need to be for his pursuit of a relationship with God to be authentic. He is searching for the truth, as we all should — no matter where we are in our spiritual journey.
Kanye isn’t just searching for a spiritual life — he’s actually committing to one. And in that commitment, he’s bringing his faith into the public sphere.
“People say, ‘this is going to kill your brand.’ But my brand is expressing how I feel — whether it’s in line with what you thought the brand was even two days ago. A smart man has the ability to pivot and say, ‘I think something different now,’” he told Lowe.
Like every move he has made over the past 20 years, this one is being criticized. Even for us non-celebrities, committing to a new way of living will draw attention and criticism.
If you don’t want to listen to Kanye’s music because of his past actions, that’s fine. If you disagree with his choices, that’s okay. But it’s not for anyone to say or judge the authenticity of his spiritual journey. That’s between him and God.
Even as a committed Christian, he will make mistakes. “It’s never all-or-nothing because you’re a human being,” he explains.
In the end, we only have one life and each of us has to decide how we want to live it. Kanye isn’t on autopilot — he’s seeking — and that’s the only way for any of us to find something true.