Kanye West: Enlightened or On Brand?
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Kanye West is a man of controversy. From his albums to the release of his unique clothing brand, Kanye's innovation and creative craft constantly surprises many. His mark on the music industry and pop culture is undeniable. At that level of fame, it's expected that anything that West does will be placed under scrutiny. As Kanye reinvents himself through his latest release, Jesus is King, many wonder if this will become a reflection of the life of an artist or just another case of "I did some things, but that's the old me."
Jesus or Just Business Yeezus?
If we look back, West's venture into gospel music isn't shocking. Throughout his career, Kanye has been vocal about his struggles with his personal sins and has had religious themes present in several of his releases. In The College Dropout, "Jesus Walks" makes an appearance while The Life of Pablo has hints of gospel intertwined with a bit of heavy cursing. Jesus is King, however, emphasizes his religious journey and is largely gospel, sonically and thematically.
With Ye's album out for the past few days, many have been quick to bash on his latest creation. From fellow rappers to devoted Christians, many believe that it is fraudulent that Kanye has turned over a new leaf in his faith. He's been scrutinized for his Sunday Service as a way to promote his Yeezy wear and as a way to bring in more clout to his brand. However, if he is strictly in it for the financial gain, West isn't reinventing the wheel by jumping into the religion business. He's just found a new audience to appeal to.
According to a 2016 Georgetown University and Newseum Institute study, faith-based organizations in the United States make $378 billion annually. During his performance at Coachella, a pair of socks with the phrase, "Jesus Walks", sold for $50 a pair. Right before his album was released, faith-inspired sweaters were sold at $140. A brunch buffet during Sunday Service cost $55 a person, which gained a lot of criticism for serving low-quality food. In his recent interview with Zane Lowe, he claims a portion of his profits are being donated to churches. His service also includes pastors to speak to their crowd to create a more genuine experience. With the hefty price tag of these products and services, it has left a lot questioning whether the intentions behind these endeavors are truly faith-driven.
With this potentially new Christian audience in mind, that begs a few questions: will they be open to this new music given West's past? Are we able we support artists with "bad" reputations who make "great" music? We've seen the trend that if we personally do not agree with a person's choices in life, we cannot like their music. Even if we do. Several artists follow suit when it comes to their reputation. Chris Brown lacks respect when it comes to women and has a history of a bad temper. Justin Bieber has been titled as arrogant and immature for his actions over a span of several years and Nicki Minaj always seems to be feuding with other artists. As we look at Kanye, his reputation doesn't seem to stem from the awful things he's done necessarily but rather, the things he seems to say.
Art vs. Artist
Can we really fault him for his free-thinking? An Atlanta church has taken a stand on the issue and recently denied Kanye's donation due to his support of President Trump. Pastor Jamal Byrant stated that he doesn't, "...align with the statements of Kanye West. [He doesn't] endorse it, nor [does he] subscribe to it...but [he does] not want to be guilty of double speech." The idea of separating the art from the artist is a concept that society seems to be in a predicament over. When we stream their music, buy their merch, and attend their concerts, some argue that it is still indirectly supporting who they are and what they stand for. Barack Obama has recently said that cancel culture isn't advocating. Talking down on someone over social media isn't a form of reform, it's casting virtual stones. You live and you learn so where is the line drawn when it comes to leaving things in the past?
We may just have to wait to see what his true intentions are. However, if there is anything we do know is that Kanye West is a master of controversy and receiving reactions amongst society. That alone is a Kanye move and one we know all too well.