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The Life of Pablo / Kanye West

April 13, 2016

written by Erin Diaz

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I think Christians need to pay better attention to rap here. Now that Kanye West's album The Life of Pablo has been out for over a month and was just added to Spotify and Apple Music, Kanye is in the spotlight again for his work. Of course, we know that The Life of Pablo is explicit, therefore as I represent Student Activities through this post, I will not be endorsing his music or who he is as a person. Instead, I want to bring in a new perspective about an individual that we are probably pretty shut off to learning more about.

Hey - don't be turned off by those nine letters K A N Y E  W E S T! Has he been known for some controversial situations, his prideful attitude and for being a potential presidential candidate in 2020? Well, maybe... his track record isn't the greatest when it comes to speaking his mind. We all remember the 2009 VMAs when he "let Taylor finish, even though Beyonce had the best music video of all time!"

Therefore, the question that lies before us could be "What can we gain from Kanye and why do we care about gaining anything from him at all?" When it comes to the second part of the question, it is mainly personal preference. If you have no interest or desire to know anything about Kanye West, no hard feelings here. Yet, I care about finding the positives in Kanye, however few or many they may be, because he is prevalent in our culture. He is one of the most famous rappers alive, and at some point we have to step back and ask ourselves why.

It makes sense to me that Kanye is important because aside from being an award-winning rapper (and having a longevity and relatability in his career that not many rappers possess), Kanye is expressive. People are attracted to people who speak their mind (which seems to work against us in the case of Donald Trump being an almost-presidential nominee, but that's beside the point), and Kanye is an artist who has no issue speaking his mind, eloquently or non-eloquently.

And when it comes to speaking his mind, Kanye receives more heat in Christian circles than your typical Drake or Chris Brown. This is probably because he mentions Christianity often. The first song on The Life of Pablo “Ultralight Beam” begins the album with phrases such as “So I look to the light
(Lord) To make these wrongs turn right” and “I'm tryna keep my faith (Yes, Jesus) / But I'm looking for more / Somewhere I can feel safe / And end my holy war.”

His lyrics, although they do discuss Christianity, do not always line up with the moral aspect of it, and this could be why he is easily criticized. It is genuinely difficult to hear lyrics like the aforementioned ones and then listen to the rest of the album’s explicit lyrics and feel comfortable, but it is also understandable that Kanye is conflicted. The lyrics “I’m tryna keep my faith, but I’m looking for more…” perfectly describe this album. Kanye is obviously searching for something to believe in, but he seems to not have found it yet.

Relevant Magazine published an article March 3rd about Kanye and Kirk Franklin's relationship, and the following statement makes sense when it comes to the Christian criticism of Kanye:

"No one (or at least no reasonable critic) is suggesting that Kanye West is actually a credible theologian. No one is suggesting his words should be held to the same standard of a pastor or a Christian leader. But when we criticize the orthodoxy of what are essentially artistic choices, we elevate the words to a higher level than they are meant to be held. Kanye West isn’t a teacher or a leader. He’s an artist wrestling with ideas and emotions. It’s OK to disagree with them—but we shouldn’t automatically criticize him for expressing them, just because they mention our faith."

Maybe instead of shutting Kanye West out, we as Christ-following, gracious people should welcome him in. No matter your thoughts or opinions on Kanye West and his new album, it is important to keep an open mind as you listen to his lyrics and try to figure out how you feel about them. Discussing The Life of Pablo is a great way to have some conversations with people about culture and what it means for Christ followers.