Kanye Only Wants to Make Gospel Now. But He’s at His Best When He’s Blending the Secular and the Sacred

Illustration for article titled Kanye Only Wants to Make Gospel Now. But He’s at His Best When He’s Blending the Secular and the Sacred
Photo: Rich Fury (Getty Images for Coachella)

Kanye West will come out with an album…at some point.

At first, he said that his new album would drop on Sept. 27; yet, as is par for the course for Ye, the album, Jesus is King, has been delayed. The reason why is unclear; when it will be released is uncertain. But Ye has clearly been promoting something. He hosted mysterious listening parties across the country over the past week, and he is supposed to release a Jesus is King IMAX film later this month.


Honestly, this is all a lot.

Kanye is a divisive figure. We lauded him for his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comments on national television. I think he was brave as one of the early people in hip-hop to stand up for LGBTQ+ people. His sonic genius is unquestionable. He single handedly charted the sound of hip-hop for 10 years, but he has also worn a MAGA hat and defended Donald Trump. And, to top it all off, his last album was, well, not great. This album, we hope, will be a return to form for him, but what caught my attention was not the delay—we expect that from him by now—but instead what he said leading up to the release.

Andrew Barber of Fake Shore Drive recently watched the IMAX film and listened to the album. He also tweeted something that, if I had hair, would have made me pull it out.

“Kanye also announced that he is no longer making secular music. Only Gospel from here on out.”


When I was younger, I remember my mother telling me to go into her closet and grab her church hat. I had to go to the top shelf to get it, and I found a strange cassette tape sitting beside the hat. It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Asking her why it was there, she said something that I’ll never forget: I stopped listening to it because it was secular.


At that time, she subscribed to the notion that there was a stark divide between what was secular and sacred. Part of the reason why I went so long without being exposed to hip-hop was this alleged divide. We were a gospel-only household and the ways of “the world” (what many Christians call the happenings outside of Christendom) were not allowed in. (Except for movies; we definitely watched R-rated movies.) This is an antiquated way of thinking.

This way of talking about culture declares that only what is made for the express purposes of lifting up the name of Jesus is worthy and that all other culture is problematic. I have a problem with this.


Theologically, the Bible says in First Corinthians 10: 31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This means that anything we do can be done with the intent of God being praised. What the text does not say is that the content of our praise must be solely within the realm of the sacred.

Sometimes the world angers me, and the best way for me to assuage that anger is to listen to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. I find that to be a holy moment. There are times when I am weary with the world and in order for me to push through, I must listen to “Knuck If You Buck” by Crime Mob. That, too, is holy for me. To say that only sacred music is worthy of the ears of Christians flies in the face of the work of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Chance the Rapper—artists who have effortlessly blended the praise of God with the real cares of the world. We have, as a culture, moved past the divide that kept my mother from understanding what is meant by the phrase “P.Y.T.” We are a culture that blends the sacred and the secular on the same song. “Ultralight Beam” by Ye and “All We Got” by Chance the Rapper are songs that defy designation and music is better for it.


I hope that Kanye releases Jesus is King soon. I also hope that it is a return to form for an artist whose musical palette has set the standard for so many years. But most of all, I hope that Ye stops dividing music into sacred and secular. He is at his best on songs like “Jesus Walks” and “I Am a God”—songs where he blends both.

Lawrence is a philosopher of race at his day job and a curator of dopeness when time allows. Words in The New York Times, Slate Magazine, and others. Email him at law.writes@gmail.com