Home » Lifestyle » Kanye West’s road to religion— and how conversion shaped his career
Kanye West’s road to religion— and how conversion shaped his career
March 13, 2021
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Kanye West’s lone 2021 Grammy nomination is in a surprising category: Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for “Jesus Is King.”
The divisive album — which scored 53/100 at review aggregator Metacritic — will likely be overshadowed in the musician’s legacy by his bizarre 2020 presidential run and the dissolution of his marriage to Kim Kardashian, but it’s representative of a crucial turning point in West’s personal life: His conversion to born-again Christianity.
West’s Christianity was never hidden, obviously: We’re talking about an artist who said on one of his most-loved songs (“Jesus Walks”): “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played.”
In 2004, “Jesus Walks” became West’s third Top 20 single in a row, nabbed the Grammy for Best Rap Song and eventually became certified double-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Another line in the song — “My mama used to say only Jesus can save us” — shed light on the star’s religious upbringing while offering a preview of his fixation on sin and salvation. He would eventually rap in “Otis,” from his Jay-Z collaboration “Watch the Throne,” “I made ‘Jesus Walks,’ I’m never going to hell.”
But West would take a detour before coming back to Jesus. While his 2005 album “Late Registration” featured tracks like “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” that addressed broader social issues, as his career went on, one would be hard-pressed, given the titles of the songs — “Champion,” “Stronger,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Amazing,” “Power” — to think West was focused on anything other than Being Kanye West. (He did claim “no more drugs for me / p—y and religion is all I need” in “Hell of A Life,” though.)
By 2013’s “Yeezus,” he was declaring, “I Am a God,” in which he rapped, “I just talked to Jesus, He said, “What up, Yeezus?” / I said, “S–t, I’m chillin’ tryna stack these millions” / I know he the most high, but I am a close high,” which prefigures West’s later association with megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.
But as his career was ascendent, West spoke with slightly more nuance about his evolving relationship with God in interviews.
The album’s title, West claimed, was nebulously a reference to the Apostle Paul (“Pablo” being a Spanish form of “Paul”). And while Kanye continued to exalt Kanye with “Famous” and “I Love Kanye” — even if the latter was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek jab at himself — “Father Stretch My Hands” was centered around a sample from gospel musician and preacher T. L. Barrett, juxtaposed as it was against characteristically West-ian raunch.
The non-religious aspects of West’s life came to the forefront following “Pablo.” He postponed dates on the album’s supporting tour after Kardashian was robbed in Paris in October 2016, canning the whole thing in November after a week of missing dates, cut-short shows and ever-lengthening onstage rants. West was hospitalized shortly thereafter after reporting suffering a nervous breakdown and proceeded to take a protracted break from the public.
By 2018, his support of President Donald Trump, controversial comments about slavery to TMZ and a raft of promises about never-to-materialize albums were monopolizing the conversations about his career.
In 2019, the first hint at West’s new direction emerged. His invite-only Sunday Service series, during which he reworked his old hits in a more gospel-ish style, became a hit, and he eventually brought the extravagant show to Coachella in April 2019. The series was not without its own bad press, though, with many deriding, for example, West’s Service merch, which included a $225 hoodie that read “trust God.”
And while West could go to claim in September 2020 that he spent $50 million on the series in 2019, the rapper got hit with two class-action lawsuits alleging mistreatment of performers and staff, including lack of payment.
By summer 2019, word of West’s apparent conversion was beginning to trickle out. In July, during an interview with Chance the Rapper on her Queen Radio show, Nicki Minaj revealed West had personally described himself as a born-again Christian to her. The following week, during an interview with Zane Lowe, Chance said he may have influenced West’s religious views, saying, “I can’t pinpoint a moment when it was like, Ye, has his — I don’t even know what to call it — his revelation, but he does often like, reference me when he talks about it.”