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Kanye West, also known as Ye, is considered to be one of the most influential rappers of his generation. Raised in Chicago, Kanye West began producing music in the early 2000s and released his first album in 2004. Since then, West has experimented with a variety of different styles of music. His music has been heavily influenced by soul, pop, electronic, hip hop, and gospel. Kanye’s wide range of musical influences has helped him win 21 Grammy Awards and become one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Kanye West is well known for his gospel-affiliated rap songs, where he is eminently outspoken in his relationship with God. He makes strong allusions to God, spirituality, and redemption in many of his most popular songs. On February 14, 2016, Kanye West released an album called The Life of Pablo, which quickly reached the top of the charts. “Ultralight Beam” quickly became a fan favorite due to both its gospel influences and biblical references. The song features a number of different artists, including Kirk Franklin, The-Dream, Kelly Price, and Chance the Rapper.
“Ultralight Beam” relies on supplemental information in order to illustrate Kanye West’s faith and relationship with God. In “Ultralight Beam”, Kanye West draws parallels from his life with the life of Saint Paul the Apostle. In the Bible, Saint Paul the Apostle, who was originally known as Saul, was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christ believers. On his way, he was struck by an ultralight beam sent from heaven and was blinded for three days. After regaining sight, Saul changed his name to Paul and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to serving the lord. As a result, he became a huge influence in early religion ideology and is now credited for writing 13 of the 27 books in the new testament. Kanye wishes to live a life similar to Saint Paul’s in the sense that he wants to be a big influence in Christianity. Kanye wants to shine a light on people in the same way that God shined a light on Saul.
“Ultralight Beam” is Kanye’s way of explaining his struggles in his faith and in his relationship with God. Kanye sings in the chorus, “We on an ultralight beam, this is a God’s dream” (West). He hopes that through this song, people will be able to relate to his experiences and be able to grow their faith. The story of Saint Paul the Apostle is ultimately where the song gets its name and is what Kanye frequently alludes to throughout the song. In addition to Saint Paul the Apostle, “Ultralight Beam” continues to rely on supplemental information as it references several other biblical stories. Chance the Rapper, a feature on the song, uses verses from the Bible and implements them into his rap in a unique way. For example, Chance the Rapper references Saint Michael the Archangel when he says “foot on the Devil’s neck ‘til it drifted Pangea” (West). In the bible, Saint Michael the Archangel was the leader of the Army of God who defeated Satan and consequently banished him from heaven. He is often pictured standing over Satan in a moment of triumph and victory.
Looking back at Chance the Rapper’s verse, he envisions himself with his foot on the devil’s neck just as Saint Michael did. He says he is pressing down so hard that he actually causes continental drift. This reference illuminates Kanye and his relationship with God. Kanye wants to be a leader of God and to help steer people away from Satan. With such a large audience and fan base, Kanye wants to use his influence and help dismantle Satan. Once again, supplemental information is brought to light in “Ultralight Beam, ” helping Kanye get his message across in a unique and thoughtful way. Chance the Rapper makes another reference in his verse in an effort to teach people to be faithful and to follow God. He references Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when he says “I bet that my ex looking back like a pillar of salt” (West). In the story, God had planned to destroy the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the amount of sin and evilness that resided there. The entire cities were destroyed but fortunately, a man named Lot and his family were able to flee because of their strong faith in God. After the cities were wiped out, they were instructed not to look back at the once evil, sabotaged cities. Lot’s wife could not resist and turned her shoulder. As a result, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Chance the Rapper relates this bible story to his ex because she is “salty” that he stayed on the right path and is now a wealthy, loving father. Obviously, his ex was not turned into a pillar of salt as seen in the Bible, but he uses it as a metaphor of how she made a huge mistake.
Although this reference does not directly relate to Kanye and his relationship with God, it is a great example of how the song indirectly uses supplemental information to make its points. All in all, “Ultralight Beam” is reliant upon on supplemental information to depict Kanye West’s faithfulness and his kinship with God. The amount of time and effort put into the song is reflected when analyzing the lyrics in depth and finding the underlying message. Many of the lyrics are incomprehensible without knowing the deeper meaning behind them. For example, “this is an ultralight beam, ” “foot on the devil’s neck, ” and “like a pillar of salt” are all biblical references found in the old and new testaments of the Bible.
The song’s reliance on biblical references has played a major role in the song’s success. At the 2017 Grammys, “Ultralight Beam” was nominated for both “Best Rap Song” and “Best Rap/Sung Performance. ” Kanye even tweeted, “a lot of people tell me Ultralight Beam is my greatest artwork to date only rival being Jesus Walks” (West). Without a doubt, the heavy gospel influences in “Ultralight Beam” send a powerful message to the listener, which is relatively hard to find in this new generation of rap music, as songs are more focused on the beat rather than the lyrics.
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