Kanye West is one of the most polarizing and unpredictable figures in music today, inspiring adoration from his fans, disgust from his detractors, and endless curiosity from many in between. With the release of his ninth album on Friday, the gospel-themed Jesus Is King, he’s sure to inspire further debate, including whether it qualifies as a true gospel record and whether West is sincere in his spiritual journey.
Regardless, his latest musical effort has the potential to draw new fans to the gospel genre. So if Jesus Is King piqued your interest in gospel music, here are five more albums to check out.
God’s Property From Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation – God’s Property
For the opening of this iconic 1997 album, contemporary gospel cornerstone Kirk Franklin narrates: “For those of you that think that gospel music has gone too far, you think we’ve gotten too radical with our message. Well, I’ve got news for you. You ain’t heard nothing yet. And if you don’t know, now you know.”
And he was right. Nu Nation brought gospel to a core audience that had gotten used to the slick, bombastic R&B production techniques popularized in the ’90s. His efforts resulted in the album debuting at number No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts, making it the highest-charting gospel album to date at the time.
Key song: “Stomp (Remix)”
The Nu Nation Project – Kirk Franklin
Yes, we’re cheating by listing two Franklin projects, but it would be criminal not to place this 1998 album here, considering it’s the body of work that gave us yet another iconic Franklin track with “Revolution.” The album features artists like Mary J. Blige and Bono, signaling early on that Franklin would go on to be a cross-genre collaborator.
Key song: “Revolution”
Thankful – Mary Mary
Mary Mary released their debut album in 2000, and what a mighty debut it was. The twentysomething duo became instantly popular because while their music leaned into the contemporary gospel realm, it featured catchy hip-hop beats thanks to producer Warren Campbell and even included Destiny’s Child as guests. The gospel duo remained true to the genre by staying on religious message and drew listeners with their nearly perfect melodies and harmonization. The album has a lot of bangers, but “Shackles (Praise You),” “I Sings,” and “Wade in the Water” are among its best.
Key song: “Shackles”
Love Unstoppable – Fred Hammond
It’s baffling how West managed to make a boring track (“Hands On”) with Fred Hammond considering the man is a gospel legend. Hammond has been a member of gospel groups the Winans and the Commissioned, and when he finally went solo he came up with 2009’s Love Unstoppable. The album strongly resonated with not just gospel fans, but more mainstream audiences thanks to an avant-garde combination of sounds from funk, disco, rock, jazz, and R&B. Add Hammond’s smooth voice to the mix, and it was destined for success.
Key song: “Awesome God”
Mountain High… Valley Low – Yolanda Adams
Yolanda Adams’ 1999 album Mountain High… Valley Low is one for the ages. Adams unleashed her crossover appeal with the song “Open My Heart,” which found its home on many R&B stations. The song would also go on to be remixed by artists like Junior Vasquez and Pound Boys, taking the song from the church to the club.
Key song: “Open My Heart”