Kanye West

Kanye West is officially the richest Black man in the United States.

According to multiple media outlets, the 43-year-old rapper-producer is worth an estimated $6.6 billion, with over half coming from his clothing and sneaker line Yeezy. West's billionaire status became public back in April of 2020.

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Albums That Made You Want to Join a Cult in 2019

From the self-care cult of Lizzo to Lingua Ignota's cult of vengeful women.

2019 saw a lot of fabulous releases, but which ones will stand the test of time?

While some albums are critically acclaimed but then rapidly fade into obscurity, others are so good that they could easily inspire cults. The albums on this list may not have been the year's most highly acclaimed, but they are the most likely to inspire (if they haven't already) massive cultural shifts and changes that will persist long into the 1920s.

1. Lingua Ignota — Caligula

Lingua Ignota's raging, heavy, monstrous Caligula mixes harsh noise with effects and lyrics that blend liturgical services with murderous impulses. It's a howl of rage that damns all abusers to eternal hell and suffering; and, at a time when women are getting tired of the inaction that accompanied #MeToo, Caligula could easily inspire a cult of women to take to the streets and take back what was taken from them.

LINGUA IGNOTA - DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR (official audio) www.youtube.com

2. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You

The cult of Lizzo is already in full swing, and it looks like it's only going to continue to grow. Lizzo already has tremendous sway, and her lyrics are ubiquitous in Instagram captions and in politicians' Twitter feeds. As many of us resolve to get over self-hate and turn over a new leaf in 2020, Lizzo will certainly only gain notoriety and acclaim. It's easy to imagine a massive group of Twerking, face mask-using, body-positive Lizzo fans and imitators snapping selfies, going viral, and starting the defining cult of the next decade.

Lizzo - Cuz I Love You (Official Video) www.youtube.com

3. 100 gecs — 1000 gecs

100 gecs didn't mean for their album to go viral, but their absurd, chaotic collection of angsty electronica has sparked a revival movement for ex-scene kids who moved out of their small towns into big cities and immediately gravitated to the local noise venue. Like the best memes, the duo's meme-inspired album toes the line between hyper-seriousness and total parody, and ultimately it hits the perfect level of absurdity for what's going to be a very chaotic decade.

100 gecs - money machine (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

4. Tyler, the Creator — Igor

The Igor wigs were one of this Halloween's most popular costumes, and it's likely that Tyler, the Creator and his Igor alter-ego aren't going away anytime soon. Tyler, the Creator was already powerful enough to inspire Frank Ocean to start his music career, and Igor was a master-class in the art of transformation—and really, who wouldn't follow him to the edges of the Earth?

IGOR'S THEME www.youtube.com

5. BTS — Map of the Soul, Persona

The BTS ARMY is already a kind of cult, and the group's powers are continuing to escalate. They're even going to ring in 2020 as special guests on New Years' Rockin' Eve in Times Square. If BTS asked their fans to do anything or cancel anyone, there's no real doubt of what would result, and in the 2020s as algorithms become the center of warfare, the ability to instantly get something trending is a unique and formidable superpower.

BTS (방탄소년단) 'DNA' Official MV www.youtube.com

6. Kanye West — Jesus Is King

This one is contestable, because cult experts have reviewed Kanye West's Sunday Services movement and have determined that it doesn't really have the signs of an actual cult. It's just really, really born-again Christian. Whether you think Christianity itself is a cult is another discussion (but also, it is).

Kanye West - Jesus is King - Sunday Service Experience (The Forum - 11.03.19) www.youtube.com

7. Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center

Earlier this year, Phoebe Bridgers (emo-folk queen of the late 2010s) and Conor Oberst (emo-folk king of the 2000s) came together to create a cult-inspired emo-folk band about apathy, drunk nights out, and togetherness. They're definitely trying to recruit you, though it's not clear if BOCC practices any specific ideology or if they're just real sad about everything but still excited to hang out.

Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan Thomas www.youtube.com

What artists or albums would you follow all the way to Jonestown?

