BY KEITH NELSON JR • OCT 16 2019
Every rapper is the best before they do anything and the acronym for “greatest of all time” is applied colloquially instead of reverentially. Questlove and Black Thought’s new anthology series Hip Hop: Songs That Shook America does more than give six classic hip-hop records their roses, it builds a shrine for each and changes the way you’ll ever hear those songs.
Press play on Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and you’ll hear the marching drums, the choir harmonies, and West’s impassioned battle cry in the name of the Lord take hold of your attention for a little over three minutes. Pressing play on the episode dedicated to the song — the series premiere, which aired on AMC on Sunday, October 13th — is an evocative experience of its own kind. For 40 plus minutes, the show’s collection of speakers dug deeper than the song’s multitrack DNA into the divine accidents, iconoclastic thinking, and love that made it. Those are the invisible roots that have connected millions through this song for more than 15 years, so it’s hard for this to not all feel surreal if you grew up just thinking it was a hot song.
This episode isn’t a documentary solely analyzing the lyrics and production arrangement as is common in today’s generation of explainer videos. The episode barely spends five minutes on what West and co-writer Rhymefest did in the studio to make the 2004 song come to life.