Kanye West’s gospel album drops this month but do we care?
OPINION: The artist may have outlasted people's short attention spans, but his outward embrace of religion seems to be peculiar given that many who live with bipolar disorder have done similar
Kanye West announced earlier this month he would be releasing his ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, this Friday.
Given that some iteration of this project has been in the works, and slated to come out on more than one occasion over the past year, at first fans were skeptical that this wasn’t just another false alarm.
But then, his wife, Kim Kardashian West teased a track list for the new album on her Twitter account at the end of August. And when New York Times journalist Joe Coscarelli alleged that sources within the industry believed this album was gonna be a no-show, tweeting, “it’s Kanye so who knows but I’m hearing from many industry people that Jesus Is King’ is not coming on Friday,” — seemingly in response, today, Kim posted a picture of their adorable son Saint throwing up the deuces, along with the caption, “2 more days Jesus is King.”
So let’s just say this time is the real deal and the highly anticipated resurrection of ‘Ye is actually going to happen (unlike last November when the West camp teased the release of another religion themed project called ‘Yandhi’ that never happened), the question still remains: “Do we still care? And if so, why?”
Redemption or Relapse?
Don’t get me wrong. Unlike those who merely bristle at the sound of Kanye’s name, or those who forgive all his sins on sight due to the conviction that he is a “genius,” I am very staunchly in a third — decidedly more moderate — camp of folks who have sympathies for the artist’s struggles with mental health, while still believing he still has to have some sort of accountability for his actions.
Last June, while writing about the release of Kanye’s last album ‘Ye’, I wrote, “as a staunch mental health advocate, I would be remiss not to point out that if you drag one of the most famous people in the world to ever admit he or she is bipolar, the rest of that community will not only be watching, but also internalizing what you say about him.
Given how our community has historically dismissed mental health as, “white people problems,” Black people living with suicidal thoughts in particular will feel the sting of some of our uglier ‘Ye jokes. Drag him for his politics all you want. Chastise him for his publicity stunts and questionable soundbites. But can we all agree to ease up on the mental health stuff?”
I still very much believe those words and as a result make it a point to tread lightly whenever touching on the rapper’s mental state.
However, when it comes to his newfound fixation on church and religion, I can’t help thinking back to a painful moment in my own family’s history when a cousin of mine was diagnosed with schizophrenia. That day when I rushed from the airport to the hospital to check on my loved one, the first thing the doctor said to me upon arrival was, “PLEASE, take away his bible. People tend to become obsessed with religious doctrine when they’re having these episodes.”
At the time my mom and aunt were dumbstruck by this warning. They’d seen the bible as an asset, and yet here was a trained medical professional clarifying that in many cases it was often instead used as a crutch; a fanatical playground of self-righteousness that the unwell cling to as a form of escapism.
Earlier this month, I found myself thinking back to that incident at the hospital, when a clip of Kanye went viral. In the video he stoically intervenes when a security guard attempts to clear his path during a Sunday Service event in his hometown of Chicago.
“Step back,” Ye declares to the guard as if he is a messiah. “Watch this. This is my city.”
Then he proceeds to walk through the crowd, as if he is indeed Moses parting the sea of people.
While many cracked jokes about the clip in the comments section of The Shade Room’s post, one person echoed my own sentiments, writing, “This isn’t about God or church and it’s sad to witness.”
“We’ve both been diagnosed as bipolar, a mental condition characterized by manic highs and depressive lows,” author Kiana Fitzgerald writes of her own mental health experiences and similar concerns about ‘Ye’s current behavior. “Depending on where you are on the spectrum, mania can either make you feel mildly irritated and erratic, or a deep, yet deceiving, purity that makes you think you’re in touch with God Himself. I fall solidly in the latter group, and my condition began with a grand epiphany that didn’t feel like a mental disability at all.”
Sentiments like these, are why I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that unlike my cousin’s doctor, perhaps no one thought to warn Kim or ‘Ye’s camp that he too, ran the risk of disappearing into the bible as a form of relapse, not redemption.
Gospel choirs don’t fix everything
But of course, given that mental health is still a prickly topic in Black communities, where elders hold on to the antiquated belief that you can just “pray away” all that ails you, it comes as no surprise that folks are so quick to forget all the red flags we’re seeing because, “YAY! He found the lord. So we’re allowed to rock with him again.”
I understand the public has an increasingly short attention span, but the thought that simply throwing a Black gospel choir into the mix is enough to rebrand manic behavior into a religious awakening… is kind of terrifying.
To be fair, Black gospel choirs are riveting AF and can make even the most hardcore amongst us shed a tear when they hit the right note. But it’s emotionally manipulative as hell to pretend that simply employing one to follow you around singing mash ups of hip-hop classics and Christian hymns is somehow innovative or a sign of health.
To be honest, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Yet for some reason, we all seem to be falling for it! And I say “we all” because when Sunday service first started posted clips, I too was a bit moved/blinded by the soulful musical arrangements.
But are a few negro spirituals enough to make me forget that not too long ago this ninja told the world slavery was a choice? Or make it feel good that he is now suddenly being hailed as this year’s highest-earning hip-hop artist?
No. They’re not. In fact what message are we – the consumers – sending here?
Trust, given the large number of hip hop consumers that are white, I don’t even blame this conundrum on the Black community entirely. We aren’t lining ‘Ye’s pockets as much as everyone else. In fact, a lot of the Black people I know are still concerned about this brother and hope he gets real help, rather than just focusing on pretending he is the second coming of Christ.
But if this new album really does come out on Friday, and actually does well, I fear that it will just rob Kanye of any last shreds of incentive he may have in investing in his mental health.
It’s a possible to convince someone they’re unwell, when the rest of the world keeps crowning them King.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric