“I miss the old Kanye...I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye, The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye.” Kanye West used to be one of my favorite rappers but now, he is canceled. His declaration of slavery being a choice was the last straw. I have not looked back since.
That was until Sunday Service started. Sunday Service, which Kanye started in Calabasas with a small group of singers earlier this year, is gospel music remixed. He takes rap music, usually his own, adds a gospel flair and takes out curse words and other references in rap music to make sure the context elevates God. The allure and the mystique drew me in, but if asked I would not admit it. I am a sucker for a good gospel choir, and the mix of “secular music” spoke to my love of music. As the year progressed, Kanye’s Sunday Service evolved, and many things have been said by him and others about what “it” actually is. Is it a church? Is it a cult? What is Kanye doing? Does he think he is God again?
With the release of Kanye’s anticipated album “Jesus is King,” he held Sunday Service at the Forum in Inglewood two Sundays in a row. Noticing the trend, I found tickets. My time had come!
Opening the show, the darkness was slowly filled with light and a plethora of voices rushed at my ears, making the hairs on my arms immediately stand to attention. The once blackened oval above the stage began to light up, like the gates of heaven opening up to the world below.
The songs from the choir flashed me back to attending St. Luke Church of God in Christ in Mississippi as a kid and praising along with choir. The music is the music of the black church, the music of my childhood. I grew up in the South, the bible belt to be exact. My life, up until I went to college, revolved around church. I know church when I see it.
As quick as the flashback came, it vanished. I was not in a sanctuary; I was in an arena. I was surrounded by strangers and I bought a ticket on Ticketmaster. This is not church.
For this to be Kanye’s Sunday Service, you don’t notice him. His presence was not acknowledged until “Ultralight Beam.” The crowd roared. It was what they had been waiting for. The gospel songs the choir sang before “Ultralight Beam” were great, but Kanye’s gospel music is what they wanted.
The Sunday Service experience brought about a cluster of emotions. The wrappings of it felt like church, my home, what I grew up in. The tonal intonations of the music and the joy reminded me so much of my youth in the church. But once the wrapping are unfolded, it is something completely foreign. It all feels choreographed, like it is a practice for a tour. But it is supposed to be church?
This is not church. Looking around my section I wondered if others felt as conflicted as I did. Watching Kanye, you can tell he believes everything he is doing.
“(This is) the celebration of the peace that Christ can bring on your spirit, the peace that Christ has brought on mine," Kanye said. “It started in a rehearsal space the first Sunday of this year… and it was put on my heart to start a church.”
This is a concert entitled “Sunday Service,” where Kanye uses music to express his love for God. Maybe it touched people in the crowd, maybe not. It is flawed and confusing, just like Kanye. This is not church; this is Kanye’s church.