Kanye West may be notorious for delaying album releases, with his recent gospel-influenced Jesus Is King arriving after a handful of false starts. But after promising that a follow-up, Jesus Is Born, would arrive on Christmas Day, the rapper stuck to his word. On Dec. 25, the sacred day was indeed blessed with a 19-track offering that is not a new West album, but the official debut of the Sunday Service Choir; with the rapper serving as the executive producer, Jesus Is Born brings West's ongoing weekend sermon to life.
While October’s Jesus Is King found West spitting over soulful production that recalled his early work and the Choir’s backing wails, the follow-up focuses on the choir itself, by showing just how emotive the collective’s vocals can truly become.
Jesus Is Born builds upon West’s immersive reawakening, kicking off with a modern riff of the classic hymn “Count Your Blessings,” then continuing to pay homage to the Christian faith with the traditional African-American spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and gospel icon Shirley Caeasar’s 2003 classic “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down.” But this wouldn’t be a Kanye West-led album without a few nods to his own discography. The LP balances heritage with millennial innovation, as seen on reanimated versions of 2016’s The Life of Pablo cuts “Father Stretch My Hands” and “Ultralight Beam” that make the original tracks even more captivating.
Keeping with the Sunday Service trend, there are also gospel-tinged remixes of beloved secular hits: SWV’s “Rain” and “Weak” get stripped of their sensual ‘90s R&B contexts for more Bible-approved lyricism. Meanwhile, Aly-Us’ 1992 house jam “Follow Me” is uplifted with an inspiring message, while "Lift Up Your Voices” interpolates Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” and Soul II Soul’s 1989 Grammy-winning hit “Back To Life” gets a vibrant spin filled with rejoice.
Along with restructuring with relationship with God, West’s newfound spiritual path has also reaped rewards for his career. Thanks to the success of Jesus Is King (which topped the Top Christian Albums, Top Gospel Albums and Billboard 200 charts), he was crowned Billboard's Top Gospel Artist of 2019. He’s also revealed plans to release new music every month during last month's visit with Joel Osteen at the Lakewood Church.
Time will tell if both Jesus Is King and Jesus Is Born, as well as his recent interactive opera experiences (as seen with Mary in New York City and Miami, as well as Los Angeles' Nebuchadnezzar back in November), will pave the way for even more gospel-focused projects from the superstar. But as we head into the new decade, Jesus Is Born continues to suggest that the oft-controversial West’s new path is less of a fleeting interest, and more of a permanent transformation.