Earlier this month, rapper Kanye West described his latest release as “a gospel album with a lot of cursing.”
The phrase exemplifies the sense of confusion and apparent contradiction surrounding The Life of Pablo—which came out February 14, after lots of hype and speculation. Christians also wondered about what was to come from the famous husband of Kim Kardashian (and foil to Taylor Swift): How much gospel will be in this “gospel album”? Who exactly is Pablo?
For starters, it isn’t a typical album in any sense. Following its digital release, it has yet to be transferred to a physical format (no CDs, no vinyl). The Life of Pablo is not, and may not ever be, available for purchase. So while we’re told the album exists, it requires a certain amount of faith to experience.
It is not available on iTunes, Amazon, or Spotify. No man cometh unto The Life of Pablo except through Tidal—the online music-streaming site run by Kanye’s figurative “big brother” Jay-Z offers the only legal way to listen to the project.
During the final months of production, the album went through a spiritual journey of its own, rumored to originally be titled So Help Me God, then SWISH, later confirmed as Waves, and finally The Life of Pablo.
It’s the latest entry on a lengthy timeline illustrating Kanye’s use of Christian themes and imagery in his work. Occasionally such efforts have been viewed by believers as an earnest search for truth. The song “Jesus Walks” from his debut album was nominated for a 2004 Stellar Gospel Music Award.
And just as often, Kanye’s ideas are seen as outright blasphemy. That Stellar Award nod was later rescinded after the threat of protests ...1