Kanye West’s latest LP Jesus is King has just made history by being No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Top Rap Album charts, Top Christian albums and Top Gospel Album charts, the first project ever to ever hold all five rankings. It is a testament to the project’s staying power and in typical Kanye fashion, Jesus is King has drawn its fair share of praise and criticism. While some may have mixed feelings about the fanatical praise directed towards the album and debates are endless on how well Kanye merges his lyrics and the production, people of all spectrums regarding faith have been surprised at the content of his latest effort. While Christianity often intersects in hip hop, Kanye didn’t go the route of caricature but instead displayed the fruits of a man who had undergone spiritual transformation; rather than dropping a random Bible verse reference here or there, he approached faith with, as rapper Lecrae stated, “the joy of a new believer.” His sincerity is to be admired and yet it is important to remember that he is not the catalyst for music of this type but joins a lengthy, talented and devoted lineage of rappers incorporating faith in their bars at no cost to the sound or production. In no particular order, here are five tracks to listen to from different artists if Kanye’s music struck a particular chord sonically, or if you desire hip hop that approaches the subjects of Christianity and faith with nuance and panache.
1-2. “You Got Me” & “Shining Down” by Swoope (from the album Sonshine)
Sonically, Swoope’s Sonshine album is the most reminiscent of Jesus is King and tracks like “You Got Me” and “Shining Down” are prime examples of this. Both feature Gospel choirs and too many double entendres to count, but effervescence bleeds forth from every track. Swoope’s bars never feel tacked on nor do the choir’s vocals ever threaten to outshine him. It’s always Sunday every time you play these two.
- “Kanye, 2009 (feat. Jackie Hill-Perry & Jamie Portee)” [from the album The Narrative]
The aptly titled “Kanye, 2009” sees Sho Baraka alongside label mate Jackie Hill-Perry go on a “rant” about the backlash the two receive every time they attempt to speak on social issues, a particularly poignant bar being “Like, why, when I share my faith it’s called intolerance / But when they share their hate it’s called scholarship?” Unfortunately, faith is often separated from social justice, but Sho is able to thread these two in ways that do honor to both.
- “STIX” by nobigdyl. (from the mixtape Lowercase Tape)
Some call Kanye’s “Chick Fil-A” line on “Closed on Sunday” cheesy but in the end, it communicates a sense of fun and lightheartedness. nobigdyl.’s “Stix” sees the Tennessee-based rapper deliver facetious bars over a thunderous beat, somehow rhyming chacos, Phife Dawg and Hulk Hogan in the same stanza. It is not meant to be taken seriously but sometimes all you need is a good earworm and “STIX” definitely matches that criterion.
- “Good Things” by Paul Russell (from the album Once in a Dry Season)
A Cornell alum, Paul’s “Good Things” really works best when it fits within the context of the rest of his debut album. But even on its own, it is a standout cut. Paul transforms the typical three verse construction of a song and uses each one to talk about his life journey and the crippling uncertainty and doubts he faced. In the third verse, he reveals how God was with him every step of the way and that he has no reason to fear life’s uncertainties. It is every bit as worshipful as it is a confessional and is a profoundly resonant and relatable track.
Other projects to recommend: Solar by nobigdyl., For the love of money by Eshon Burgundy and RAUL by WHATUPRG
Zachary Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.