By: Eashan Reddy Kotha
Graphic Courtesy of: Ria Saxena
After a turbulent year of announcements, leaks, retractions and delays, the album is finally here. Kanye West’s ninth studio album “Jesus is King” that is. As part of the rollout, West had played versions of songs from the album at listening parties in Detroit, Chicago and New York City. At these screenings, he also played the IMAX film that he had been working on. After another supposed release date, word came out about the album listening party with the IMAX film screening at The Forum in Los Angeles on Oct. 23.
The Forum was abuzz with chatter. Smartphones and other mobile devices were getting locked up in YONDR pouches in order to minimize the risk of video and audio leaks. As soon as a shipment of new merch arrived outside the entrance, a swarm of eager fans formed large lines for a chance to secure their own memento.
When walking inside, fans were greeted by an interesting sight. For individuals who purchased floor seats, the ground was speckled with patches of greenery, wheat and tall grass patches. The vegetation was lit by interior lights that were accompanied with soft sounds reminiscent of nature. The visuals were part of an installation created by Meg Webster. The speaker system played a loop of nighttime ambience, with crickets continuously chirping in the background.
When West appeared, a rumble tore through the crowd and the masses shifted to be closer to the man of the hour. “LA what’s good?,” he asked to raucous response before continuing, “Two days until the album drops.” As people continued to trickle in, he asked almost meekly, “Could we wait 15 more minutes for the people still outside to come in?”
Receiving approval from the crowd, he then wryly shouted, “Turn the nature FX up!”
Chants for Kanye, Kim and at one point Kourtney rang through the stadium while the wait continued and more fans trickled in to find their seats. After enough time had passed, the lights dimmed and the IMAX logo shone brightly on the screen. The film was shot in James Turrell’s “Roden Crater” and included many abstract shots of a choir. A selection of covers were played including a few songs from the yet-to-be-heard album. A beautiful rendition of “Streetlights” from West’s 2008 album “808s and Heartbreak” was a highlight.
With the film concluded, it was album time. West disappeared and then re-emerged shortly after. He brought out his laptop and a tiny device which he claimed he had been working on since “Yeezus” to try to get to work. The tool would allow him to mix the stems from a track live so he could play the vocal line or bass line at parts. To test this device, he played one of the tracks off of “Jesus is King” called “Follow God,” which everyone was feeling hyped for. West cycled through several tracks, sometimes running tracks back to their start, much to the amusement of the crowd.
The album, overall, had some really amazing production. He mentioned that he was still putting some final touches on the project but it was essentially finished. The album is a mix of singing and rapping. There is definitely a heavy religious influence at certain points where West goes off on a few bars saying varying forms of “Jesus is ____” during the track “Water.” While some listeners may feel like West’s outright love for Jesus is a bit strange to get used to, this reflected a rather interesting arc in West’s discography and his personal growth as an artist. His art has also reflected his growth as a person and while listening, it was easy to see how these influences have made their way onto the album.
West’s projects have typically been acclaimed for pushing the boundaries on production and for grabbing your attention. Lyrically, “Jesus is King” is stronger than what the 2018 album “Ye” was for some people and it’s refreshing in the sense that the album is going in a different direction. At the end of the day, this is still very much a Kanye West project and it has his fingerprints all over it, but the focus isn’t so much on himself anymore. It is more about him preaching the word of God to his listeners, which is what ultimately separates this album from his prior ones.
As West stood in the Meg Webster grass installation, dancing to songs off the album and reveling in the warmth of his fans, he looked content and ready to set off another era in his long-spanning music career.