Alright guys, JESUS IS KING has been out now for over two days, which has given me ample time to formulate my initial analysis of the narrative structure of the album. Keep in mind, this is only my initial thoughts. Interpreting Kanye albums is always like finding your way through a conceptual maze so it takes time to decode the main themes and narrative scope.
In my initial analysis, a 1-4-1-4-1 structure made the most sense. I know some say there is no structure, while others like Chris and Travis from the Kanye Podcast speculate there is 5-1-5 structure at the moment. However, both interpretations failed to live up to close scrutiny. Kanye albums always read as a (fairly) linear movie built up chronologically, and JIK is no outlier.
Regarding the idea of the 5-1-5, I’m still discussing with Travis and Chris about this, but there are several reasons why this interpretation is a bit shaky. I won’t go through all of it, but the beginning and closing tracks are both exclusively and entirely religious-themed; they both contain no rapping. They are both sonic and tonal standouts in the track-listing and don’t fit in Travis’s/Chris’s criteria for the First Act as Kanye’s “personal relationship with god” and he Second Act as Kanye’s “relationship with the public.” This is just a quick rough-draft so excuse any sloppy punctuation but this is what I’ve got so far:
1 – 4 – 1 – 4 – 1
1. Prologue (“Every Hour”): In literature, a prologue is a separate introductory section. Often times, it can have a distinct format or tone that the actual narrative of the novel doesn’t. For example, the prologue of Frankenstein is written in letters/documents while for most of the rest of the novel, its written in standard narrative form. “Every Hour” is just that: it’s a purely Gospel track with no rapping unlike the rest of the record, except for the last track and maybe even “Everything We Need.” “Every Hour” is not an exposition because it doesn’t lay out the themes and characters of the record (other than worship and faith), but it does express the back-bone and inspiration of the album which is God and the Bible.
Act 1: Learning faith and fostering faith
2. Exposition (“Selah”): introduction of themes of ‘mental slavery,’ faith, reflection of the past (“He even saved a wretch like me” and John 8:33 reference), rebirth (“The leaves’ll be green, bearing the fruit”; this foreshadows “EWN” and “Water”), revolutionary ambitions (“No white flag or no treaty/ We got the product, we got the tools”) etc.
3. (“Follow God”) Struggle with faith as demonstrated by his back-and-forth spiritual discussions with his father.
4. (“Closed On Sunday”) After learning from his father or at least learning the importance of faith, Ye now instructs faith to his wife and family
5. (“On God”) After building his home, his family and his faith he expresses his thankfulness for God; without God, he wouldn’t be successful.
6. (“Everything We Need”) A climax of sorts (a bit iffy right now if I want to label it as a climax) with the forbidden fruit question he poses to listeners and the graditudinal realization of recognizing he has “everything” he needs. Also, expresses idea of rebirth, regeneration and new beginnings with the chorus “Lay the land (Ah), it’s just the morning light.”
Act 2: Spreading faith to society
7. (“Water”) This idea of rebirth is reinforced with the “Water” symbolism. After fulfilling his familial, financial and vocational goals (in Act 1), and realizing the glory of god, he now wants to turn a new leaf with society. He’s now envisioning or catalyzing a spiritual rebirth by spreading the message of Christ and addressing his “decriers” (as you said on the podcast, Travis).
8. (“God Is”) Shows society what God is: merciful, pure, empowering and “miraculous.”
9. (“Hands On”) Addresses his critics and exposes their hypocrisy (ironically, Christians are the first ones to “judge” him).
10. (“Use This Gospel”) Instructs faith to society. The societal element works nicely as we have two new characters introduced (my literary lens kicking in; I view Pusha and No Malice as new characters in this narrative) who both acknowledge on their sinful behavior — Pusha is “crooked” and N.M reflects on those he “damaged” — and recognize the glory of God.
11. (“Jesus Is Lord”) Ends on a purely religious note, a prayer: a reference to the Second Coming. Consistent with the purely spiritual format of the prologue, and to some degree the climax (Ye raps briefly on “EWN” but it’s almost entirely spiritual with little of Ye’s opinions).