As always with Kanye West, it’s difficult to say what exactly we know about what he’s up to. His ninth solo album, Jesus Is King was set to drop this Friday, October 25 at midnight, though, to no one’s surprise, he missed that deadline. Kanye is known for breaking promises, and for recording huge chunks of his albums at the last minute; three release dates for Jesus Is King have now come and gone, and we’re still not totally sure what the album might look like. That said, here’s everything we think we know the album so far.
UPDATE (10/25): The album is here!
(This story was originally published on October 21 and last updated on October 25)
The rollout has been a mess.
Since 2016’s The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s album rollouts have been marked by constant revision. Release dates are missed, album titles change, and entire tracklists are discarded pretty consistently.
Kim Kardashian informally announced Jesus Is King in August, with a photo of a note containing the title, tracklist, and the date September 27. The details have been overhauled more than once since then. Here’s the original tracklist, courtesy of Kim‘s Twitter:
And here’s a second version, with a reconfigured tracklist. Kardashian tweeted it on September 27, the date originally slated for the Jesus Is King release. Incidentally, September 27 was also the one-year anniversary of a planned release for Yandhi, the abortive Kanye project that was conceived, leaked, and possibly abandoned before Jesus Is King was ever announced. (More on that below.)
Have faith… pic.twitter.com/2HF4HiPQoq
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) September 27, 2019
On Instagram, Kardashian explained that the release date was being pushed back to September 29 for a few tweaks, but that date also passed without a release or a new release date to look look forward to. On October 20, Kanye himself tweeted that he’d release Jesus Is King on October 25.
“JESUS IS KING”
OCT 25th pic.twitter.com/Ug4ghlQYk7
— ye (@kanyewest) October 21, 2019
Def Jam went so far as to confirm it, tweeting out the same graphic and release date. And Kanye dropped the supposed final tracklist just before midnight on the 24th, sans “New Body”:
“JESUS IS KING”
— ye (@kanyewest) October 24, 2019
But of course, on the morning of October 25, Jesus Is King had yet to materialize.
He paid a surprise visit to Jimmy Kimmel Live! just after midnight, in which he apparently decided to just lie: “It’s out now!”
Here’s what Kanye said in a tweet at 1:18 a.m. ET:
To my fans
Thank you for being loyal & patient
We are specifically fixing mixes on “Everything We Need” “Follow God” & “Water”
We not going to sleep until this album is out!
At around noon on the 25th, the album finally dropped.
It’s distinct from Yandhi.
The initial follow-up to Kanye’s eighth album, ye, and his collaborative Kids See Ghosts project with Kid Cudi, was announced in September 2018. Titled Yandhi, it was set to be his third full-length of the year. Just ahead of the planned release date, Kanye dropped by the offices of The FADER to preview a version of the album that included features from Ty Dolla $ign, alleged abuser XXXTentacion, and embattled rapper/snitch Tekashi 6ix9ine. But September 27 came and went, Kanye kept delaying, and the fate of the album was left unclear.
A version of Yandhi leaked online earlier this year, which bore some resemblance to the album described in The FADER‘s article. Kanye may have decided to pivot away from the project after that, as there’s been little to no mention of Yandhi from his camp since the Jesus Is King announcement. The Jesus Is King tracklist does have two songs in common with the Yandhi details that were floating around: “Water,” which debuted during Kanye’s 2019 Coachella performance, and “New Body,” which appeared on the second incarnation of the Jesus Is King tracklist after being absent from the first. The rest of the songs are apparently new.
The question of what happened to Yandhi remains a good one. The album was unofficially and inexplicably uploaded to the iTunes store in ringtone form in early October, and it’s possible that that’s about as thorough a release as most of those tracks will ever get.
If the title didn’t give it away, Jesus Is King is a Christian album.
