Westworld: Kanye draws strength from God, makes weakest album


Braden Hajer, Copy Editor & Columnist

Rating: D (Kanye’s weakest work as a whole)

Favorite Tracks: “Every Hour,” “Selah,” “Use This Gospel”


Well, this is it. The end of Westworld. It’s been quite the journey for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through it, whether you read along or stumbled across it months later.

I’ve actually reviewed Kanye West’s most recent release, 2019’s “Jesus Is King,” before. I stand by every word I said, so for a more complete look at the album, that review is linked here and I don’t need to retrace my own steps.

So, what’s changed for me since its October release? Only a little bit. 

Primarily, I’ve had a bit of a troubling revelation. “Jesus Is King,” despite how desperately it craves for you to feel otherwise, is as much about Kanye West as it is about Jesus. On the track “Selah,” for instance, there’s the line: “When I scream at the chauffeur/I ain’t mean, I’m just focused.” It’s a disgusting, narcissistic and nonsensical thing to say…certainly not very Christian of him.

And this isn’t the only time that happens. In fact, the entire song “Hands On” is a bitter track of Kanye whining about how the Christian community judged him for claiming he was a reborn, fully-dedicated Christian. Was he ostracized at the time? Maybe, but you’d have to be quite the fool to not understand why people initially thought his transformation was a publicity stunt.

He can say the word “Jesus” all he wants but he is physically incapable of turning the spotlight too far away from himself.

On a positive note, I’ve added “Use This Gospel” to my list of favorite tracks. The rapping is still extremely awkward and corny, but I’m honestly a huge fan of the instrumental and chorus. It’s catchier than it deserves to be, which is a huge step above almost everything on “Jesus Is King.”

And… that’s about it. It’s still an awkward, underdeveloped, preachy mess of a record, something I made very clear in my initial review. But here’s the thing: I view that review with disdain. It’s just so… shallow. The fact that the album sucks is the least interesting thing about “Jesus Is King.” That should be the context for the review, yet that’s where I stopped. Sure, I got some good dunks in, but for what? Did anyone really expect a masterpiece out of “Jesus Is King?” I know I didn’t at the time.

What’s fascinating to me is why this album sucks. How did Kanye create such a lazy project? And this review was going to be the perfect bow to this entire Westworld quarantine listening project for that reason. I was going to do this whole thing connecting how he went from “Jesus Walks” to “Jesus Is King.” It was going to be so insightful and creative…

But I’m not the first to notice this fact. Kanye West was. The day before “Jesus Is King” was released. 

That’s right. The day before the album came out, a two-hour interview came out between Kanye West and Zane Lowe. It’s the contents of this interview that I want to pivot to, because I think it changes everything to some degree.

I took notes on this interview, because I’m a nerd. I’ve transcribed several key moments and am including them here, partly because it’s fascinating and partly because I find it deeply revealing.

  • He says: “I’m no longer an entertainer. I’m not here for anyone’s entertainment.” But much later in the interview, he says “I’m about lighting the world up, having other people experience joy through what we create…”
  • He calls himself a “recent convert.”
  • “There were times when I was asking people to fast during the album [making process]. There were times I was asking people… This is gonna sound radical, what I’m about to say. We can look at it in the edit. There were times I was asking people to not have premarital sex while they were working on the album.”
  • He’s asked what his addiction was. He responds “sex.” Lowe says “and that’s what fed the ego.” Kanye goes: “I mean, that was part of feeding the ego. Money, clothes, cars, accolades, the advent of social media, the Twitter account, paparazzi photos, going to Paris Fashion Week…all of that.”
  • Later, he interjects: “You know, I was not just addicted to sex. I was also addicted to inspiration, but there’s only one…” He then raises his hands to the sky.
  • At one point, he goes: “It’s like, did you have to work for that fourth house?” Lowe asks him, “Well, did you?” Kanye then looks away from Lowe and into nothingness, pausing for 15 seconds before solemnly saying “I didn’t have to… There’s a balance of family and calling that I specifically have. I have to protect and take care of my family and make sure with the power that God has put in my hands that I do everything as the father to provide the best chance at them being the maximum success that they can be. That was a very specific [answer]. I didn’t say `normal life.’”
  • “God is using me to show off, I believe.”
  • “There will be a time where I will be President of the United States, and I will remember… I will forgive, but I will remember any founder that didn’t have the capacity to understand culturally what we were doing.”
  • “When you’re not serving God, you’re serving everyone else. You’re serving your ego, your bank account, your management, Hollywood…”
  • “Liberals love art, right? I am unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time. It’s just not even a question anymore at this point. It’s just a fact, right? So, for the greatest artist in human existence to put a red hat on was like God’s practical joke on all liberals. They’re like, ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO KANYE!!!!'”
  • He does call himself a liberal, multiple times. He says he’s a “200%’er.”
  • Lowe asks him: “Is there a desire ultimately to convert people through this process?” Kanye responds that “It’s not a desire, it’s my only mission and calling: to spread the Gospel. When I make a song, it’s to spread the Gospel…”
  • He says that he almost fears that if he were to stop doing music, God would start taking away other things. He calls it fun, enjoyable, but repeatedly dodges the question of “is it as fun as it used to be?”
  • “Music is my job. That’s why I’m putting out the album. Serving God in everything I can do is my job. That’s why I’m on the planet, is to be in fear, love, and service to God.”

