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The Kanye God complex

By Lauriel Cleveland, Special to CNN
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Controversial rapper Kanye West's new album is called "Yeezus," an obvious play off Jesus. The album also features a song titled "I Am a God." West is no stranger to lyrics about his relationship with God. Hit songs "Jesus Walks," "The One" and "New God Flow" give insight to 'Ye's self-proclaimed "Christ-like" persona. Controversial rapper Kanye West's new album is called "Yeezus," an obvious play off Jesus. The album also features a song titled "I Am a God." West is no stranger to lyrics about his relationship with God. Hit songs "Jesus Walks," "The One" and "New God Flow" give insight to 'Ye's self-proclaimed "Christ-like" persona.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kanye West's new album, "Yeezus," has several controversial track titles
  • That includes the audacious "I Am a God"
  • His lyrics have raised debate over whether he thinks he's a deity

(CNN) -- Kanye West wants his listeners to know that he is "a close high" to God.

His latest album, "Yeezus," released Tuesday, offered several controversial track titles, including "New Slaves," "Black Skinhead" and the most audacious, "I Am a God." The track's credit says "featuring God," as if He's just another artist -- a Rick Ross or Pharrell Williams -- stepping into the studio to spit a couple of verses.

The song closes with the verses, "I just talked to Jesus/he said, 'What up, Yeezus?'/I said "S*** I'm chilling/trying to stack these millions'/I know he's the most high, but I am a close high."

Review: 'Yeezus' is Kanye West's darkest, most extreme album yet

So, does Kanye really think he's God's match?

Some say the outspoken West is downright delusional, but Monica Miller, author of "Religion and Hip Hop," thinks otherwise.

The rap star's god-absorbed lyrics are a referral to his high status in the music industry, not a statement of religious beliefs, said Miller, an assistant professor of religious studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

"I don't think (this Christian theological language) is creating a religion," she said. "He's using God to situate himself at the top of the game."

But Pastor C. Andre Grier of Lithonia, Georgia's Union Missionary Baptist Church, believes West has been wrong from the get-go.

Religious people "should want to be like Christ (in a humble way), follow Him, but any reference to equality means that you are wrong from the very beginning."

The beginning

Before the world knew West as an egotistical rapper, he was under the radar as a music engineer making beats for chart-topping artists such as Alicia Keys, Ludacris and Mos Def. He was brought into the spotlight after producing several tracks for Jay-Z's classic hip-hop album "The Blueprint."

His first album, "The College Dropout," dropped in February 2004, debuting at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. It was met with immediate acclaim, with some critics suggesting that it was the best debut album ever released by a hip-hop artist.

"Jesus Walks" was the album's third single and the world's introduction to West's religious beliefs.

The song received praise from critics for its open conversation of faith in the secular rap community.

The gospel-choir hook of "Jesus walks" flows over lyrics like, "God, show me the way because the devil trying to break me down. ... The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now. ... And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs. ... I want to talk to God, but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long."

Kanye West: 'People look at me like I'm Hitler'

The fallen angel

West could be forgiven for feeling touched to even be in a position to drop a record after a near-fatal head-on car collision required him to undergo facial reconstruction surgery and have his jaw wired shut.

In interviews after the accident, West credited God with his survival.

Within two weeks, he was back in the studio -- jaw still wired -- recording his groundbreaking hit, "Through the Wire," which included the lyric "Thank God I ain't too cool for the safe belt."

Gaining fame and notoriety seemed to spark West's candor -- and cockiness. The following year, the rapper ran into his first bout of controversy during a Hurricane Katrina telethon where he uttered the infamous phrase, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

He'd go on to pose on a 2006 Rolling Stones cover as -- you guessed it -- Jesus Christ alongside the headline "The Passion of Kanye West." He wore a tunic and crown of thorns in the cover photo.

His life changed further in 2007, when his mother, Donda, to whom he devoted so many songs and so much of his success, died of heart failure after cosmetic surgery.

West's behavior grew increasingly bizarre, from engaging in beefs with photographers to storming out of awards shows when he didn't win, and culminated in an incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when he famously interrupted Taylor Swift during an acceptance speech for Best Female Video.

Like many talented artists, West said he was funneling his pain into his music, and despite the various styles he's adopted over the past nine years, religion has been a consistent topic in his personal and professional life.

See also: Kanye West is having a devil of a time convincing critics that he's not a Satan worshiper.

Kanye West: Christ-like ego or showmanship?

West, who was raised in a Christian home, is no stranger to citing his relationship with God in his songs. In addition to "Jesus Walks," songs such as "The One" and "New God Flow" give insight into 'Ye's self-proclaimed "Christ-like" persona.

In his personal life, West has said he adamantly believes in providence.

"I'm on a path that God puts me on. I don't believe that all of this happened by chance," he told Vibe magazine in 2009.

"I just think God has put me in a really good space. And I think he has a mission for me. There's gonna be ups and downs. But it's something that he wants me to deliver to the world."

He added, "I believe in God, but I don't buy into any particular, specific religion. So maybe I'm nondenominational or whatever. I don't know what the definition of it is. I just believe in God. I would never say that it's in Jesus' hands."

Sounds like a contradiction coming from a man who nicknamed himself Yeezus, but at what point is he dishonoring religion by claiming to be a deity?

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