10Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam”
When Kanye West said he was making a gospel album, I don’t think any of us really thought The Life of Pablo would feature a track with Kirk Franklin, the great Kelly Price, The-Dream and Chance the Rapper (who, according to Black Twitter, has made the greatest gospel album in recent history, with Coloring Book). But we should have known that anything was possible. With all of those features, and in less capable hands (that’s Mike Dean and Swizz Beatz on the production), “Ultralight Beam” could and should have been an over-the-top mess; one of those tracks that tried too hard, shifted in tone too often, and couldn’t quite pull off the promise of greatness. But it succeeds, as a reflection of Kanye’s distinctive praise and worship style, his interpretation of the “God dream” that moves and haunts his work. The myriad voices that contribute to the story—from the child who opens the track, proclaiming, “We don’t need no devils in the house, Lord!” to Chance’s perfectly-delivered blend of pop culture, humor and Biblical verse—serve as a reminder that Kanye craves an audience as much as he craves communion. He wants to be watched while he bears witness to his God, but he also wants to watch, while those around him bear witness to theirs. “Ultralight Beam” fits in perfectly with Kanye’s oeuvre—mute the cuss words and you could almost play it at church; or better yet, it’s another attempt by Ye to push the doors of the church open a little wider, in hopes of making room for a slightly stranger religion.