Everyone has an opinion about Kanye West’s opinions, and if there is one thing he is free of it’s self-censorship. “This is a free man talking,” he stated emphatically in a recent interview about his latest album, “Jesus is King.” His bravado is cut with a near compulsion to be earnest — about everything.
This compulsion has brought him trouble in the past, and rightfully so. But this compulsion has also made him not only an independent thinker, but someone able to look inward with startling introspection.
In another long-form interview, he speaks candidly and critically, peppered with characteristic bombast, about his past and present. After mental and physical health crises, a reckoning with his lack of restraint in action and speech, and experiences with mortality and social condemnation, he is a man acutely aware of his need.
Only a person who is aware of his need searches for a savior. Most of the time we lie to ourselves. We look outward. We dull our ache. Kanye sees his need plainly, and in “Jesus Is King,” he unapologetically tethers himself to the savior.
With this album, he has managed to do what so many modern creatives before him have tried and failed to do: make Christian art that is not beset by schlock. The album has the fervid sincerity and vehemence of someone who has nothing to lose.
All my idols, let ’em go
All the demons, let ’em know
This a mission, not a show
This is my eternal soul
This my kids, this the crib
This my wife, this my life
This my God-given right
Thank you, Jesus, won the fight
— “God Is”
Reactions from conservatives and Christians have ranged from overblown to overly cynical. I understand both. It’s easy to feel surprise and delight at an unexpected celebrity endorsement for such unsung and culturally derided themes. It’s also easy to see how this could all go sideways. The peddlers of the prosperity gospel are already eyeing him for their brand of gold-plated heresy, and memories of the unraveling of Mel Gibson, another maker of powerful Christian art, still sting.
But if we feel delight at this Kanye, it need not be a delight that is dependent on who he is or will be so much as it is delight caused by a witnessing of the very raw and real human experience of a cultural awakening and spiritual redemption.
He is able to say things that are as common-sense as they are taboo. He is no longer accepting that his skin color means he must walk in lockstep in support of Democratic politicians whose policies of abortion, moral relativism, dependency, and victimization have arguably decimated poor communities from the inside out.
For this he has felt the full force of attack from cultural overlords who cannot tolerate a black man questioning their sacred cows. He has confessed to decades of porn addiction and has found the grace to fight and to speak against it. He has said foolish things, or true things poorly, and been reduced to static soundbites.
He has replaced any remaining fear of being a social pariah with a fear of God and the subsequent courage to say unpopular things. He has fulfilled all of his desires and been left with nothing but desire.
“This is a free man talking.” Indeed.
Noelle Mering is a coauthor of the book “Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday.” She is a writer and editor living in Southern California with her husband and children. Noellemering.com.