We could judge them on a lot of factors, take for instance, their iconic personal style. But Kanye has such a clear advantage there. You can’t compare a future-eyed, forward-thinking, fashion designer to a wandering desert preacher who wore open-toed leather sandals and smelled like fish nets and sweaty feet. That wouldn’t be fair. Rather than consider easy, arbitrary, external factors, let’s consider their greatest common grounds: as saviors, as game-changers, and as musicians.
1. The Early Years
I guess you have to say the dude really began his career as a savior when he performed his first miracle and got the party started at the wedding in Canaan. He pulled the now classic Jesus move of turning water into wine. After that he manifested a few other miracles. The real showstopper was when he raised Lazarus from the dead. That dropped jaws. That’s when folks started saying, “this boy’s something else,” and that’s when JC became swaggier than JT, and transformed into a major 1st century celebrity.
After working as a producer for Jay Z on his album “Blueprint,” Yeezus labored for four years, recording and producing his debut album. The standout singles “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks” were of course the big hits from “College Dropout.” All in all, the album went Richter scale and shook-up the world when it entered the charts. Despite the miracle of his immediate popularity and his intoxicating first album, Yeezus still leaned on Jesus to gain his name and secure his first taste of fame, while Jesus performed miracles to secure his.
2. Best Verse
Both men were born to perform for a crowd. No hype man necessary because they don’t need to pass the mic; they hold others in rapt attention all by their verbal lonesome. But who’s got the best flow?
Jesus may be at a disadvantage since Yeezus spits his rhymes to a beat while the Prince of Peace preferred spoken word style. It kinda goes well with his beard. I suppose one would say the best verse Jesus ever spit was the “Sermon on the Mount.” Here’s a clip of Jesus from the “The Last Temptation of Christ” dropping street knowledge Scorsese-style. I love it when Jesus calls out to the people like a real MC:
“Can you hear me?!”
And the People respond, “Oh, we can hear you fine.”
Well, this one’s easy. Yeezus already told us which is his best verse. Where would we be without all the insights into Yeezus that he shows us in order to demonstrate why he’s a genius? Everyone knows you can spell humility without Kanye. In the tweet below, don’t let the all caps frighten you. He’s not screaming at you. He’s not angry — he just means it soo much. All the Kanye feels.
I open the debate… The 2nd verse of New Slaves is the best rap verse of all time….meaning … OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF RAP MUSIC, PERIOD
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 20, 2013
So, here it is. Yeezus performing “New Slaves” live on SNL. Listen for the second verse. From what I’ve heard it’s the Best. Ever. In. The. History. Of. Rap. Music. Period. Kanye. West.
The Sermon on the Mount boasts the beatitudes, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and a few solid parables; but let’s face it, we’re all still talking about it because of the food. Everyone there shared some magically multiplying desert sushi and artisanal handmade miracle bread. They enjoyed what was possibly the greatest spontaneous picnic in all of human history (and the world’s first Ted talk). But when you compare it to the second verse of “New Slaves.” It doesn’t hit reality nearly as hard. I gotta agree with Kanye. Don’t forget God’s a co-writer on the track… Y’know, that helps. It just sucks for Jesus that his dad helped Kanye beat him. This round, I’d have to say…
3. Whose Savior game is stronger?
You can’t say Jesus started Christianity. It was born of the efforts of that mad letter-writing apostle Paul and the canonical gospel writers and other early church fathers. But the Jesus story – that brand – has really lasted. And Jesus started that. He built the brand. And he guarded his story. He told it. Jesus was particularly adept at defining himself by denying or contradicting what others said about him. From the gospel of Mark, Chapter 15, Verse 2:
“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
You’ll notice Jesus and Yeezus kinda have that in common. Gotta hand it to them – one must be self-defining. A savior does shit on his terms.
However, Jesus takes it to the next level. He reps the savior figure hard for a huge percentage of humanity. Like, just look at what he’s done for sports and insane people. Jesus is the Michael Jordan of saviors. And don’t forget the cults, for 2,000 years everyone’s been stealing a little of their cult leader act from Jesus. I don’t recommend we trivialize the epic downside. Millions have suffered and died in his name. We’ll just leave it at that. The critical point is there’s no doubt Jesus started telling his story of selflessness… and that story changed the world.