Kanye West's Sunday Services have generated a lot of speculation and theories and certainly have inspired more than a few evangelicals.

Back in December, Kanye West and Joe Rogan discussed the possibility that Kanye might come on Rogan's show to do a "serious interview speaking on mental health." However, the show was later canceled, and Rogan just recently stated that he thinks Kanye is "starting a new cult. It's clear, he's on his way," he said. "It's probably gonna be huge."

Kanye's Sunday Services have been drawing comparisons to cults since their inception. "It's got the early trappings [of a cult], I guess we could say," cult expert and sociologist Janja Lalich said to Vox. To better understand whether or not Kanye West is starting a cult, or if you're looking to start one of your own, here are five characteristics shared by the average cult.


1. Cults have charismatic, unquestioned leaders

Cults are nothing without their leaders. A great cult leader is able to persuade followers that they're the messiah, unquestionably knowledgeable and endowed with the secrets to the universe. Leaders often create stories about their own greatness, starting small and then building themselves into a messiah-like figure.

2. Cults use some form of brainwashing or indoctrination

Cults indoctrinate their members into the belief that their allegiances should always be to the cult above all else. They often do this by using a process called indoctrination, which slowly persuades people to fall completely for the cult's ethos. Cults use indoctrination to "break down a person's sense of self," according to How Stuff Works, using techniques like thought reform, isolation, induced dependency, and eventually, dread. As far as we know, Kanye hasn't yet done this.

The New Yorker

3. Cults use an "us versus them" mentality

Members of cults are taught to believe that all of their own beliefs are absolutely, unquestionably correct, while others' are fundamentally flawed. Interestingly, many cults actually aren't religious, though many cult members were raised religious but left their faiths.

4. Cults are exclusive—and lavish praise on their recruits

Most cults make their recruits feel special and seen, eventually convincing them that the cult is worth giving up their lives for. People who join cults tend to suffer from low self-esteem and a desire to belong to a group as well as naive idealism, according to Psychiatric Times, making them prime targets for cult recruitment.

5. Cults often exploit their members

More often than not, cults wind up exploiting their members, either monetarily, sexually, or both. Once recruits are totally indoctrinated into the cult, lavished with attention and completely convinced to swear loyalty to the cult, then the exploitation usually starts.

Judging by these criteria, Kanye West is probably not starting a cult.

West does have some characteristics of a cult leader in that he's always believed in his own genius; but for now, it seems like the Sunday Services are just experimental efforts to blend West's love of music promotion with his newfound born-again faith. Actually, most cults seem far more malicious than what Kanye is trying out—thus far, his organization has nothing on, say, the cult of capitalism, or the cult of Christianity.

Cults are part of the fabric of American life. Make sure you know the signs, and if you ever feel tempted to accept any form of Kool-Aid, think again.


A Nebuchadnezzar Opera: Kanye's Problematic Brand of Old Testament Christianity

Nebuchadnezzar was a power hungry anti-Semite, who burned down Jerusalem and enslaved the Jewish people. Kanye wants to sing about him.

"I believe God is using me to show off," Kanye West recently told Zane Lowe.

"He's like, now let me take this Nebuchadnezzar type character...he looked at his kingdom and said 'I did this,' And God said, 'Oh for real, you did this?'" West goes on to describe that Nebuchadnezzar was supposedly bipolar and that when the king attempted to take credit for God's work, God made sure "he was driven away from people and ate grass like an ox. His body drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." In summation, West believed his mental breakdown in 2017 was an act of God, and that it was God's way of humbling him and reminding him of who was in charge. West said, "Nebuchadnezzar was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and he was still king." Now, West announced he will premiere an opera based on the life of the biblical king at Hollywood Bowl this year.

Kanye West performs in Houston jail with his Sunday Service choir www.youtube.com

After the king of Judah staged a failed rebellion against Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, the latter was enraged and vowed to punish King Zedekiah for his transgressions. In 588 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar's army marched to the walls of Jerusalem and surrounded the city, cutting off the Jewish people from the fields outside of the city, which they relied on for food. For a year and a half, the Babylonian army starved out the Jewish people. It's written in the Book of Jeremiah that the corpses began to pile up in the streets of Jerusalem and disease began to engulf the city. The Babylonians finally lay siege to the city in 586 BCE, when the Jewish people were far too weak to defend themselves. At the order of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army set Jerusalem ablaze in the 9th of Av (now known as Tisha B'Av in July), 586 BCE and burned the city to the ground, including the first Jewish temple. The army then forced the surviving Israelites to march back to Babylon, where they became enslaved to Nebuchadnezzar. In Judaism, the 9th of Av is recognized as a day of intense mourning, as it is marked as the beginning of what would become decades of enslavement.

West's respect and admiration for one of history's most recognized anti-Semites is problematic in its own right, but West does share an uncanny resemblance to Nebuchadnezzar in his approach to Christianity. His Sunday Service performances have dissolved into revival like affairs, with audience members kneeling and accepting Jesus as their one true savior. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar, after a series of dreams, decreed that nobody in Babylon should speak against God and forced his subjects to accept the supremacy of a one true lord.

This kind of militant view of Christianity is something Kanye has in common with Nebuchadnezzar, who was famously dismissive of those who stood against him and retaliated against his perceived enemies with violence. "There will be a time where I am president of the United States, and I will remember, I will forgive, but I will remember, any founder that didn't have the capacity to understand what we were doing," West told Zane Lowe. "Interesting tone though," Lowe responded with a laugh, "it's sort of like a threatening hybrid." West's smile quickly turned into a grimace. "What? I'm supposed to forget?"

The opera is set to premiere at the Hollywood Bowl on November 24.


Can Trump-Hating Christians Enjoy Kanye West's "Jesus Is King"? (And Other Questions)

Kanye West has seen the light, but what does that mean for the rest of us?

Kanye West's Jesus Is King asks a lot of questions of the listener, though maybe not the kinds that its creator intended.

Then again, for thousands of years, the Bible itself has been raising questions that seem to have nothing to do with its actual text.

One question: If we could erase the events of the past few years—if we could spin time back to before the MAGA hats and the "slavery was a choice" comments—how differently would we receive Jesus Is King? One would imagine that though it might disappoint some West purists and ingratiate some evangelicals, many of us wouldn't have been quite as struck by it as we are. Musically, Jesus Is King is a collage of gospel and rap, a choppy and inconsistent mix of revelations and verses. Technically, it fits into West's varied but always innovative catalogue. And yet, because of the cultural context into which West has released it, and because we can't turn time backwards no matter how hard we try, it's hard to see it as separate from politics.

West isn't the first musician to have a born-again experience. Great musicians often take a sharp turn for the spiritual at some point in their careers, and Christianity seems to be the most common choice. There was the time that Bob Dylan began preaching to audiences, telling them that Jesus was the final product of the a-changing times (he later converted back to Judaism). Elvis created an entire album of gospels (though he was also blamed for the downfall of Christianity). The theme is most prominent in black American music, and West is operating in the tradition of figures like Little Richard, who veered towards rock and roll's satanism in the 1960s, then became an evangelical minister.

Interestingly, most of these artists went through a kind of "wilderness" period, a time when the public turned against them. Many turned to drug use and then to Christianity, and back again, seeking escape and redemption through ecstatic experiences.

Anyone who's been on the Internet in the past five years will know that Kanye West has always sought out ecstasy, and he's been wandering through the wilderness for a while now. He's clearly seen God on some mountain, become convinced that the gospels are the way out of the darkness. And he's known darkness: He suffers from unmedicated bipolar disorder, a consistent theme that can't be ignored in a discussion of West's new work.

This raises other unanswerable questions about Jesus Is King, such as the looming question of just how much Kanye's mental illness has to do with all this. Mental illness and spirituality do tend to run close together, with many revelations resembling hallucinations and sages and the faithful being written off as madmen, and art has balanced on the seam between madness and the sublime since time immemorial.


Christianity's Problem of Evil: Kanye West's Reckoning

West has flirted with Christianity and all its questions since before he was born again, blurring his own selfhood with Jesus Christ since he began creating. His ability to fuse the Bible with camp and sex is what gives a lot of his early work so much power.

A lot of West's best work utilizes Christianity in a healing and humanizing way that's almost entirely absent from Jesus Is King, though at some points, like in "On God" and "Use This Gospel," flickers of the sublime seep through. It's the same sublime that you can hear in full and undistilled form on older songs like "Saint Pablo," ringing clear through lyrics like, "Looking at the church in the night sky / wondering when and where God's gonna say hi." The song takes on Biblical proportions, invoking a sense of spirit even in the most secular listener, perhaps by evoking some Bible verses. "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place," reads Psalm 8:3. "I see Thy heavens, a work of Thy fingers, Moon and stars that Thou didst establish."

Objectively, the Bible is an extraordinary body of work, one that taps into the primal desires that unite humankind. How else could it have flooded so many millions of people with a fiery, supernatural kind of passion? There's something alluring about its promise of sacredness, it's clear pathway to heaven, its promise that no matter how much you've sinned, all you need to do is swear your soul to Jesus just before you die, and you'll be redeemed. If you've ever really regretted your past actions, if you've ever felt truly lost, you can see why Christianity is so appealing. At the core of Christianity is the promise of unconditional forgiveness through faith alone.

Perhaps (and here's where I buy my train ticket to hell), that promise of easy forgiveness has something to do with why Christianity has incentivized so much evil. Hatred for those who sin is written into the Old Testament itself, which legitimizes the genocide and massacre of the Canaanites (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21) and other societies, and the god of that holy book is vengeful, vitriolic, and totally unforgiving.

None of this is to say that Christianity is evil. Undistilled, in its perfect form, tempered by Jesus Christ's gospel, Christianity—like most religions—is a pure and compassionate religion, dedicated to getting people to be kind to their neighbors and to treat themselves and others with love. There are also countless different forms of Christianity, and it can never be distilled into the binary of good or evil (even though much of the faith is built on that very binary). Christianity also has a sacred and ancient position in the black church, one that West is definitely channeling. "Gospel is a music of the overwhelmed, the weary," a genre built on a sense of "black perseverance" which "comes and goes on Jesus Is King," according to Vulture.

But to make a sweeping statement, when Christianity meets the brokenness of humanity on Earth, when it brushes up against the chaos of the contemporary world and all our human greed and desire and falls into the hands of the ruling class, it seems to have a tendency to grow contorted and cruel. This rarely causes it to lose its persuasiveness, though, and because of this, it has too easily become a powerful weapon that legitimizes colonization, enslavement, fear of otherness, and all manners of evil masquerading as holiness.

So it is with Jesus Is King, an album that performs faithfulness and promises redemption but cannot be taken out of the context of who Kanye is and what he seems to stand for. Perhaps West's new album is, if not perfect, pure in intention. But when it crushes up against the reality of what's going on in America right now, when it's listened to through the lens of West's values and politics, it begins to crumble.

Empty Promises: America and the Church

Jesus Is King is not an empty album, but it's built on empty ideals. Pitchfork called it an "album of slogans," and its few non-denominational verses are full of consumerist statements. The Ringer calls it an "altar call to the captive Instagram generation propped up on the most digestible bits of Christianity, diluted in the language of self-care." Often, the album's message only highlights the emptiness of the foundations it stands on.

This emptiness is not new. It's existed in every church that preached kindness but burned dissidents at the stake. It exists in governments that preach liberty but incarcerate their poor for minor offenses. It's at the heart of the Trump Administration, and in this day and age, West's music—no matter how holy it seems to be—can't be extricated from West's relationship with Donald Trump.

Though the president hasn't yet commented, West's album has pleased Donald Trump Jr., who Tweeted, "Kanye West is cracking the culture code." It's been praised by Pamela Geller, notorious for her anti-Muslim sentiments. As Jay Connor writes, "All the wrong kinds of people love Jesus Is King."

Is it wrong to denounce Jesus Is King because of West's politics? There's a fundamental dissonance here, perhaps a central dissonance of our time. Can we separate the art from the artist, the church from the state, the politics from the human? What could be wrong with a religious album, one that preaches love—and isn't it hypocritical to let political differences get in the way of this love?

The problem here is that, from a liberal or humanist perspective, it's simply impossible to extend love and compassion to people who are willing to deny others' humanity and right to exist. Christians have the right to be Christians, obviously, but worshiping Jesus Christ shouldn't give you permission to be a terrible person.

In the middle of Kanye West's Sunday Service, a preacher stands up and delivers a sermon about John 3:16, which he describes as an "ocean of love written in blood." "You're invited today," he says. "It doesn't matter how far you've fallen... It just takes one step back. One step of repentance."


But does love have to be written in blood? Does repentance always equal redemption? Why is a religion that preaches love and life so popular with a political party that is allergic to the concept of taxing a wealthy few in order to support the weak? None of these questions can really be distilled down to the level that statement implies, and yet more and more, I find myself asking these kinds of questions, getting lost in their loopholes, realizing that political differences can stretch as deeply as religious differences, and that both conservatives and liberals see the others as Satan.

Waking Up from the God Dream: Where Does Kanye Go from Here?

As I wrote this article, I was listening to Kanye perform his Sunday Service experience at the Forum in Los Angeles. He alternated new songs from Jesus Is King with some of his more religious old songs, including the chorus of "Ultralight Beam," a song I once listened to with the same reverence I imagine some people cling to Bible verses with.

The Sunday Service version was beautiful, but I missed the rap verses. I missed the anger, I missed the raw humanity that gave Kanye West's music its sense of true ecstasy.

Still, I understand his decision to defect to Christ. There's so much fear around, it's easy to want to find a solution in a man who promises he'll save you, be it Trump or God, in someone who promises he'll smite anyone who gets in the way of your right to liberty and redemption.

I know that no matter how much any of us says or writes against Kanye, I understand why he chose to defect from the pain of reality, into the sweet dream state of Jesus Christ's forgiveness. I think to survive everything that's coming, we do need spirituality. We need to confront our minds before we can change our reality, and we cannot survive and change the world while believing that we have no purpose or guiding light.

But we don't need the kind of Jesus Christ that Kanye West is preaching about right now, not the kind that believes in covering up and ignoring the horrific evils of America in exchange for a perfunctory faith and a deluded nationalism. We need (or perhaps I dream of) the kind of Christ who appears on "Ultralight Beam," who exists in the nightclubs as well as at the altar, who doesn't tacitly endorse hate or forgive just because he's been asked. West is so close. Perhaps he's just a revelation away from embracing a more empathetic and socially aware kind of understanding. If he ever does, that's a Sunday Service I'd wake up for.

Kanye West has finally deigned to release his long awaited new album, Jesus is King.

After multiple missed release dates and increasingly bizarre tweets and statements from the MAGA hat-wearing husband of Kim Kardashian, fans got an album that, while entertaining, is nothing new. Sure, it's radically different from anything Kanye has released in the past, and while it has its moments (if you can overlook the often off-putting preachy content of the album) it's a pretty classically-styled gospel album. But Kanye wouldn't be Kanye if he gave any credit to the icons of the genre whose work undoubtedly influenced "Jesus is King." Instead, Kanye is acting like he invented gospel music.

Instead of streaming "Jesus is King" and giving money and attention to a mentally ill zealot with problematic and damaging opinions, stream these 5 classic gospel albums.

Cold World by Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens

Naomi Shelton has been singing gospel music since the 1950s, and this album makes it clear she's an authority on the genre. "Bound for the Promised Land" is a stirring, ultimately hopeful look at the state of the world.