Kanye West just released a gospel album. His latest body of work is a distinctly Christian renunciation of his former secular music. The music alone is a solid romp for Kanye, with moments of true beauty.
The album is only weak due to the strength of the gospel genre. The song “Say Yes” by The Shekinah Glory Ministry is far superior to anything West could create sonically in homage to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Instead, Kanye’s true value is the persona he has created and the cult following that comes with it. I visited the Kanye West pop-up shop in Los Angeles on Sunday, and he was gracious enough to visit the line outside. The reaction to Kanye wasn’t the same as your run-of-the-mill celebrity sighting. He carried himself like a man visiting his followers.
Like the man and his music, the Kanye cult represents the beauty in frailty. This is why the born-again Christian aesthetic fits Kanye so well. Still, he calls himself a “Christian innovator,” while Christianity does not need innovation. Christianity cannot be watered down and remain itself.
Understanding the nature of the born-again phenomena and its unique ties to the West is crucial. With its legitimacy in question more than ever, for the moment Kanye West has become the face of Christianity. Kanye is one with popular culture, and he is now trying to re-integrate the Christian faith into it.
There is beauty in this vision, as it is the sort of thing one could imagine birthed from the mind of a child. Yet this beauty is of the superficial sort. Kanye defends children jumping on tables, but the truth is feet don’t belong on tables, just like Jesus doesn’t belong in your breakfast cereal.
Many great artists are by nature temperamentally conservative because they are led by beauty. Beauty is hierarchy, as so much of it is objective: Either a person is beautiful, or he’s not, and while there are some shades of grey the big contrasts are easy for anyone to spot if they are being honest.
Just like his brush with conservatism. Kanye’s political diatribes also reflect his music: Lots of noise with momentary flashes of brilliance. He is primarily an artist of excess and perfect for modern society because of our material abundance.
For many it takes a transcendent act to progress in their journey of self-discovery. Not unlike Kanye, mine was sparked by the emergence of President Trump, although I find the president palatable for different reasons than Kanye does.
Admittedly, I find many but not all black Trump supporters carry a bit of a grudge against the black community. This is not self-hatred, as many would categorize it, but more a cry for attention. The MAGA hat is an excellent political symbol for this purpose. It is powerful, and that’s why I keep mine in the closet.
Kanye has learned not to be overly political, and he will soon learn not to be overly Christian. He made it a point to bring his traveling church to the historically black Howard University. Unlike mainstream institutions, historically black colleges have been able to maintain a fairly healthy relationship with tradition. HBCUs are proudly black and Christian but not overtly such. A reverence for tradition is a good match for Christianity and Kanye could use more of it.
I was merely a man with opinions at Morehouse College, a HCBU. It wasn’t until attending a predominantly white university for my PhD did I begin to understand the dilemma uniquely faced by black people who had spent more time in mainstream society. The more liberal environs repress being black in a manner that often leaves people out of rhythm.
The same can be said for one’s faith, or any other immutable identity, for that matter. While we are not merely our races, feeling like a genuine member of a group is important. Kanye’s decision to wear the Jesus hat instead of the Trump hat is a clear attempt for him to get back into the good graces of his people. Young black Christians love the Kanye album.
West’s fame is primarily due to how relatable he is. He is the perfect tragic figure for modern western society. He is often the butt of his own joke, intentionally or otherwise. At worst, he’s childish, but at his best he displays how weakness can be strength.