Kanye West’s path to religion and how it shaped his career

Kanye West’s only 2021 Grammy nomination is in a surprising category: Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for “Jesus Is King.”

The divisive album, which scored 53/100 on review aggregator Metacritic, will likely be overshadowed in the musician’s legacy by his bizarre 2020 presidential run and dissolution of his marriage to Kim Kardashian, but it is representative of a turning point. crucial in West’s personal life. : His conversion to reborn Christianity.

West’s Christianity was never hidden, obviously: we’re talking about an artist who said in one of his most beloved songs (“Jesus Walks”): “They say you can rap about anything except Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies , video / But if I talk about God, my album won’t play. “

In 2004, “Jesus Walks” became West’s third consecutive Top 20 single, won the Grammy for Best Rap Song, and eventually went double platinum certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Another line from the song – “My mom used to say that only Jesus can save us” – sheds light on the star’s religious upbringing while offering a preview of her fixation on sin and salvation. He would eventually rap on “Otis”, from his Jay-Z collaboration “Watch the Throne”, “I did ‘Jesus Walks’, I will never go to hell.”

Warning: explicit language

But West would deviate before turning to Jesus. While his 2005 album “Late Registration” featured tracks such as “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” that addressed broader social issues, as his career progressed, one would be in trouble, given the titles of the songs. songs: “Champion”, “Stronger”, “Can’t tell me anything”, “Amazing”, “Power”: to think that West focused on something other than being Kanye West. (However, he claimed that “no more drugs for me / p – yy religion is all I need” in “Hell of A Life”.)

For “Yeezus” from 2013, he was declaring, “I am a God,” in which he rapped, “I just talked to Jesus, he said,” What’s up, Yeezus? “/ I said,” Mt, I’m chilling out trying to rack up these millions “/ I know he’s the tallest, but I’m a close high,” foreshadowing West’s later association with megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.

But as his career was on the rise, West spoke with a little more nuance about his evolving relationship with God in interviews.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West take their daughter North West to church for Easter 2015.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West take their daughter North West to church for Easter 2015.
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“I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector,” she told The Fader in 2008. “I can’t be responsible. I’m fine, but not so good. So my job is just to be in the studio and make videos, and I stay here and let God do the rest. “

A year later, he was telling Vibe, “I don’t believe in religion and I give everything to Jesus and things like that. I do not believe in that. I only believe in god. I would never say that it is in the hands of Jesus ”.

He expanded on that in a since deleted interview with Bossip, also from 2009, saying that while he was “taught to believe that everyone goes to hell” and that he “[believed] in Jesus as an icon, “he”[didn’t] I feel the responsibility to put my life in Jesus ”.

“I feel like I need to take responsibility for my own successes and failures,” he continued. “The reason I say, ‘I don’t give everything to Jesus’ is because there are so many people who don’t take responsibility for their lives, and they always think that Jesus will handle it. And that’s what I refuse to do. “

The follow-up to “Yeezus,” 2016’s “The Life of Paul,” pushed West’s recorded production in explicitly religious directions. Gospel and gospel-adjacent samples had always been part of his production arsenal, but “Pablo’s” single “Ultralight Beam” made it explicit with the presence of contemporary gospel superstar Kirk Franklin and Chance the Rapper, who also they departed from Christianity before making it a central part of their artistic identity.

Warning: explicit language

The album’s title, West claimed, was nebulously a reference to the Apostle Paul (“Pablo” is a Spanish form of “Paul”). And while Kanye continued to rave about Kanye with “Famous” and “I Love Kanye”, even if the latter was meant to be a mockery to himself, “Father Stretch My Hands” focused on a sample of a gospel musician. and preacher TL Barrett, juxtaposed as he was against characteristically Western obscenity.

The non-religious aspects of West’s life came to the fore after “Pablo.” He postponed the album’s support tour dates after Kardashian was robbed in Paris in October 2016, and dropped everything in November after a week of missed dates, short shows, and ever-longer stage rants. West was hospitalized shortly after after reporting that he suffered a nervous breakdown and proceeded to take an extended break from the public.

By 2018, his support for President Donald Trump, TMZ’s controversial slavery comments and a string of promises about albums that would never materialize monopolized conversations about his career.

In 2019, the first hint of West’s new direction emerged. His invite-only Sunday Service series, during which he reworked his old hits in a more gospel style, became a hit, eventually bringing the extravagant show to Coachella in April 2019. The series was not without its bad press. . however, much teased, for example, West’s Service merchandise, which featured a $ 225 hoodie that read “Trust in God.”

