One of the most interesting developments in recent pop culture has been Kanye West’s recent conversion to Christianity. His conversion was met, perhaps fairly, with much skepticism from the secular and Christian worlds alike. After all, it was only six years ago that he released the album Yeezus, featuring tracks such as “I Am A God,” capitalized G and all, and even more recently that he released the track “I Love It” with controversial rapper Lil Pump. In this song, the two rappers discuss their love for hookups and casual sexual encounters. With this, along with Kanye’s controversial public persona, it is perfectly reasonable that his conversion would be met with skepticism. However, this would not be the first time such a figure found God, though Villanova students should need no reminder of this.
At an Augustinian institution, we are all educated on who St. Augustine was prior to his conversion: a womanizer, a gambler, and a man of lost faith. Like St. Augustine, Kanye has always had some connection to the Christian faith. Starting with his first album, The College Dropout, all the way back in 2003, Kanye sings about Jesus’ love for all people, particularly the sinners, and how Jesus walks with all of them. Unfortunately, Kanye lost this faith through his rise to fame and fortune, becoming a sex addict and a drunk. Since 2016, however, things have been changing. While he had not made a full conversion nor had he seen the light of God, it became clear that Kanye was struggling for something more than the life he had been living. As a married man and a father, he began to see that there was much more to life than the usual rapper’s life he had known.
His album “The Life of Pablo” marks his first attempt to discuss Christianity in his music, particularly on the track “Ultralight Beam,” on which Kanye repeats, “we on an ultralight beam, this is a God dream,” continuing to pray, “deliver us serenity, deliver us peace, deliver us loving, we know we need it, you know we need it.” While this album is certainly not a Gospel album like his new project, “Jesus is King”, it was Kanye’s first attempt at making Christian music. I say this not to point out that Kanye has always been a good Christian; he certainly fell off his path, as he freely admits. I say this to point out that Kanye’s recent conversion to Christianity was the result of a prolonged period of searching for something larger than himself and for the deeper meaning that he desired out of life.
One thing no one can deny is thatKanye is has had more cultural influence than almost any other artist throughout time. Far from being simply a big musician, he has been outspoken on various political issues since he got his start in rap, and has built a multi-billion dollar fashion brand. His music has influenced the way all artists create today, with his “808s and Heartbreak” album being widely recognized as the album that created the sound of modern hip hop. All this is to say, when Kanye speaks, it’s worth listening to him to try to figure out what is going on in the culture.
We live in a time when people are facing more loneliness, meaninglessness and depression than has ever been seen at any other point in modern history. People in my own generation are committing suicide at rates never before seen for teenagers and more and more of us are viewing our lives as meaningless and are coping with a pervasive feeling of loneliness. Many factors are contributing to this, such as the prevalence of smart phones and social media, but one of the largest factors that rarely gets talked about is the loss of God in our culture. Young people are increasingly non-religious, or do not participate in the religion that they identify with.
For most of history, meaning has been imbued onto humanity through service to a higher power through religion. Religion gives people a sense of meaning and belonging within a community of believers, and further gives them a reason to continue through the struggles of life. Kanye’s adoption of religion shows us that we have the ability to come back to this even if we had completely abandoned it. So long as we are willing to accept the cross placed upon us by religion, we will be able to persevere through life’s struggles knowing that we are loved and wanted by our community and by our creator. There will always be a place for each and every one of us in the house of God, and Kanye has helped to provide the motivation for us to see how religion can change our lives.