Though public opinion regarding Kanye West over time could be accurately depicted by a sine wave, one thing that’s remained consistent throughout his storied career is the fact that his music tends to leak with alarming frequency. But even by Kanye West standards, the month of September saw an unprecedented number of leaks — we’re talking hundreds upon hundreds of files that date as far back as 2008, including any and everything from freestyled mumble demos and fully finished songs to rough cuts of a visual album and feature-length documentary.
Of course, the main attraction here is what appears to be a complete album, Jesus Is King: The Dr. Dre Version, which was originally teased on Twitter back in late 2019, and then apparently shelved without much fanfare — yet another Kanye album to add to his Scrooge McDuck-sized vault of scrapped projects.
As the title suggests, the project is a collaboration between two of rap’s most legendary producers that serves to remix West’s 9th studio album, Jesus Is King, with all new production from Dr. Dre. The Dr. Dre Version remixes most of the same songs that appeared on the original release, but with a rearranged track list and a couple new songs swapped out in place of old ones. As an outlier, “Intro/Every Hour/Selah” combines the first two songs from Jesus Is King into one, mixing and melding them into an overall superior version that sets the stage for what ends up being a more lively rendition of the album than the Kanye original. Dre’s new production elevates the sluggish “Selah” to the point that it almost feels like a new vocal take, despite them appearing to be the same recording.
Jesus Is King is seen by many fans as the lowest point — well, lowest musical point — of his career. It’s not simply that his verses are lacking, but that his delivery often felt lethargic to the point that it made you wonder how much he really cared about music anymore. This is in part what makes it so surprising to hear Kanye rap like he does on “Water” — one of two new Ye verses on the album — where he delivers one of his most energetic verses in years, reminiscent of a pre-MAGA hat, perhaps even pre-Kim K Kanye West. “Closed on Sunday” also receives a new Ye verse (along with a quick but effective eight bars from Anderson .Paak), where he gives us a glimpse of his struggles with alcohol addiction, rapping about hiding bottles “in a drawer like a hotel Bible.” It makes you wonder where the guy who can rap like this has been for the past six or seven years.
The Dr. Dre Version feels more alive at its best moments not just due to the new instrumentals themselves, but the glossier topcoat that often characterizes Dre’s modern production. It even makes Travis Scott — whose guest verses are typically even more devoid of personality and charm than they are on his albums — sound awake when he delivers one of his better performances in years on “Hands On.” This glossy Dr. Dre sheen is perhaps best exemplified on “LA Monster,” an entirely new addition to the album, which combines gospel with a more electronic, industrial twinge. It’s one of the few instrumentals that truly feels like Kanye-Dre coproduction, featuring Kanye West ideas but with Dr. Dre execution.
There are points, however, where Dre’s more maximalist production hinders the album rather than helps it. Dre’s rendition of “Everything We Need” would only serve to further exemplify just how lazy some of Ye’s Jesus Is King verses are if the beat wasn’t so awkward and busy that it distracted you from Kanye altogether. Likewise, the production on “On God” is vastly inferior to Pi’erre Bourne’s space-age original, and songs like “God Is” fail to move the needle much one way or the other. They only serve to beg the question — did most of these songs need to be remixed in the first place?
Most of the album’s highlights either contain enough new material that they feel more like sequels than remixes (“Water,” “Closed on Sunday”) or are new additions altogether (“LA Monster”), with the rest feeling mostly superfluous. It makes it all the more glaring that the issues with Jesus Is King never had much to do with its beats, but with Kanye’s verses and delivery. The intro track is the rare exception on Jesus Is King 2 where a new instrumental reinvigorates an old recording, but even Dre’s magic touch can only go so far to improve muddy, lackadaisical performances, some of which Ye himself admitted he recorded on an iPhone microphone.
At the end of the day, the songs with new vocals are mostly improvements over their original counterparts (discounting “Use This Gospel” — it’s a solid late-career Eminem verse, but it doesn’t beat Kenny G and a Clipse reunion), but when taken as a whole and compared to the Kanye version, it’s largely a wash. There’s no rule that says the goal of a remix album should be to improve upon its predecessor — many remix albums stand side-by-side with their initial releases — but with an album that received as lukewarm reception as Jesus Is King, one would hope that a mulligan would bear a little more fruit. The new material on Jesus Is King 2 makes it worth a listen, if only for the novelty of a Dr. Dre and Kanye West collaboration — but no one would blame you for being uninterested in an album signing the virtues of one religion made by a guy who spent months going on a press tour spreading hate about people who follow another.