“No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z and Kanye West

Around the turn of the century Jay-Z, a rapper who has been professionally active since 1988, began dropping heavy religious references in his songs. Indeed the first of his tracks where he may have really done so, 2001’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, was in fact produced by Kanye West. Verily, it is arguable that Jay-Z’s slant toward making lyrics featuring popular-religious symbolism was highly inspired by the rise of sidekick Kanye, who for instance earned one of his very first Grammys with “Jesus Walks“, a pop song with overt Christian influences. 

And as time progressed the lyrics these artists came out with in such regards became more pointed, or philosophical we can say. In other words, it was no longer all about them using religious terminology in self-aggrandizing ways (i.e. Hova) or in support of the religion that the said terms are derived from (i.e. Yeezus). Instead they also began incorporating their own personal spiritual leanings into their songs. This is something which one can do when they’re not only an established, respected lyricist but also a very-talented one. And such is the case with “No Church in the Wild”. 

Secular Humanism

Overall, this song transcends the realm of religious references and actually espouses a mode of thinking, sort of like a sermon if you will. And in terms of what the vocalists are actually preaching, said philosophy reads a lot like what is commonly referred to as secular humanism.

Now this is not to say that Jeezy and Hov engage in direct indoctrination themselves.  Rather it can be said that Jay-Z’s verse, again being filled with religious/philosophical references, is ultimately meant to display that he is an ill (and successful) rapper. That is to say that he can take such unorthodox topics and terminologies in rap music and still come out with a good, braggadocious verse.

But again, Kanye is more proficient in the art of religio-rap. So on one hand his verse comes off like he’s just wildin’ out, i.e. admitting that he deals with drugs and enjoys wild sex. But all of such spazzing is meant to point to an idea. And that is while traditional ethical understanding may deem such acts as being immoral, he personally does not have ethics. Rather he and likeminded individuals have “formed a new religion”. And the statutes of such fundamentally dictate that there is no right or wrong, so long as the parties involved agree to participate. 

It is arguable that he is speaking specifically in terms of romantic relationships, where he obviously has issues with monogamy. And holistically his verse can be deemed as having more of an anti-establishment vibe than an anti-religious one per se.

Meaning of Song’s Title (“No Church in the Wild”)

But then of course the title of this song is “no church in the wild”. Analysts have concluded that this term is premised on the two vocalists perceiving themselves as divine figures. And on the surface, “the wild” seemingly alludes to the notion of the world itself being lawless (as depicted in the music video). And basically what the artists are saying is that as they conduct themselves they do not base the ethics of their decisions, as people tend to do, on a particular religious understanding. Rather, as alluded to earlier, their religion is in fact no religion.

And this point is really driven home by the non-rapping vocalists, such as Frank Ocean.  For it is he who implies that a Higher Power is inconsequential to those who do not believe in it. Also the other crooning co-star of the tune, The-Dream, goes on to state that he ‘lives by desire’. This is a philosophy which Jay-Z himself has been known to promote (in a roundabout way) which itself is tied to humanism. And instead of living by an accepted religious doctrine, the vocalist (The-Dream) rather states that it’s the “love” of the addressee which serves as his “scripture”, i.e. rules of living. That line is apparently related to Kanye’s verse that follows, which again is largely centered on the concept of romance.

Conclusion

So there’s a whole lot going on in “No Church in the Wild”. But all things considered, perhaps the easiest way to describe it is as a standard rap song (as far as Jay-Z and West are concerned) mixed with religious references and based on a particular thought system, one that does not support adherence to religious dogma.

Release Date of “No Church in the Wild”

Def Jam Records, Roc-A-Fella Records and Roc Nation put forth this song on 8 August 2011 as the leadoff track on “Watch the Throne”, an entire collaborative album by Kanye West and Jay-Z (who collectively are referred to as The Throne). And it was re-issued in March of 2012 as the final single from that project.

Production

The production team behind this song consists of the following:

  • 88-Keys
  • Kanye
  • Mike Dean
  • Om’Mas Keith

It is the first name on that list who is recognized as the primary producer of the track.  And he sort of got the gig out of luck, after an impromptu decision to promote himself to Kanye West and unexpectedly encountering him (in others) in the midst of recording “Watch the Throne”. Also just to note, this was the last song actually recorded for the album.

Writing

There are a number of writers of “No Church in the Wild”. First off, three of the aforementioned producers – Kanye, Keys and Dean – are credited as such. Then of course Jay-Z is in there, as are Frank Ocean and The-Dream. Then comes recognition of the writers of the songs which are sampled into “No Church in the Wild”. For instance, James Brown is noted, as his 1974 track “Don’t Tell a Lie About Me”, and “I Won’t Tell the Truth on You” are utilized. Then a 1978 song by Phil Manzanera, K-Scope, is also used, so he’s likewise credited.  

“No Church in the Wild” also samples a song by Spooky Tooth, a band from England, entitled “Sunshine Help Me” (1968). Thus a former member of that band, Gary Wright, also receives songwriting credit. Lastly an individual named Joseph Roach also makes the list.

Phil Manzanera gave props to The Throne & co., especially 88-Keys, in terms of how he was able to discover the aforementioned riff (i.e. sample) from what Manzanera himself referred to as an “obscure album” (his own 1978 K-Scope project). Further, Phil went on to admit that “even (he) had completely forgotten about that track”.

Music Video

The music video to this tune (as well as the audio itself) is highly-cinematic. For instance, it was filmed in Prague, Czech Republic (where Kanye also shot the video to “Diamonds Are Forever“) and utilized 200 acting extras. The director of the piece is Romain Gavras, and its storyline centers on rioters violently clashing with police. The video went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award and a Black Reel Award, both in 2013.

Success of “No Church in the Wild”

Although “No Church in the Wild” was not a major hit as far as the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye are concerned, it was still a notable success nonetheless. For instance, the track has been certified platinum in the United States and Denmark. Moreover it appeared on both the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100.

Additionally it earned The Throne & co. a Grammy Award. The said award was in the category of Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (2013).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like...