Rapper and producer Kanye West’s ninth studio album, “Jesus Is King,” has debuted on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart at No. 1, the magazine reported Sunday.
The popularity of West’s new gospel album, released Oct. 25, places him in a tie with the rapper Eminem for the most consecutive No. 1 debuts in the history of the chart.
The Billboard Top 200 ranks the most popular albums of the week, based on data collected by Nielsen Music. The rapper Jay-Z still holds the record for the most No. 1 debuts on the Billboard Top 200, with a total of 14, although they were not consecutive.
West also made his first ever appearance on Billboard’s religious charts, opening at No. 1 on both the Top Christian albums and Top Gospel albums tallies, the magazine said.
Reflections on Christianity have been part of West’s music since his 2004 debut album “The College Dropout.” His 2013 album “Yeezus” featured a single titled “I Am a God” that identified God as a featured performer.
Still, “Jesus is King” is West’s first album that focuses solely on Christian themes. During a surprise appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” last month, the musician declared, “I now have given my life to Jesus Christ, and I work for God.”
The 11-track album is free of curse words and full of religious references. The rapper reportedly asked everyone working on the project to fast and abstain from premarital sex.
The album also hints at criticism that’s been levied against West, who supports President Donald Trump and has made controversial political statements, like suggesting that slavery was a choice. In “Closed On Sunday,” he refers repeatedly to the Christian-owned fast food chain Chick-fil-A, which is popular among conservative Christians because it doesn’t open on Sundays and its charitable arm donates to anti-LGBTQ causes.
“Follow Jesus, listen and obey. No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave,” West raps.
West’s album release comes months after he started holding pop-up religious events across the country, sometimes accompanied by pastors. His wife, the reality star Kim Kardashian West, has described these “Sunday Services” as a “musical ministry” where “they talk about Jesus and God.”
Along with the album, West is also putting out an IMAX film called “Jesus Is King,” which features a choir performing gospel hymns and West’s songs, as well as text slides with scripture passages.
“He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ,” Kardashian West said about her husband on The View in September.
West’s foray into the Christian music scene has elated some Christian leaders and sparked comparisons to the Apostle Paul who, thanks to a dramatic conversion experience, went from persecuting the early Christian church to becoming a key Christian leader himself.
Curvine Brewington, a musician and pastor from Louisiana, attended a Sunday Service at Baton Rouge’s Bethany Church over the weekend. In an Instagram post, he said that hundreds of people responded to an altar call to “accept Jesus as their Lord & Savior” at the event.
“Worship was lifted, the name of Christ was exalted, the Word of God was preached, a multitude prayed together, the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, and an opportunity to respond was given,” he wrote. “Trust me when I tell you - The Spirit of the Living God was indeed present.”
Lecrae, a popular Christian hip-hop artist, told Billboard that he thinks West’s transition into gospel music will have an impact on the Christian rap community and perhaps put a “spotlight on Jesus in places where we may not have had an audience.”
″[West] sounds like a person who is excited about his new relationship with Jesus. I’m in support of that,” Lecrae said.
But others are more skeptical.
Tyler Burns, vice president of The Witness, a Black Christian collective, pointed out that West has close ties to the upper echelons of white Christian America, including people like Trump. As a result, he believes many black Christians will “question who this moment will ultimately empower.”
“Despite building his album around the transformative sound of gospel music, the robust theology that makes the black church a beacon of hope for the marginalized has been glaringly absent from Kanye’s lyrics and life,” Burns wrote in a piece for The Washington Post. “A conversion story so closely aligned with powerful people feels discordant with gospel music, a genre designed to cope with the weight of life’s most difficult trials.”