Before I begin this review, there are two things that I would like you, as the reader, to know. Firstly, I am a fan of Kanye West's music. However, this doesn't mean that I think everything he makes is perfect. Thus, this review will contain both aspects of Kanye's new album that I did and did not like. Secondly, I am not a Christian. I mention this because certain themes and musical influences of this album are inspired by Christianity. Therefore, I apologize ahead of time in case I misinterpret or misrepresent any religious lyrics or ideas.
Now, let's get to the review.
As the first track, the energy on this song is incredible. It's like getting hit in the face with a spiritual espresso shot. I love the subtle piano in the background that guides the flow of the song, and I also love how the track itself feels like a mixture between a sped-up sample and a live choir. I also respect Kanye's decision to start the album off without a vocal performance from himself. By allowing the choir to start off the album, it allows Kanye West fans, who aren't necessarily used to gospel music, to get an immediate glimpse of the positivity, emotion, and capabilities of a gospel choir. All in all, it sets an energized and positive tone for the rest of the album.
Now, I mentioned earlier how we're hit right away with the vocals. While I definitely enjoyed the performance, I would've appreciated being eased into it. I felt a little overwhelmed by this at first, and I'm sure others, who don't listen to gospel music, might have felt the same way.
Similar to how abruptly the song starts, it ends very abruptly. I wish that Kanye would have at least put a fade at the end of the song before the next one played. This would have allowed for a smoother transition and an easier listening experience. I believe these minor details could've made the song more enjoyable.
This song is absolutely awe-inspiring. Firstly, the structure and progression of the instrumental is masterful. We are introduced to an organ, which helps to establish a calm, yet restless tone which will later build to a major explosion. From this organ, subtle hints of strings and choir aid the crescendo of the instrumental. He inserts powerful drums that make you feel like you're entering a kingdom from an action movie. Finally, the choir is perfect, capturing the emotion of hope.
From a lyrical standpoint, Kanye's verse exhibits the perfect blend of simplicity, clarity, and controlled aggression. Kanye delivers incredible lines, such as, "When I get to heaven's gates, I don't got to peak over" and "Before the flood people judged, they did the same thing to Noah." I'll leave these open to interpretation, but they are especially powerful, as a Kanye fan who's aware of his struggles with public opinion.
Now, there was one main problem that I had with this song, despite it being one of my favorites. I wish Kanye's vocals, in terms of the recording, were clearer. In my headphones, they sounded a little muddled, which counters the clarity and power that the rest of the song projects.
If you are a Kanye fan who misses his creative sampling and pure hip-hop beats, this is probably the song for you. Kanye masterfully places a sample that talks about stretching hands towards God, which Kanye fans acknowledge a motif in his 2016 project, "The Life of Pablo." The beat feels simple, and Kanye's flow keeps your head bopping. The lyrics are relatively straightforward as he discusses some of the distractions in his life, with the ultimate message to "Follow God." There's not much to critique, except I wish this song was a little longer.
"Closed on Sunday"
Firstly, this instrumental is one of the best on the album. The guitar, background vocals, and slowly-building 808s are hypnotizing. It reminds me of the music you'd expect to hear if you were walking through a medieval castle. The beat switch is absolutely incredible, as well.
Based on recent memory, Kanye has always had one line that's absolutely absurd in every one of his projects. On his album "Yeezus," while talking about his God-like qualities, he exclaims that someone should "Hurry up with my damn croissant!" In 2016, he has four infamous lines about models bleaching a certain body part in "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1." Now, these absurd lines can elicit a variety of reactions from fans such as laughter, claims that he's a genius, or individuals thinking he's absolutely idiotic. With all of this said, Kanye's first line is "Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-a." It's hilarious, and I haven't stopped playing it. All in all, I don't really have any critiques for this song, aside from the questionable opening line.
This is one of my least favorite songs on the project. In terms of production, the beat feels a little too chaotic. There are a few different synths that play throughout the song, sometimes over one another. Unfortunately, the overlapping synths make the beat feel a little messy and unfinished. In terms of the lyrics, there isn't anything too captivating about them. It feels more like a freestyle about God and the trials Kanye went through than an actual song with structure. Personally, I would've left this song off of the project.
"Everything We Need"
This song is a masterpiece. The instrumental, the vocals, the lyrics, and the message work perfectly to create an inspiring and positive piece of music. The instrumental is built from ad-libs by Ant Clemons and Ty Dolla $ign, a synth and drums. Ty Dolla $ign's vocals in the chorus are heavenly. Listening to this song with headphones on is the closest I've gotten to an eargasm since listening to Kid Cudi humming on Kanye's song "Waves." The message about appreciating what you have now is incredible. Out of all the songs on the album, this one is my favorite.
The beat is definitely unique with an unorthodox synth guiding the way. I love the metaphor of water providing a means for purity and clarity in the context of one's relationship with God. While I think this song is very well made, it's not one of my favorites. I think my main issue with the song is the melody of the synth. I wish I had a better word than weird to describe it.
This song provides another example of Kanye's continued prowess with sped-up sampling. The sample itself relays praise to God, and credit to Kanye for the way he chopped it up. Honestly, listening to that sample might be the best part of the song. Kanye's singing isn't perfect, but it has a feeling of sincerity and freeness, in that he doesn't seem to care if his voice is raspy or off-pitch. Ultimately, he just wants to sing praises to God. While this song isn't on constant repeat, I appreciate the way Kanye produced this beat. My main issue with the song is that his voice gets too raspy for my liking in certain moments. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it makes it feel like Kanye recorded it when he was under-the-weather.
Despite being a relatively well-structured song, I haven't replayed this song that much. Similar to "On God," this song feels like it's filled with generalities about praising God. I think the beat is captivating, but this song feels like another filler that could've been left off of the album.
"Use This Gospel"
Similar to "Selah," the build-up of this instrumental is incredible. The second Kanye started humming I knew something incredible was going to happen. Not soon after, Kanye turns his voice into a synth matching the earlier melody he introduced. I'm also pretty sure that he sampled his car alarm, which is hilarious. I love the lyrics from Kanye and Clipse. There is clever wordplay and it feels more purposeful than songs such as "Hands On" and "On God." However, I wish that Pusha T and Malice didn't seem like they were yelling on the track. I don't know if it's the recording, but it sounds way too raw and a little out of place. Maybe they could have mixed the song better. Overall, this song is awesome. Most importantly, Kenny G KILLS it on the saxophone.
"Jesus Is King"
Despite only being 49 seconds, this is one of my favorite songs on the album. Firstly, the trumpet instrumental is uplifting and entrancing. Secondly, Kanye's singing is much clearer here than on "God Is" with a much easier to follow melody. The message of this song is simple and so is the delivery. This was the perfect song to end the album with. My only complaint is that I wish the song was longer because I can't stop replaying it.
All in all, this is a solid project from Kanye, especially for fans who were waiting for new music. I think it would be disingenuous to try and compare this album to his others for a few reasons. Firstly, we all need some time to digest this album. I've had the experience when I hated certain Kanye albums and months later I thought they were amazing. We shouldn't be too quick to rate this one. Secondly, I don't think it matters. In other words, I don't think Kanye made this album in an attempt to beat out the rest of his discography. Ultimately it feels like he's making what he wants and not worrying about the imperfections and opinions of others. I'm happy that he put out music, and I can't wait to see him if he goes on tour.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Song Structure: 7.5/10