Plenty of folks in and out of entertainment are pondering and debating Jesus Is King, the new gospel-flavored album from mega-artist Kanye West.
The fabulously successful and wealthy rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur and fashion designer -- who's married to reality-show star Kim Kardashian -- declared he had a conversion to Christianity in April after the Coachella music festival. In the wake of his admission that he has bipolar disorder, and considering the racy content of his lyrics in the past, people have wondered about the motivation and eventual outcome of West's change of heart.
As to the first question, only West knows for sure; as to the second, only God.
But in the meantime, the release of Jesus Is King (digital download here) -- and its companion IMAX film -- has got both Christian and secular bloggers and journalists buzzing. Christ is back at the center of the pop-culture conversation, and that's an interesting place to be.
As much as others have to say about what West is doing, the most interesting things are what he says about himself. In a long video interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1 -- conducted at West's ranch in Cody, Wyoming -- he talks about his business (including bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.), his conversion, moving beyond temptation, his mental-health issues, and music.
Calling himself a "Christian innovator" -- and saying, "I'm not a theologian, I'm a recent convert" -- West also discusses the origins of his celebrity-heavy Sunday Service gatherings, a kind of nondenominational, ecstatic musical experience. West wanted to create a free-flowing, open environment -- as in no pews -- with a design and style inspired by the vision of church expressed by his 6-year-old daughter North, who, as her father recalls, told him, "I'm going to bring my friends here, and I'm going to dance."
Stating that he's "no longer an entertainer," West says, "Now that I'm in service to Christ, my job is to spread the Gospel, to let people know what Jesus has done for me.
"I've spread a lot of things. There was a time I let you know what high fashion had done for me, I was letting you know what the Hennessy had done for me... now I'm letting you know what Jesus has done for me."
He also, knowingly or unknowingly, quotes Family Theater Productions' founder, Venerable Patrick Peyton, saying, "It's known when people pray together, families that pray together stay together," he said. "When people pray together and fast together the power is increased."
Father Peyton originated the saying, "The Family That Prays Together Stays Together" -- and you'll get to learn a lot more about him next year when our documentary PRAY: The Story of Patrick Peyton hits theaters (official site here).
West also says something that resonates for a lot of people, especially parents, when they're trying to decide whether to follow their faith or their fellow men.
"I literally was up there trying to have my daughter outdress Rihanna," he says. "This sounds crazy when you say it out loud, but when you think about it, 'His daughter was walking around in a slip dress.' The culture was my god. I thought I was the god of culture, but really, culture was my god."
However this turns out -- and West proclaims that he's going to be president one day -- it's going to be a fascinating ride.
Here's the full Beats 1 interview:
And here's a special edition of West's Sunday Service, held Sunday, Oct. 27, at The Forum in Inglewood, California, with great choir music and some preaching ..
Image: Kanye West album art
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.