"So here go my single dog radio needs this/They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?" —Kanye West
Consequence: “He already had the beat and little bit of ‘Jesus Walks’ when I met him. Of course that was Rhymefest’s record and I think they worked it out for him to keep it, but Rhymefest started it off with him. [Ed. Note—Rhymefest declined to be interviewed for this article.] Rhymefest was originally his first artist but he opted to take a deal with Mark Ronson’s Allido Records label because Kanye didn’t even have G.O.O.D. Music at the time—it was just Kon-Man Productions.”
"Jesus Walks" samples Curtis Mayfield's "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below, We're All Going To Go" (1988)
Miri Ben-Ari: “I remember him playing the track, I recorded without the lyrics. When I was recording it I was trying to go for like a Doomsday sound, kind of like classical music. I was trying to go for that vibe. I wanted to have a very romantic, soundtrack approach. But, on the other end, I wanted to have like a cutting-edge sound.”
The first video for "Jesus Walks" was directed by Michael Haussman on a budget of $650,000.
John Legend: “I did a lot of little things throughout the album that people don’t know about. Like I sang on 'Jesus Walks' even though people don’t really know it’s my voice. That part that kind of sounds like an exotic flute? That’s me singing through Auto-Tune.”
"Jesus Walks" samples The Arc Choir's "Walk With Me" (1997)
Coodie: “Kanye was the only person that was able to pull that off without falling into the category of ‘Christian Rap.’ He wound up doing two videos and he called us for the last video because he said there was a feeling that he wanted. He wanted Dave Chappelle to play Jesus but he didn’t do it.”
The second video for "Jesus Walks" was directed by Chris Milk on a budget of $500,000.
Tarrey Torae: “Kanye is very easy to record with because he knows exactly what he’s looking for. He was looking for someone with a flexible voice and I had that flexibility. When I went in the booth he would say, like, 'I want more street on this,' or 'I want more soul.' Then I’d go in and maybe on the first take we’d get it. Sometimes there would be a second or third take but never a fourth or fifth.
“He didn’t waste time in the studio at all. If people came in there and started talking and hanging out, he cut them out. You had to be in there working or get out, like don’t come in here disrupting his work. I admired that. It taught me don’t waste time in the studio because it’s money. He was very intense about it, like, 'It’s my studio, it’s my project, this is what we’re doing. And if you’re not doing this, leave.' It was great to see.
“We would walk in the studio and he would have the dry-erase board loaded with what he was doing for that day and he would have my name next to songs. So I would take notes, like, ‘These are the lyrics I need to learn. This is what we’re doing.’ I would take my notebook and sit in the corner somewhere and get ready for it. That way I knew when it was time to go in, I could go in and knock it out. [Laughs.] We all know he likes to teach. It’s a characteristic, right? It’s cool though. We’d leave at 3 in the morning, he’d be back in there by 9:30 or 10 am.”
T.I.: "Kanye came down to Atlanta to the studio [to work on 'Doin' My Job.' I remember hearing 'Jesus Walks' and I was like 'Oooooooh, I don’t know—that shit sound risky.’ That shit popped though. When I was telling Kanye, 'I don’t know, bruh' my homeboy was like, ‘That shit go.’ Kanye and my homeboy were absolutely right."
"Jesus Walks" samples Lou Donaldson's drums on "Ode To Billie Joe" (1967)
Hip Hop: “That record is probably the first record that really made me believe in him as an artist. I realized that he had potential to be a real special artist. But it didn’t work as well as we expected because it was so blatant that radio didn’t play it that much. As far as breaking barriers and being original, it definitely did a lot of that. And it won the Grammy. It made it even better that it wasn’t that big, if it was something that had been playing all day [it wouldn’t have been as good].
Kanye still hasn’t really been that big when you really think about it. His albums are consistently good, but it’s never the biggest album in any year. Like College Dropout came around the same time as Game’s The Documentary, but Game sold two times more than Kanye. —Hip Hop
“Kanye still hasn’t really been that big when you really think about it. His albums are consistently good, always critically acclaimed. But it’s never the biggest album in any year in hip-hop. It’s barely even the biggest hip-hop album at any given time. Like The College Dropout came around the same time as Game’s The Documentary, but Game sold two times more than Kanye. And that was something Ye was on: ‘I could do more. How do I reach that point?’ He still never reached it. He still never sold four million records [in the United States] on an album. The album underperformed compared to a lot of other albums but can’t nobody deny the impact that it had on music today.”
Common: “I was sitting here listening to ‘Jesus Walks’ I was like, ‘Man, that’s really amazing that you have a song in this time in hip-hop, that people played on the radio, that he performed at the Grammys, called ‘Jesus Walks. It’s not like he’s a gospel artist performing at The Grammys or that he got played at a gospel station. The song was on Hot 97. That’s groundbreaking in itself because in hip-hop we definitely talk spirituality, but most of the time it comes from an Islamic perspective because you had the Five-Percent Nation. It wasn’t even like people talking about Christianity was the coolest aspect of hip-hop. I really appreciated that he made that cool.
“That’s a testament to his talent, how he can make anything [accessible] for the average person. But it’s a testament to hip-hop too, like if you put it in the right form, people can appreciate almost anything you talk about.”