There aren’t many people who don’t know the name Kanye West, its synonymous with; music, politics, reality tv, and of course Yeezys.
I was first introduced to Kayne as a young, upcoming artist featured on the BET show 106 and Park. Anyone who heard this smooth lyric slanging rapper back then knew he was destined to be a Hip Hop Great. So walking into the barber shop at 10 am on Saturday morning (because we all know you want to be the first in the chair on a Saturday) it’s not uncommon to hear Kanye bumping through the speakers. But this Saturday was different, because the Kanye song playing was very different.
The opening track repeated the phrase “sing to the power of the Lord comes down…” again, and again. Then for the next 27 minutes song after song exalted the name of Jesus. For 27 minutes I watched as each barber, who usually only watches his language when children are in the shop, seemed to be locked in on every word. Their interest peaked with each bar (line in a song), to the verge of almost raising their hands to worship. When the album ended there wasn’t distain or disgust, but they hit repeat and even turned the volume louder the second time through. Dialogue then broke out in the shop, and not the usual chatter about sports or conspiracy theories like who really shot TuPac; but these conversations were about church, faith, and Jesus.
I would say that this experience was an anomaly but the very next morning I received a text from an old college buddy asking me about the new Kanye album. This is the same buddy I only hear from during holidays and when my Steelers play his Browns. But once again this album was bringing our two worlds together. Love it or hate, the one thing I would highly recommend is not to ignore it, because I think this album presents us with a golden opportunity. Below is a look at the three most common questions people in the church will ask about this new album.
Is it ok to listen to?
This is less a question of taste and musical style, because that is
completely subjective; but this is a question of moral and biblical agreeance. None of the 11
songs on the album contain explicit lyrics, or inappropriate content. One song, “Use This
Gospel” features iconic Jazz musician Kenny G, which is further evidence of the wholesome
nature of the album. There is also nothing unorthodox or incongruent with the fundamental
beliefs of the Christian faith. Kayne describes the album as, “an expression of the gospel and to
share the gospel and the truth of what Jesus has done to me.”
That is exactly what this album is, his own personal expression of adoration for Jesus; but one that is uplifting, sound, and in my opinion, edifying and enjoyable to listen to.
Should it be played at church?
As already discussed, there is nothing morally wrong or theologically inaccurate in this album, it’s a personal doxology. The church has a rich history of incorporating songs that were created from personal devotion, into the life of the church. From Horatio Spafford’s classic hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” to Bart Millard’s “I Can Only Imagine,” we cannot argue against omitting songs because they weren’t composed for traditional church use. However, do not mistake this defence for an endorsement.
In this case I thinks it’s wise to consider the source. Kayne’s former albums are extremely explicit in language and content. While this new album is completely different then all the others some might perceive the promotion of this album as condoning all of his music. Even Kanye’s current spiritual awakening should be measured. I’m personal excited by the changes he has shown, and his desire to follow Christ.
I am hopeful that this new album and his Sunday Church experience are genuine steps towards a deeper understanding and commitment to Christ. While his personal salvation is not for us to scrutinize, I think we must be cautious in rushing to nominate him for Dove Awards. Paul’s words to Timothy in the fifth chapter of his first epistle, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” ring true here. There is always wisdom in patience. The reality is there is no set rules for something like this, no one can provide an authoritative “yes or no” when it comes to using the album in your church. It’s simply up to your discretion and discernment.
Finally, what is the correct cultural response?
How do I relate to the millions of people that are listening to this album, or do I engage with them at all? These are the question addressed in H. Richard Nieburh’s classic work, Christ and Culture. Do we oppose it (Christ against culture), embrace is (Christ of culture), or a combination that infuses insights from the first two with a redemptive twist (Christ above culture)?
No doubt there are two different camps reading this. Some are hip hop enthusiasts like myself, perhaps wrestling with the first two questions I addressed earlier in this article. Camp two, are those who aren’t very familiar with Kanye, his music, or hip hop in general. Maybe you think this album and article have very little to do with you. But your wrong, because I can guarantee your neighbors kids are listening to it, so are all the kids at your local high school and college. I’ll bet the majority of kids in your junior high, senior high, and young adult groups are listening to it also.
So, trust me this affects you. The title of the album, “Jesus is King” provides us with an amazing open door to engage our culture. It is both a question to ask, “what does Jesus is King mean to you?” and an answer to give, “Let me tell you about King Jesus!” In both cases this is where we as Christians shine. This is where we take the mic and spit our bars, because Jesus is King!