Kanye West –something big is happening
by Angelos Kyriakides
“God show me the way because the Devil’s tryna break me down …” These prayerful lyrics from Kanye West’s debut “College Dropout” album in 2004 weren’t what one would normally expect from a mainstream hip hop artist but, sixteen years and eight albums later they seem to make a lot more sense. During that span of time the world famous rapper displayed a very public battle between what appears to be genuine faith convictions and a life of vulgar chaos—although one would almost have to read between the lines in order to notice it. Despite the saga which people the world over have been witnessing for over a decade, today is a new day, and one that is beautifully sweet to see.
On October 25, West shocked the world by releasing a rap album that is more evangelistic and bold than what most Christian rap artists currently make. Entitled Jesus is King, the album immediately shot to No. 1 on Billboard 200 charts, as well as No. 1 on the top Christian and top gospel album categories. Far from his previous, what some would even call explicitly blasphemous, songs (one track on his earlier 2013 album was titled “I am a god”), the tracks on this album could almost be mistaken for Biblical Psalms. Think of these lyrics “Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down, Praising the Lord, praise God in the sanctuary, Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down, For His mighty works and excellent grace and His mighty power, yeah” or his celebration of American Chick Fil-A restaurants that close on Sundays. “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A, Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away. Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray, When you got daughters, always keep ‘em safe, Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate … Raise our sons, train, them in the faith, Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake, Follow Jesus, listen and obey, No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.” Songs like this are a far cry from what most teenagers are listening to today, and the fact that a cultural icon like Kanye West is the one behind them is that much more exciting. The rapper has also spoken out against pornography, abortion and banned members of his production crew from engaging in pre-marital sex. The turnaround could not be more radical for one of the most proliferate misogynistic rappers over the last two decades.
The lifestyle switch appears to have taken place when he began working with Chance the Rapper in 2016. Chance is also known for his public turn around, abandoning the world of mainstream hip hop for a more gospel-centred approach, and West credits him for refreshing his relationship with Christ. “I need to speak about how Chance, demanding that we record in Chicago, reconnected me with my roots and also my faith in Jesus Christ,” West says in one December 2018 tweet. Soon after, in January of 2019, West begain holding what he calls “Sunday Services,” impromptu church meetings once held in private but now moving with such force that some pastors are calling them ”new waves of revival.”
During one such service in Baton Rouge, the first weekend of November, sources say that over 1,000 people from all backgrounds publicly turned their lives over to Jesus during an altar call. The pop-up services have attracted celebrities like Brad Pitt and Courtney Love and have even taken place at Coachella, a music festival known for its unrestricted partying.
Despite what any detractors might want to say, something big is happening, something that four church walls doesn’t seem to be able to harness at the moment. CBN News reported that shortly after his latest album dropped, google reported a spike in searches about “Jesus,” and “what does the Bible teach?” Bible Gateway also reported an upsurge of people googling the same Bible verses that appear throughout the album. In light of the rising curiosity rippling out of the album, the American Bible Society began a campaign to ride the momentum, creating a website to offer free Bibles to any Kanye West fans. At first, the offer was only meant to last until October 30, with a limited amount of 1,000 Bibles. Their expectations were surpassed by the demand, and with an extended date, they’ve given out almost 9,000 Bibles in the first two weeks. I’ll say it again, something big is happening.
While most commentators have taken a conservative “let’s play it by ear” approach, others see West’s faith as a genuine move of God meant to cut to the core of our current culture. Today’s climate demands that we keep hush about our faith, or if we want to share it, that has to be in a safe quarantined church space. But what of the revivals that used to spill out onto street corners, like the days of Jonathan Edwards where bars were empty because people sang hymns on the corner? And where are the William Booths and Wesleys who went after the worst of society and shot forth movements that humbled the religious status quo? Perhaps West, via the grace of God who takes pleasure in redeeming what seems unredeemable, is being used to turn eyes towards the lost. Maybe God is calling us outside.
Despite the finicky nature of some celebrity conversions, West’s story has the ring of a real Saul to Paul journey, only instead of rising out of a quick trip to Damascus, it’s been over a lifetime in the making. His first album revealed the struggle of wanting to share his faith but being silenced by the culture, and a torrent of soul conflict continued, but after the death of his mother, a mental health breakdown, and finding out that all that attention isn’t really what he needed, the love for God that was once muzzled is now free to reign.