Over the past fifteen years, Kanye West’s influence in the popular culture has had no parallel.
He has led the reshaping of hip-hop. His shoe brands have been top sellers. He has been successful in dozens of business and philanthropic ventures. Critics love him. Fans love him. He has angered people and inspired them. Like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Prince, he has it—a mysterious something that has always transcended the words and music he records. When he married Kim Kardashian in 2014, his mystique took on a whole new energy. When his 2016 album Life of Pablo came out, much vulgarity remained, but it was clear he was headed in a religious direction. “This is a God dream,” he declared on the opening track, “Ultralight Beam.” By 2018 he admitted publicly that he had been diagnosed as bipolar. In 2019 he made his landmark Christian record Jesus Is King, formed his Sunday Service Choir, and renounced secular music forever.
On Christmas Day 2020, his Sunday Service Choir built on the foundation of their astonishing Gospel record, Jesus Is Born, released exactly one year earlier, and came out with a five-song EP of medieval-inspired chanting and harmonizing. It is called Emmanuel, which so baffled the secular music world detached from the basics of Christianity that the reviewer for Pitchfork.com wrote, “According to press materials, Emmanuel means ‘God is with us.’”