For some artists, a blown deadline is a problem. For Kanye West, it is a marketing opportunity.
After West missed a self-imposed deadline a month ago to release his latest album, the gospel-influenced Jesus Is King, his fans went on high alert, tracking his every move and speculating about when, or whether, the album would ever come out. West further stoked the music and celebrity press by previewing the album at a series of public events, at which he portrayed the project as a major turning point.
“This album has been made to be an expression of the gospel and to share the gospel and the truth of what Jesus has done to me,” West told a Manhattan crowd late last month, after his first promised release date came and went. (To prevent leaks, fans’ phones were secured in locked pouches.) “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all that he does for me, my soul cries out.”
Thursday, Apple’s Beats 1 online radio station broadcast a rambling two-hour interview in which West declared himself “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time,” spoke about the roots of what he said was a “full-on pornography addiction” and called his dispute with Drake “painful,” but barely talked about Jesus Is King. West then tweeted that the album was coming at midnight … only to miss that deadline, too. (He was still working on a few songs, he said at 1:18 a.m.)
Around noon on Friday, Jesus Is King, his ninth LP, finally appeared on streaming services.
But the album’s chaotic rollout, and West’s evolving persona, may be as important as the music itself. It is the latest in a series of strange and fascinating spectacles that began three years ago with The Life of Pablo—an album he first teased at a fashion event at Madison Square Garden, then tweaked and revised even after it had been released to the public.
West ended his “Pablo” tour abruptly after several truncated performances, and was hospitalized for a “psychiatric emergency.” Then came controversy over his public support of President Donald Trump. And, in comments promoting his 2018 album Ye, West claimed that slavery in the United States was “a choice.” (He later apologized.)
Things have been quieter for West lately, as he has embraced religion and said that he stopped taking medication to treat bipolar disorder. The gospel themes on Jesus Is King draw on West’s recent Sunday Services events, which began as invitation-only performances but became part of mainstream culture when West brought one to Coachella on Easter Sunday, in April.
The album features a gospel choir, performing with piano and organ, sometimes intermingled with hip-hop beats and rapping by West. None of its 11 songs has explicit lyrics. One track, “Use This Gospel,” features Kenny G, the smooth jazz saxophonist, whose involvement apparently came about after West hired him to perform for West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, at their home on Valentine’s Day.
By Friday afternoon, Jesus Is King was being promoted on the streets of New York through at least one roving purple bus playing the album through its speakers.
Friday may have been a particularly important deadline for West: That is the release day for Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Film, a 35-minute Imax documentary that follows West through a Sunday Service performance at an installation in Arizona by James Turrell, the visual artist known for using bright, glowing light.
During his Apple interview on Thursday, West also announced another new album, Jesus Is Born, saying it would capture one of his Sunday Services. He even gave it a release date of Christmas, which fans took with a grain of salt.
© 2019 The New York Times