We should have seen the writing on the wall. Last year, Kanye West‘s Ye publicized the deepest recesses of his id, arriving amid months of questionable behavior from the rapper. He suggested slavery was a choice, sported a “Make America Great Again” cap, and extended support to perhaps the most divisive president in history. The album marked a troubling entry in his lengthy discography before it was even released.
So it wasn’t too surprising when Kanye quickly left Ye as a relic of the summer, moving on to albums he executive produced for the GOOD Music camp, including his Kid Cudi collaboration Kids See Ghosts. He revealed that he would be dropping another album in September 2018 called Yandhi. Then, delays. Then, silence.
When he re-emerged in 2019, it seemed like it was to purge himself of himself. Kanye began hosting Sunday Service, a weekly traveling public worship featuring choir music (with performances by his children North and Saint), dancing, and general rejoicing, all in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s been attended by A$AP Rocky, Brad Pitt, Big Sean, and throngs of everyday worshippers. These services, along with the release of the humanizing single “Water,” suggested that the presumably self-centered Yandhi couldn’t possibly be his next musical step; he was back on a path closer to the religious walk of his early career.
The defining statement of this era likely would’ve been Jesus Is King, an album announced by Kim Kardashian West and confirmed via Kanye’s website for a September 27 release. But this week, multiple reports came of even more delays. As of today, there’s no album to speak of, though there is apparently a live show in Detroit called “Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Experience.”
Despite the lack of a new album, Kanye’s music has held a pious slant — both in grappling with God and with deeming himself one — from the very beginning. Now, as we wait to see if we’ll ever be able to hear Jesus Is King, we’ve trekked this religious journey across seven different eras of Kanye.
“Jesus Walks” (2004)
Kanye’s 2004 ode to Christianity “Jesus Walks” — the fourth single from his debut album, The College Dropout — is still one of his signature songs. Supported by the spiritual voices of Harlem a capella group the Addicts Rehabilitation Center Choir, Kanye kicked his career off asking God to show him the way. The rapper reportedly shopped the track to labels prior to getting signed by Roc-A-Fella Records, but no one would take the bait. “They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus,” Kanye spits. “That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played.” Kanye proved them wrong: It peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, went double platinum, and won a Grammy for Best Rap Song. The foundation had been laid.
“Devil In a New Dress” (2010)
A lot happened in the six long years between Kanye’s religion-referencing debut and 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: a 2006 Rolling Stone cover that depicted the rapper in a crown of thorns; the 2008 death of his mother, which, along with the end of an engagement, spurred the creation of 808s and Heartbreak; the 2009 VMAs and his infamous Taylor Swift interruption. Kanye was never humble, but by now, he’d turned his gaze toward his satanic sexual impulses. Instead of worship, Kanye roots “Devil” in hedoni