Kanye West’s ‘Jesus is King’ and The Era of “#Content.”

This is my opinion: Jesus is King is a fine album.

The rest of the article is going to more or less be a thorough dissection of that statement, and what it means within the context of how we absorb and digest art in the late 2010’s.

First, to the statement’s face value. By simply the merits of the music on the record, I use the word “fine*” to mean ‘Jesus is King’ will get lumped in with Ye and Life of Pablo** as interesting and quickly forgotten blips in hip hop history, only remembered and memorialized in the memories and playlists of true Kanyesseurs (kill me).

*Most people think Jesus is King sucks so I’m really dropping a borderline hot take here
**some people would argue “Yeezus” should be included in forgettable historic blips and those people are wrong. Yeezus is a masterpiece and Lou Reed agrees with so suck it nerds

The next thing worth dissecting the context of my one sentence review is simply the label of “album.” Jesus is King and its five “Wyoming session” sibling albums each clock in between 20 and 30 minutes of run time – a brevity that is typically associated with an EP release (basically, the equivalent of a snack between the “meals” that would be a full studio album release.) Jesus is King continues those albums’ legacy of redefining the idea of what a studio album is.

Sure, we’ve seen artists like XXXtentacion and Chance the Rapper where all their legacy defining and culturally important works were released under the more EP-esque category of “mixtape,” but the release of both their official Studio Albums™ still marked a sort of elevated and importance and hype around 17 and The Big Day respectively. These are the projects where all the samples are cleared and the projects are lucrative in and of themselves rather than a springboard to sell out arenas and attract endorsement money.

Jesus is King is only an album simply by a declaration of intent. That alone seems to be the distinction between Mixtape, Album, EP, Single, and the nebulous “commercial mixtape” monicer that Drake gave his project “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Similarly, film content seems more and more to be defined by intent. Martin Scorsese said that Marvel movies are “not Cinema” yet his latest project The Irishman will be released almost exclusively on Netflix, which by the literal definition of “cinema” being a type of building disqualifies his own work. Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” was initially released as a traditional theatrical release and is now primarly consumed as a four episode TV mini-series re-edit on Netflix.

All of this is to say something that is hardly an original observation, that more and more it makes sense to categorize cultural artistic output as “content.” The problem is that “content” is a category traditionally associated Buzzfeed’s “Which Disney Princess are you?” quiz or The Ringer’s dozens of pop culture podcasts. Even something as low brow or surface level entertaining as a super hero has a built in intent to stir up emotions and project worldview in a way that the aforementioned projects do not. Even someone who attempts to project as explicitly apolitical as Michael Bay accomplishes these things by the very nature of the medium he works in.

It’s easy to say that none of this matters. It’s easy to say the pursuit of artistic analysis and categorization is ultimately a self-induced headache without a purpose. To say those things is to approach the statement that the pursuit of art itself is inherently without meaning, and at that point, to adopt the nothing matters outside of the STEM pursuits worldview of the average teenage atheist. Ultimately, we create art to explain the unexplainable phenomenon of emtion and to translate philosophy into the language of scenario.

Thus, much like history or science, categorization is one of our most basic tools as a means of interpretation. Categories of taxonomy explain the traits and relationships between lifeforms to us in the same way that genre sets expectations to an audience. The context of world war 1 reperations informs how world war 2 happened in the same way that the context of day time TV serials for children and their cartoonish, irredeemable villains informs the subversiveness and surprise of when Darth Vader revealed he was, in fact, Luke Skywalker’s father.

Within this context, Jesus is King and its Wyoming cousins are Pluto. They challenge the traditional classification and teach us more about art along the way. In the Content Era, a twenty five minute package of tracks can have the ambition and scope of a traditional ten to fifteen track album. A barely movie sized story like the streaming show darling Fleabag can tell a serialized, evolving story while a grandiose behemoth of technology and star power like The Irishman can pop up on your netflix feed on a random Tuesday night.

The flip side to this is neither are likely to be remembered the following month beyond a footnote. Nothing feels like a cultural behemoth along the lines of Jaws, Star Wars, or even Game of Thrones, which ended recently but started well before we had truly entered The Era of Content. That is ultimately the streaming era’s legacy – art without limitations or societal importance.

 

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