On January 6, 2019, Kanye debuted his Sunday Service concert series, in which gospel musicians perform Christian-centric renditions of Kanye songs past and present. The location changes most weeks; “services” have been conducted everywhere from Calabasas to Jamaica. The performances have also featured debuts of new Kanye music, Christian versions of songs by No Doubt and Nirvana, and at least one sweet hang with Brad Pitt.
With most of Yandhi now seemingly tabled, Kanye has channeled some of that Sunday Service energy into Jesus Is King. Those who heard a version of the album at a surprise listening party in New York on September 29 (following similar listening parties in Detroit and Chicago) report that Kanye made his religious intentions explicit. Per Complex’s Eric Skelton, the rapper said at the New York event that “this album has been made as an expression of the gospel—and to share the gospel.”
The Times‘ Joe Coscarelli wrote that the album contains no curse words from West or his collaborators, and focuses “almost exclusively on religious salvation.” It’s also been reported that Kanye has completely abandoned secular rap music and will only be making gospel in the future, though he’s obviously been known to break these sorts of promises.
Adam Tyson, pastor at Placerita Bible Church in Santa Clarita, has become a close friend and confidant of Kanye’s over the past year; he elaborated on their relationship in a recent interview. “One time, he told me that he wasn’t going to rap,” he told Christian media organization Apologia Studios. “I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘That’s the devil’s music.’ I said, ‘Hey, man. Rap is a genre. You can rap for God.’ I think he was already thinking about it a little bit, but I definitely said, ‘Hey, bro. I think you need to use your talents that God’s given you and use that platform for God.'” (Find that at 23:38 in this video.)
There’s a movie, too.
Probably the biggest late-game surprise in this interminable rollout was the existence of a Jesus Is King IMAX movie, directed by Nick Knight, the celebrated British photographer who previously directed Kanye’s videos for “Black Skinhead and “Bound 2.” Essentially a concert film, Jesus Is King was shot inside Roden Crater, a monumental artwork by James Turrell that’s embedded in the earth in Arizona’s Painted Desert. The site, where Turrell began building in the late ’70s, has not yet opened to the public, and the Jesus Is King film will offer a rare glimpse of its progress. (Kanye has reportedly donated $10 million to the project.) The limited theatrical release is scheduled for October 25, and a short behind-the-scenes teaser is already available on YouTube.
The fact that the Jesus Is King film actually has a concrete release release date, with tickets already available and showtimes lined up in theaters around the world, might make it a little harder for Kanye to keep delaying things. [Editor’s note: While the rapper still delayed things, though the movie did premiere on time.]
The album features Clipse, Kenny G, and more.
Though the most recent tracklist didn’t reveal any guest spots, the version of Jesus Is King that release party attendees on October 23 heard boasted a typically diverse array of features. Pi’erre Bourne produced a track called “On God,” and Pusha T and No Malice of Clipse reunite for the first time in years for “Use This Gospel,” which also features a sax solo from Kenny G. Ty Dolla $ign makes an appearance, as does gospel musician Fred Hammond, whose music Kanye reworked at a Sunday Service back in February.
Though Nicki Minaj appeared on Yandhi‘s original version of “New Body,” Kanye apparently ditched her verse for the version of the track that debuted at late September listening parties in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. According to reports from listened party attendees, Kanye has mentioned that Minaj is recording a new verse that he hopes to include on the final album.
There’s a song about Chick-fil-A.
“Closed on Sunday,” which may or may not be a retitled version of “Sunday” from the album’s original tracklist, is a sort of ode to the popular (Christian) fast food chain Chick-fil-A. “Closed on Sunday / You my Chick-fil-A,” observes Kanye on the hook. For all its pretensions to faith, the album may still save a little room for comedy.
He’s threatening to release a follow-up.
What’s more real: Kanye West release dates or Santa Claus? One of the few nuggets from Kanye’s lengthy interview with Zane Lowe on October 24 was that Jesus Is King may be getting a follow-up. He’s calling it Jesus Is Born—a “Sunday service album”—that he’s saying will drop on Christmas.
Here’s a clip from the interview: