Kanye’s Album: What Does Jersey City Think?

Kanye performing album
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Kanye West’s latest album – Jesus is King – is making chart-topping history. The Gospel music-influenced album, which deals with West’s newfound faith, is eliciting a multitude of responses – some enthusiastic and some incredulous – but none neutral.

In addition to the album, the multi-award-winning artist released a film with the same title. He’s also been hosting popup “Sunday Services” in large cities such as Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta. One such service was held at a church in Queens last month. Although these productions are announced only a few days in advance, thousands of people have attended them.

The Kanye-Jersey City Connection

West has a connection with Jersey City, albeit a small one. He purportedly recorded some music in the early 2000s in Jersey City. He was living in neighboring Newark at the time.

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And then there is the surprise appearance West made to an open mic in October 2014. Kanye showed up briefly at the Wolf Juice open mic (now defunct) when it took place at The Dopeness Mexican restaurant (also closed) in Downtown. By all official accounts, that’s the last time Ye touched down in Jersey City.

Local Business Owners Give Their Opinion on Kanye

Rose Ramos owns Rhythm Central LLC on Central Ave. The record shop, which specializes in vintage music, has been in the community for about six years.

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So far, no one has come to the store looking for Jesus is King, Ramos said.  She might consider selling the album if somebody requested it, though. “Latin, jazz and rock n’ roll are our best sellers,” Ramos said.

As for Kanye’s recent conversion, Ramos is a little skeptical. “I would have to look more into it to get a better understanding of what he’s trying to convey through his new music,” she said.

Ramos is familiar with some of his earlier work. “He has evolved,” she said.

Evan Santiago, the owner of Hybrid Coffee, a popular coffee truck at Exchange Place, is thrilled with Kanye’s evolution.

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Santiago, who is a Christian, gets animated at the mention of West’s new music. “I listened to the album in one sitting in my car,” he says.

In addition to owning a coffee shop, Santiago is a designer and branding expert. He says the distinguishing factor of Kanye’s album is that “he talks about Jesus more than most existing Christian worship albums”.

Hybrid’s new brick and mortar location opens this weekend in the Heights. Is Santiago willing to play Jesus is King in the shop? His response is an emphatic “yes!”

Pastors Chime in on Kanye’s Conversion

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Most people’s beliefs undergo a quiet transformation, at least at first. Kanye West didn’t have that option, and it’s probably safe to say he wouldn’t have wanted it anyway.

His recent exploits have been particularly polarizing among Christians. Some people support him wholeheartedly, while others are decrying his conversion as false and dangerous. Still, others are more cautiously optimistic.

As Kanye himself said in “Hands On”: “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?/They’a be the first one to judge me/Make it feel like nobody love me/They’a be the first one to judge me/Feelin’ like nobody love me”

We checked in with some local Christian leaders to hear what they had to say about Kanye’s recent change of heart.

“I would never question the faith of a new believer,” says Leigh Piatt-Gonzalez, senior pastor of Hope Center Tabernacle. “Faith is a personal matter that has to be worked out individually.”

“But we have to ask ourselves, would we want any new believer, regardless of their status in life or their fame, serving in a teaching or preaching role?” Piatt-Gonzalez, who has pastored for 25 years, believes Kanye “needs time to learn more of the bible”.

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The Hope Center, which is located on Cambridge Street, is well known in the community for putting on large-scale productions that include drama, dance, and music while presenting the Gospel. “As long as someone is alongside him mentoring him, he should be OK in the long run,” she concedes. “I don’t know how much mentoring he’s already received.  Maybe he is ready.”

Councilwoman Joyce Watterman and her husband founded Continuous Flow Christian Center, located on Monticello Avenue twenty-three years ago.

“I don’t follow [Kanye] like that,” said Watterman, who was elected Jersey City Councilwoman at large in 2011 and re-elected in 2017.

“The Bible says that one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase,” she said. “Time will tell if there’s an increase in what he’s doing in the kingdom of God.”

Rev. Mario Gonzalez, also the senior pastor of Hope Center Tabernacle, believes it’s not for us to judge Kanye at this point. He recalls a passage in the Bible where Jesus says, “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-41).

“He deserves a chance,” Gonzalez says.

A Local Hip Hop Connoisseur’s POV

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Undoubtedly, some people just started paying attention to Kanye West’s music. Still, there is a fanbase that predates Jesus is King. These loyal followers have stayed the course through different stages of Kanye’s personal and professional life.

Amer Farge, a data analyst from Jersey City, is one such fan.

“I’ve been following his work, both as a producer and as an artist, from the start,” says Farge, in an email. His first exposure to the artist was as a 9-year old when he listened to West’s second studio album, Late Registration.

The theme of God and worship have always had a hand in Kanye’s music, says Farge, now 22. “Themes of revelation, intricate gospel-like samples can be found across each of his early albums. So, too, is the vivid theme of being a prophet or savior,” he said.

But none of Farge’s extensive exposure to those themes in Kanye’s previous works prepared him for what to expect from Jesus is King, he said.

“While I feel his latest album was good, I believe it’s a superficial project that leaves much to be desired.”

Farge says he came away from the album with questions, such as “What does Christianity mean to Kanye West? What does it mean to follow Jesus while navigating fame and fortune? What shortcomings has he had to overcome as part of his transformation?”

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All those questions were left unanswered following his album, he said.

“West’s surface-level analysis of what it means to be Christian leads me to believe [that] while [his] conversion may be done with the right intentions, it is not genuine.”

He concludes that West’s Sunday Service is “more of an elaborate marketing rollout as opposed to an authentic, vulnerable moment of faith and practice”.

Farge, who is of Muslim faith, said West’s proclamation that “Jesus is King” did not produce conflict for him.

“I think religion gives purpose and meaning to our lives that otherwise would be difficult to navigate. So even a proclamation that doesn’t necessarily align with my personal beliefs, I welcome.”

“When done with the right intentions, of course,” he added.

Would Ye ever show up in Jersey City?

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The last time Kanye performed in New Jersey was at the Prudential Center in October of 2016. What if he set his sights on Jersey City next time? Would there be a local venue large enough to hold one of his Sunday Services?

Watterman believes that in warm weather, Exchange Place is the obvious choice.

“We do the Fourth of July, right? We typically have over 100,000 people.”

It’s unlikely the fervor or debate about Kanye will die down by summer — the artist just announced on Twitter that Jesus is King, Part II is coming out soon.

If he ever decides to pop up, Jersey City will be ready.

Karina Philip
Author: Karina Philip