And while West could claim in September 2020 that he spent $ 50 million on the series in 2019, the rapper was hit with two class action lawsuits alleging mistreatment of artists and staff, including non-payment.

By the summer of 2019, news of West’s apparent conversion was beginning to flow. In July, during an interview with Chance the Rapper on her Queen Radio show, Nicki Minaj revealed that West had personally described himself as a born-again Christian to her. The following week, during an interview with Zane Lowe, Chance said he may have influenced West’s religious views, saying, “I can’t pinpoint a time when it was like, Ye, you got yours, I don’t even know how. Calling is his revelation, but he often likes it, he references me when he talks about it. “

Kanye West and Chance the Rapper took the stage together in 2016.
Kanye West and Chance the Rapper took the stage together in 2016.
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In late August, Kardashian announced that West’s new album would be released in September and would be titled “Jesus Is King.” As the publication date came and went, some Christians went online to express their dissatisfaction with West’s newfound religious zeal, but more news emerged to reassure them.

In October, Kardashian revealed that both she and the children had been baptized during a trip to Armenia, where her father’s ancestors are from, shortly after Adam Tyson, a pastor from Southern California, told Fox News that he had been leading the West in a Bible. study for months. Tyson also revealed that West told him he wanted to stop rapping, referring to it as “the devil’s music.”

Also in October, West went on Lowe’s Beats 1 show, giving his most in-depth interview about his rediscovered faith. He said he began reading the Bible during his hospitalization in 2016 for mental health issues and began “writing and copying verses from the Bible,” adding: “Now that I am in the service of Christ, my job is to spread the Gospel, which people know what Jesus has done for me.

“I just had to hand it over to God,” he said of personal lows, adding, “The more I am in God’s service, I just clear my mind and wake up emptier every day and let God lead and use me however he can.”

“I know that God has been calling me for a long time and the devil has been distracting me for a long time,” West continued in November during an interview with the pastor of the Osteen megachurch in Houston. Again he related his awakening to his hospitalization, saying that God “was there with me, sending me visions, inspiring me.”

Not everyone was convinced “Jesus is the king.” Some refused to give West a pass, like minister, educator and activist Alicia Crosby, who told Time in November 2019 that “You can have ‘Hallelujahs’ on a track, but it doesn’t make it a gospel. It is a weak theology, it is not substantive, it does not glorify ”, and called the album“ insipid ”.

University of Virginia professor Ashon Crawley was unable to reconcile West’s past comments with his present, writing in an NPR op-ed that “Kanye West has used the concept of salvation … to reject a serious commitment to its policy. “

Kanye West during his 2020 presidential campaign rally in South Carolina.
Kanye West is seen during a 2020 presidential campaign rally in South Carolina.
Lauren Petracca / The Post And Courier via AP

As 2019 entered a new decade, West’s insistence on running for president in the 2020 election began to overshadow his religion. He told GQ in May that he was “definitely born again,” adding, “Now all that energy and creativity that I have channeled and directed comes from me giving myself to God and saying that everything is in God’s will. But as his ‘campaign’ progressed, his faith took a back seat to the damage it seemed to be causing in his personal life.

In July, at a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, West burst into tears when he claimed that he and Kardashian had discussed aborting their first daughter, North, a moment that left Kardashian “mortified” and “desperately worried” about your state of mind. West would continue to focus on abortion as he continued the “campaign,” telling Nick Cannon in September that God had revealed to him “the black genocide that abortion is.”

West “granted” the election in November in a tweet that apparently also announced his intention to run again in 2024, but the damage had already been done. Sources told Page Six that her erratic campaign made Kardashian realize that she “needed to end the marriage for the sake of her children and her own sanity.” She finally filed for divorce in February 2021, a month after Page Six exclusively revealed that a separation was imminent.

West reportedly has an album named after his mother Donda, in the works. Although he has been seen in Los Angeles since the separation and visits his children in Calabasas, California, he has been silent on social media and has not granted new interviews.

Given the strange post-COVID shape of the Grammys in 2021, West’s presence is a question mark. None of the nominees in his category have won before, so the field is wide open. It remains to be seen if West’s rebirth into Christianity will mark a lasting change in his life or just one more left turn in a career full of them, but for a time, it was his own ultralight beam, shining brightly through a long dark night.


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