The E Word: Is Kanye West an Evangelist?
October 25 saw the launch of Kanye West’s JESUS IS KING, instantly becoming the biggest album of 2019. But is Kanye declaring the Gospel, or is JESUS IS KING just the latest product launch in the life of brand Kardashian/West? Will Lee discusses…
“We’re here to spread the Gospel. I’m not here for your entertainment”.
So begins the trailer for JESUS IS KING; the latest album by rap royalty and controversy-magnet, Kanye West. One half of global mega-couple Kimye alongside businesswoman and queen of reality TV Kim Kardashian, Kanye has never shied away from sharing his personal journey, especially around his opiate addiction, mental health and political leanings. But the impact of Kanye’s newfound faith has been meteoric. For reference, an anglicised comparison could be 1990s heartthrob David Beckham (alongside Spice-Girl and then-girlfriend Victoria…and his accompanying blonde highlights) dramatically and publicly coming to faith. However, in the age of Instagram Stories and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, this comparison is striking in its insufficiency. This begs the question, are we witnesses to the most famous family in the world, who hold the greatest influence across the broadest platforms, go all-out Acts 2?
Naima Cochrane, of Vice, is not so sure. “It feels like Kanye himself is the centre and the object of this worship”. She’s not the only critic. Others have criticised Kanye for being “uninspired” and “far more preoccupied with nailing himself to a cross” (Daily Beast). Is Jesus Is King just the work of someone young in their faith, or is this just peak Kanye; hedonism personified? Many Christians have, including Megachurch Pastor Greg Laurie, jumped to Kanye’s defence.
Fans of West will note he has always been vocal in his lyrics about his wrestle with faith and fame. In 2004, Kanye released Jesus Walks, considered by many to be finest work, where he outlined the difficulties when the music industry and a life of faith co-exist. Perhaps much of the debate surrounding Kanye can be partly explained by his reversal of the well-trodden path taken by world-famous musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and Katie Perry for their gospel-to-secular step-change in musical direction. But West is not the first artist to share faith through music following a career at the top of the pops. Notable mentions must also go to Bob Dylan and Rev Run from Run DMC who experienced similar mockery and subsequent pressure from their record labels due to poor sales.
Kanye has gone one further by launching Sunday Service, an invite-only worship get-together, in the January of 2019, live-streamed to millions across the globe via Instagram; invitees so far include Orlando Bloom and fiancé Katy Perry, Courtney Love, and worship from rapper DMX. In a post-modern world where celebrity is king but where people are still individuals with thoughts, feelings and faiths, is Kanye just following the Great Commission in the context he’s in and using the platforms he’s been given?
In the words of Kanye “I’ve spread a lot of things. There was a time I was letting you know what high fashion had done for me, I was letting you know what the Hennessy had done for me, 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”.
Wherever we stand on Kanye West, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that his faith is now universally public and viral. Similarly to the impact of the apostle Paul, Kanye’s faith has sparked controversy and conversation. So as the dust settles on JESUS IS KING, may we share and show who Jesus is boldly, creatively and relevantly across our spheres of influence. May we declare that Jesus really is King.
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