I tend to consider time in segments. I remember the flow of time with crystalline clarity if I can draw lines using before and after events. This works at the microcosmic level of day-to-day life, like that time before my neighbor told me she’d like to have an affair with me and then every day after that weird afternoon. You see, a very clear divide. Well that’s how it is in the macrocosmic with Kanye and hip-hop. There was the time before … and thank Yeezus, we now have Kanye. Did he save hip-hop? That question is dead and boring and not even Jesus could resurrect it. But I think even his biggest critics would have to agree it’s an inarguable statement to say Yeezus changed the face of hip-hop. He made it more interesting. Millions upon millions have bought his albums. Millions upon millions buy tickets for his shows, his merch and endorsed products. Critics, bloggers, millions of fans agree. You don’t have to like it and it can still be supercool.
Self-defining saviors, stubborn hot-heads, anti-authoritarian rabble-rousers, both men exhibit a few key shared characteristics, but when it comes to changing the game as a savior, Kanye can’t hold the mic of Jesus. Can you imagine Kanye on a cross dying for… anything? Also, Jesus has had way more years than Yeezus. The ripples he created stretch so much farther than Kanye’s ripples. This one’s easy to call:
You’ll find both Jesus and Yeezus are very concerned with their legacy. They talk about that shit constantly.
4. Best Song They Performed on South Park:
Since both dudes have celebrity swag, it’s good to take the piss out of bigger-than-life figures like Yeezus and Jesus. South Park is particularly good at that. Both men made a musical appearance in cartoon Colorado. Thus, we can fairly ask: Who did it better?
First up, Jesus duets with Santa Claus because … fuck it, why not?! They share a day, might as well share a song, too. As Jesus and Santa sing their duet, they battle over which one of them has a better song written about them. Jesus kills me when he sings this one:
Joy to the world for I have come
Let Earth receive me…
It’s all fun and games until Santa starts singing Duran Duran’s “Rio.” Jesus gets irritated since it’s technically not a Christmas song. Santa gets frustrated and points out there are 300 songs about Jesus and like four songs about Santa. Anger mixes with hurt feelings and Santa storms out, shouting over his shoulder, “Oh, fuck you, Jesus!” But don’t worry, remember, it’s Jesus. He forgives Santa and sings him back to the stage. They end the number strong like two kings of Christmas.
It’s kinda difficult to explain the appearance of Yeezus on SouthPark. But here goes:
After one of the students declares Kim Kardashian is a short overweight woman who manipulates her image to make average woman feel bad about themselves; she hammers her point home by calling Kim Kardashian a hobbit. Whether she is or is not a hobbit stirs such heated debate in the school, and tensions grow so contentious between students, a guest speaker is brought in to quell the rumors.
…And it’s Kanye West. He goes on a Kanye rant. But he doesn’t seem certain himself whether or not Kim is a hobbit. Later on, after Pope Francis wins Time’s Person of the Year, Kanye walks out on stage and “Taylor Swifts” the Pope so he can tell the world why Kim Kardashian is not a hobbit. (Isn’t that a fun sentence?)
But again, Kanye’s not certain himself even after he yells at the world what he thinks. To ensure he and the world know the truth about his fiancée, Yeezus makes a music video about their love and sings about why Kim Kardashian is definitely no hobbit.
The swirling madness of Kanye’s time in South Park ends in a great moment when Yeezus softly pleads, “Please God, tell me I’m not engaged to no hobbit.” But as Genius as that moment is, was and forever shall be, the Jesus and Santa duet crushes all competition. It’s a better musical selection, and need I remind you, Santa stormed off the stage saying, “Fuck you, Jesus!” I think we have to say…
5. Greatest Duet With God:
Since they both claim such intimate relationships with God, let’s look at a time when they performed together with the Almighty Everything.
Arguably, you could say every song Jesus performs is a duet with God. (But let’s keep ‘em apart for the time being.) Pulling this tune from the Jesus Christ Superstar songbook, we find Jesus singing mad at his dad about why he must suffer and die to fulfill his mission on Earth. And he’s not getting an answer. Remember, Jesus is kinda a hot-head. And strong-willed as he is, he keeps singing louder and louder, until his dad finally answers with a cloud-breaking sunrise. It’s the new dawn that symbolizes his legacy. You’ll find both Jesus and Yeezus are very concerned with their legacy. They talk about that shit constantly.
For now, like freedom, let Jesus sing. (Btw, check the notes he hits starting around 2:55 and 3:33 – they’re flourishes of cock rock pyrotechnics.)