So… Here’s what I want to know. How can Kanye not be an entertainer but live to bring joy to others and light the world up? How can Kanye put so much into making the workspace of “Jesus Is King’s” creation as holy it can be, yet take that and make such a lazy album? How can he call himself a practical joke on liberals and publicly support Donald Trump yet declare himself a liberal with all his soul? How can he say that his only mission in life is to convert people to Christianity, yet create an album that could only ever appeal to Christians on a broad scale? 

None of it makes any sense. But here is, I think, the most important thing to remember in all of this: Kanye West isn’t exactly some ideological mastermind. He’s clearly and unequivocally a genius in certain areas, namely music and business. Maybe architecture, too, but that remains to be seen. But I don’t think Kanye himself has reconciled any of these incongruities. 

Ok, the timeline’s going to get muddied a bit here. The original passage in this review was me labeling the process of unraveling all of this a “fruitless” task. I said I had pondered it for a month and gave up. I wrote that about two weeks ago. But I continued to ponder this, and as I finished writing in early June what you’re reading now, I’ve read more, I’ve thought more, and I think I finally have some sort of logical construction to explain the mind of Kanye. Here goes…

Kanye West cares more about “free thought” than the content those thoughts contain or the ramifications they may have. So much of his music grapples with this idea, especially on songs like “New Slaves” and “Saint Pablo.” The whole “abolish the 13th Amendment” fiasco was because he felt slavery never really ended for black Americans.

In the interview, he tells the story of when he built a huge dome in California and the authorities tore it down because it was above the height limit. He makes a big deal out of the wordplay, motioning to his own brain and saying “Kanye, your dome is too high.”

When John Legend told Kanye that it was dangerous for him to support Trump because of the damage Trump had and could do for black Americans, Kanye responded that Legend was weaponizing the existence of Kanye’s fans to clamp down on his free thought.

Clearly, this is a critical ideal to him fundamentally. But the problem is that… Kanye West doesn’t think freely currently. He thinks contrarian. He’s extremely religious in part as a reaction to an increasingly desolate modern world that he got trapped in. He “supports” Trump because he views being a black liberal as chained thought. He’s unmistakably still tied to those ideas because his worldview largely only exists to be not those ideas. It’s a comprehensible but not coherent point of view, one that I’m unsure Kanye will ever recognize.

Or maybe not.

Apparently Kanye has trashed all of his MAGA hats and now claims (as of June 4, 2020) that he was only ever wearing them as part of an effort to get innocent people out of jail. There’s also photos of him at a recent Chicago protest focused on demanding the removal of the Chicago Police Department from Chicago Public Schools. 

After a dozen reviews over the course of several months and a few adjustments, here is Braden Hajer’s final rankings of Kanye West’s discography. An “S” rating is “superior,” or better than an A. Graphic by Braden Hajer.

So is he really purely contrarian? Is he actually just acting however he feels will be the most profitable in the long-term? Something else? Is there really no justification at all? It’s absolutely impossible to say, and given the rollercoaster of thoughts I’ve been on today, I don’t know that I’ll ever have any answers to any of this.

And that’s where “Westworld: Quarantine with Kanye” comes to an end. A confusing end for sure, but one nonetheless.

Before I leave you all to the rest of your summers, I do have one final change to make to my tier list. I’ve sat on it, and I’ve realized “The Life Of Pablo” definitely deserves a spot in my A tier, so that is where it shall now reside, and that is where I shall leave it.

For those experiencing Kanye for the first time as they went through this, I hope you all enjoyed yourselves, or at least learned something new. For those pre-existing fans reading these to get angry and yell at my misguided opinions, I hope you are sufficiently irate. Regardless, it’s been quite the journey. And if at any time you’re burning to chime in on something you’ve read in any of these reviews, I’ll still be available on Twitter @bhajerCT or @centraltimes, and you can use the hashtag #KanyeWestworld.

I hope music has helped you through your quarantine as it has helped me through mine.

Audio and video clips are property of Universal Music Group, 2019.