Midway through Kanye West’s unofficial holiday #WESTDAYEVER late last week, he promised that new music was on the way soon.
Tuesday morning, he delivered on that promise with the first single from his forthcoming album, God’s Country. Featuring Travis Scott, “Wash Us in the Blood” was mixed by Dr. Dre and comes with an accompanying music video directed by Arthur Jafa.
Following his 2019 album, Jesus Is King, Kanye is still dedicated to making religious music. Speaking with GQ a couple months ago, he explained, “I was thinking of not rapping again, because I rapped for the devil so long that I didn’t even know how to rap for God. Then one of my pastors told me, ‘My son just said that he would want a rap album about Jesus from Kanye West.’ He didn’t say, ‘Kanye West, you should do this,’ or ‘you need to do this.’ He just told me something that a child said. And that one thing made the difference.”
After giving this thing a few spins this morning, the Complex Music team put together a list of our first impressions and takeaways.
To say that Kanye has reverted back to his Yeezus era wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but “Wash Us In Blood” does have an energy that is reminiscent of Ye’s 2013 album. Similar to “Black Skinhead,” which appeared on Yeezus, Kanye’s new song is built on hard-hitting drums and experimental sounds—spray cans and The Purge-like horns—that instill a feeling of uneasiness and horror. Most will argue that “Wash Us In Blood” isn’t on the same level as his past work, but in a May 2020 interview with GQ, Kanye confirmed that he created the new record with “Yeezus-like industrial horror noises that consistently shotgun-fires a rapping, dancing, moshing West across the concrete patio like it’s an arena stage.” —Jessica McKinney
It’s another producer-by-committee effort
Since the days of Rhymefest penning “Jesus Walks,” Kanye has viewed music-making as a collective activity. That approach has only ramped up as Ye has gotten more prominent and gained access to the world’s best talent. “Wash Us In Blood” has nine credited songwriters—not unusual in hip-hop, where samples and samples-of-songs-that-have-samples can make writers’ splits unwieldy (see the famously convoluted example of folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax ending up with a writing credit on Jay-Z’s “Takeover”). But “Wash Us In Blood” also has six credited producers: Ye, BoogzDaBeast, Ronny J, FNZ (who are a duo), and Dem Jointz. (Notably, for all of the Dr. Dre co-billing on this project, the Mighty D-R-E is solely credited as a mixer, not a producer). Having half-a-dozen beatmakers on a single song continues the trend found on Jesus Is King, where eight of the 11 tracks had five or more producers, and none had fewer than three. Even on a stripped-down song like “Wash Us in the Blood,” it takes many hands to create a Kanye West beat. —Shawn Setaro
Fake News Kanye
Kanye still feels vilified. In fact, he dedicates the most substantial verse on the song to detailing how he feels misrepresented by the media. In his mind, “they don’t want Kanye to be Kanye.” Railing against the idea that everyone wants a “Calm-Ye,” Kanye’s delivery is aggressive and defiant as he raps about everyone editing his interviews and bending the truth. Of course, this is nothing new for Kanye. He’s been saying this for the majority of his career. The only difference is that he’s using new language to make the same point he’s always made. Kanye doesn’t directly reference Trump in this song, but he does adopt some of the president’s me-vs-the-media philosophies and catchphrases, rapping lines like, “You know that it’s fake if it's in the news.” Interestingly, this is the part of the song where Kanye actually sounds the most inspired. Musically, he rides the beat better than he often has over the past few years, and his songwriting is focused. This is just another reminder that Kanye always sounds the most energized when he feels it’s him against the world. —Eric Skelton
A new evolution of religious Kanye
After releasing two gospel albums last year (Jesus Is King, Jesus Is Born), Kanye is still figuring out new ways to make religious music. Lyrically, “Wash Us in the Blood” does stay in line with Kanye’s gospel phase. He repeatedly makes religious references on the chorus and verses, reciting lines like, “Holy Spirit, come down” and “Rain down on a pain,” but the overall sound is much more harsh and than what you’d expect from a gospel song. Instead of leaning on his Sunday Service choir to bring that familiar church sound, as he did on the previous two albums, he goes back to experimenting with distorted samples and jarring sound effects. He’s figuring out new ways to blend his old music-making tricks with religious themes. —Jessica McKinney
Kanye gets political on “Wash Us in the Blood,” even mentioning genocide and slavery, which may come as a surprise to anyone who remembers his comments about slavery being a “choice.” Kanye doesn’t expand on his thoughts or take a clear stance, but even referencing the issues that heavily impact the Black community is somewhat of a left turn from how Kanye spent much of the past few years, declaring his support for Donald Trump and often talked about the MAGA hat’s supernatural abilities. Many are hoping songs like this (and his recent appearance at the Black Lives Matter protest) signals a return of the “Old Ye” who often spoke up about issues that affected underrepresented communities throughout his early career. Looks like we’ll find out more on God’s Country. —Jessica McKinney
Travis is used minimally
If you were expecting a full-blown verse or hook from Travis Scott, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, Kanye takes the lead and chooses to use Travis sparingly. He’s used as more of an accent mark than a traditional featured artist, as he joins Kanye on the bridge and half of the second verse. It feels like Kanye called on him for a boost of energy more than anything else (which, honestly, isn’t a bad way to utilize Travis Scott). When Travis does rap on here, he’s more focused and political than we’re used to hearing him (“Thirty states still execute”), but then he’s gone in a blink. Kanye has a history of utilizing superstars in extremely subtle ways, and he continues that trend here with one of rap’s biggest stars. —Eric Skelton
Overall first impressions
This isn’t going to jump into any 100 Best Kanye West Songs lists, and it contains many flaws, but “Wash Us in the Blood” does give us a little hope heading into God’s Country. After continually lowering our expectations over the past few years with releases like Ye and Jesus Is King, it’s encouraging to hear Kanye experiment on a song like “Wash Us in the Blood.” It sounds unfinished, and it’s extremely unlikely that it’ll become a hit, but there are moments where he sounds more creatively charged than he has in quite some time. We probably have to accept the fact that God’s Country will never achieve the heights of records like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but if he figures out how to more interesting ways to blend religious themes into the forward-thinking music he was already making, it might be better than Ye and Jesus Is King, at least. —Eric Skelton