Technically, Kanye and God not only dueted on this track, but the Architect of the Universe also co-wrote “Black Skinhead.” He’s always been considered a major contributor to Kanye’s work, but particularly on the Yeezus album. I’m not certain, but I think God was co-writer on all but two tracks. I could be wrong about that.
With this song, although you can’t actually hear God performing you get a sense of a presence somewhere in the booming drums and that overdriven sound (unless of course, you’re an atheist, and then I presume you’d just attribute that extra presence to Kanye — whatever). Robbing from the oldest of old school, coming back ham with some Old Testament mood, God and Kanye spit fire on this one. As it draws close, Kanye chants “God” over and over again like a mantra to end his hip-hop prayer. Funny thing is, I think he’s talking about himself.
They both went big papa in their duets with God. And you kinda have to. Otherwise you’re gonna get intimidated by the Big G. In this case, the winning track is such an undeniably monster theme song for anyone who nods their head to it, so you gotta say…
6. the Haters:
The realest real thing about being Jesus or Yeezus is how they exemplify the modern notion: you’re defined by your haters. Your greatness is given shape by the tension between your loving fans and the assholes who never have a single good thing to say about you, the haters who gleefully crucify you for being on some next level shit. It’s hard being Yeezus or Jesus.
Going back to Jesus Christ Superstar, let’s pluck one of the best songs to ever explore the hater mentality. The Pharisee priests feel threatened by this “Jesus-mania.” He’s made them so terrified of losing power they scheme and plot “a permanent solution to their problem.” The head priest, Caipahas, with his bellowing bosso profundo just murders this song dead as he declares, “This Jesus must die…” It’s a wicked catchy little ditty.
Speaking of wicked catchy songs, this may be my favorite song by Yeezus. You might think I’m pulling that “I prefer his early stuff” attitude, I say it because the song slams harder than a busload of sumo wrestlers crashing into a SmartCar. It hits harrrrd. Dedicated to all those folks who get burnt by society, Yeezus explains how Jesus helps him get through the fire of his life. And yet he can’t tell the world because of the threat of financial implications if he does. But Yeezus decides truth matters more than ducats.
Well if this takes away from my spins
which’ll probably take away from my ends
then I hope it takes away from my sins
and brings the day that I dream about
everybody in the club screaming out
When you stand up you might intimidate someone else. And when you scare a human out comes the hate. How do you handle the hate? Jesus struggles with it. Remember in his song, Jesus pleaded with his father to understand why he must die and how it’s all part of some grand plan – it’s a rare moment of doubt for the rabble-rouser from Galilee. Surprisingly, Yeezus outdoes Jesus and keeps his cool and says he’s willing to enter into a sorta reverse-Faustian bargain with God. If God will give him his dreams, he’ll take the hate and even lose out on the paper. He just wants to be recognized as the god he is. Out of sheer defiant bravery, I gotta say…
Would you look at that! Never count him out. The man is an indefatigable genius. Somehow, some way, Yeezus battled back. Down 3-1, he catapulted himself back into contention for the Greatest Of All Time. Jesus thought he had this one nailed down. (Oh, sorry.) But now, it’s all come down to this final question. And since, one might say, all human life boils down to an expression of love that ought to make for a perfect tie-breaker. So, who will it be: Yeezus … or Jesus?
What’s their best advice on Love?
Some might disagree but, I think most biblical scholars would say the greatest comment on love Jesus ever made in the bible was, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Simple, direct, expansive. Covers it all. Love yourself. Identify yourself in others. Love them like they were you.
From his hit, “Love Lockdown,” we’ll pull these lyrics that seem to capture the bright bloody Valentine center of Kanye’s heart:
I’m not lovin’ you the way I wanted to
I can’t keep my cool, so I keep it true
I got somethin’ to lose, so I gotta move
I can’t keep myself and still keep you, too
Yeezus gives us love in its finest distillation. If I can’t keep my cool and love you the way I want to … I gotta cut and run. I can’t do me and do you at the same time. Sorry not sorry. I love you too much to lie or linger. And I love me more. Goodbye. Y’see all that love? He loves her, loves himself, loves freedom. It’s honest love Yeezus style. How do you love someone? You love them second. And there it is…
Greatest of all time: Yeezus*
(*Look, I picked Kanye because he offered to pay my bills for a year. It ain’t easy out here for a freelancer, so I took the cash. Yeezus corrupted me. Sorry. … And if you must ask, yes, none of this is serious. Smile, it’s just life!)