Noted perfectionist Kanye West has a long history of delayed album releases. That legacy continued this week as the presumed drop date for his ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, came and went on Friday.
West has clearly been promoting something as he's hosted mysterious events across America, and is still expected to release a supplementary Imax film later this month.
But the notoriously media-averse rapper has confirmed next to nothing about his upcoming career milestone. So, there's still a lot we're confused about. Here's what we do know:
Religion - Christianity, in particular - has been a benchmark of West's work since his 2004 debut album The College Dropout. That album famously featured the gospel-tinged Jesus Walks, which reached No. 11 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart; won the 2005 Grammy for best rap song; and briefly landed College Dropout on the ballot for the Stellar Awards, an annual celebration of gospel music - before controversy prompted the nominating committee to remove the album from consideration.
Subsequent albums have incorporated similar references. "My father been said I need Jesus, so he took me to church and let the water wash over my Caesar," West rapped on Diamonds from Sierra Leone, a 2005 single from his sophomore album, Late Registration. In 2013, West merged faith with his trademark egocentricity on Yeezus, a daringly eclectic album that featured I Am a God, a Billboard Top 10 single that listed the deity as a featured performer.
Jesus Is King stands to be West's most spiritually focused album to date and notably follows the creation of West's Sunday Service, a mystifying weekly event that has combined gospel music, spoken word, informal sermons and controversial merch that includes US$50 socks and US$225 sweatshirts emblazoned with the event's name and phrases such as Holy Spirit, which presumably can't be trademarked. (As noted by the Hollywood Reporter, West has filed a trademark application for the term Sunday Service.)
Fans expected Jesus Is King to drop on Friday because of a photo his wife Kim Kardashian shared in August. The post contained an image of an apparent track list, handwritten in a notebook in black marker, with Jesus Is King scrawled across the top, followed by 12 likely song titles and September 27th at the very bottom. The reality star-turned-mogul captioned her post with the praying hands emoji.
On September 27, Kardashian posted another photo with a seemingly updated track list, this time handwritten on a piece of Marriott stationery with, notably, no mention of a date. She captioned the photo with a similarly cryptic but on-theme message: "Have faith ..."
We take this to mean the album could arrive any day. Or not, since we're still waiting on Yandhi, the long-delayed album West was expected to release last year before apparently abandoning the project.
Speaking of Yandhi, we should point out that Complex and other outlets have posited that Jesus Is King is merely a reworked version of West's previously anticipated album, from which several tracks were leaked to the internet in August.
Further confounding matters, several of the leaked tracks were uploaded as ringtones to Apple Music earlier this week. The Verge notes that the upload was a likely scam since the ringtones - which have since been removed - didn't list any of West's record labels as the copyright holder.
The promotional tour
West hosted a number of events last month in connection with the album and an accompanying Imax film of the same name, reportedly set to hit theaters on October 25. He held one such event Sunday in New York, prompting speculation that the album would finally be released - on the Lord's Day. Alas, that did not happen. But Rolling Stone reported that fans heard snippets of the album, which the magazine characterised as "Christian rap."
These events have been presented in collaboration with Imax and Def Jam, West's record label, as seen in a tweet from the label Friday, when West ostensibly hosted a last-minute screening of the film. After a Chicago event last week, Andrew Barber, founder of Chicago-based hip-hop blog, Fake Shore Drive, tweeted that although Jesus Is King features hip-hop elements and collaborators West has incorporated throughout his career, West had "announced that he is no longer making secular music."
West wouldn't be the first pop star to go the gospel route. And he has clearly had a spiritual awakening of some kind: Kardashian said on The View last month that the rapper sought healing through his Sunday Service project, and ultimately deepened his Christian faith. "He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ," she said.
Following West's New York listening party on Sunday, the New York Times reported that Jesus Is King featured no cursing - a noticeable departure from his previous work - and, after an earlier iteration of the track had been leaked online, included a cleaner version of New Body.
Amid speculation about West's evolving faith, eagle-eyed fans have zeroed in on Kardashian's original tweet. On the side of the image she posted, a bible is open to Psalm 57:6 - a passage that includes the word Selah. That word, widely thought to be an expression used for musical direction, is sprinkled throughout the book of Psalms, and also happens to be the name of one of the album's expected songs.
Selah debunks the theory that Jesus Is King is a revamp of Yandhi, according to the Times, which cites one telling line: "Everybody wanted 'Yandhi,' " West raps, "and Jesus did the laundry."