As the church is designed for believers of the deity to congregate and worship together, historically, the tent revival serves as a series of meetings of religious services to inspire Christians to gain new converts. Popularized in the early to mid-20th century, fundamentalist preachers traveled the country, pitched tents and held multiple day services to spread a message of fear and redemption as a means to attract new members.
Friday September 27th, 2019
The Aretha Franklin Amphitheater, an outdoor arena, sits flush with the riverfront separating Detroit from Canada. Many had arrived on short notice to witness the Kanye West Sunday Service experience, and the venue was reaching near capacity with a majority of the attendants being young white hipster culture vultures wearing Chance the Rapper merchandise, Supreme hoodies, and Balenciaga shoes. Integrated amongst these suburbanites were the esoteric black youth dripping in instagramable street fashion, swag, and eccentric hairstyles.
The sun was out and fall had just set in as the audience awaited for the service to commence. But in the meantime, the scenery was pleasant to witness as the crowd chitted and chatted about what to expect from the performance.
Little was known as to what expect from this event, or how literal to perceive of this “Sunday Service” until the members of the choir diverted our attention as they marched onto the stage in single-file fashion, forming a large circle on the round stage, congregating around a piano organ and drum set, following the lead of their enthusiastic conductor, who was working simultaneously as maestro and hype-man to rile up the crowd about Jesus.
The blue Hawaiian Punch looking waves served as a serene backdrop, perhaps making the show a live international event because the glorious and heavenly vocals of the choir erupted, booming in a harmonizing, building and melding way, echoing in all directions. So, one could only assume that the sound would carry and travel across the turquoise surf to meet our neighbors of the north.
And as the choir raised their voices to the high heavens, electrifying the air, Kanye, Kim and their three children sauntered onto the stage unannounced, practically unnoticed and casually stood at the center of the choir in a family cluster taking in the music.
Their presence wasn’t acknowledged to the audience or even commented on by the chorus director of the choir, who was the only person with a microphone who wasn’t singing in unison. It was practically his show, and he was running the Sunday Service.
The buzz behind the services had been circulating online for some time. And they were pretty exclusive in the beginning.
There were Sunday Service sightings on Kanye’s property in Calabasas.
Random locations in Los Angeles.
They were growing in popularity because of their rarity. So, when the announcement came only days before the event was scheduled that Kanye was bringing the infamous Sunday Service to Detroit, only a few miles from my home, I wanted to see what the hype was about.
He’d been pretty quiet since all the MAGA hat business, and seemed to be focusing on art again. But, in a pious way, and I was curious how genuine this Sunday Service in the name of Jesus was going to be coming from a man who once said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re stuntin’ on a Jumbotron” and made a revolutionary album that made Lou Reed himself weep, titled, Yeezus.
But there he was at his Sunday Service. And he was quiet. Kanye was quiet during the entire Sunday Service performance in Detroit. He hardly touched the microphone.
The event was marketed as a Kanye West worship service, but he seemed to simply sponsor and endorse a potential idea he had manifested, but chose not to be the center of attention, which was impressive considering his history of outspokenness.
Even though he stood at the center of this holy circle with his hood up, soaking and bathing in the choir’s sonics of high praise, and enjoying the embrace of his family, he kind of played the background and just held the role of event curator.
He played the role of someone who held the power to bring together thousands of spectators on short notice, who might not have shown up otherwise to a Sunday worship service of the Christian God.
Free or not free.
And, I guess this was his version of being humble and letting God do the talking.
I got the sense that, for him, literally being surrounded by a massive church choir and his family would help reinstate the faith in God he claimed to want to repossess. The same God he claimed to had completely given his life over to.
Kanye was now working for God, and no longer worshiping himself. This sort of accreditation plays a contrast to the self-made man Kanye West has always bragged to be. He’s been very boisterous in his hero’s journey about his accomplishments and the obstacles he’s had to overcome based on others doubting his ability or talent.
He’s always made it very clear that he was the instrument in his own achievements, and that it was he who overcame the odds stacked against him. To the extent that he’s gone on record to champion himself a God.
A literal poster-child for the physical embodiment of pride and confidence now appears to be changing his tune. Now, he claims to be an instrument of God, and has forfeited the free-will that made him, no longer serving himself, or the cultural zeitgeist, but his theistic beliefs.
On the surface, this might sound antithetical.
But, I think it might be the most Kanye thing Kanye has ever done.
He uses his track record of success and innovation as prerequisite for being qualified to be appointed by God to be, “The Leader of The Free World.”
I think this is very, very on brand.
The fact that Kanye can take the concept of God, and turn it in his favor so that God’s spotlight is shining directly down upon him is not surprising. How convenient is it that God’s plans, and Kanye’s plans perfectly align? Perhaps Kanye’s version of God looks a lot like Kanye himself.
In my many observational laps around the sun, I’ve deduced that God is the personification of the unknown and represents human will. That whatever name one might subscribe to their God(s) is synonymous with inner strength and can serve as an answer for questions unanswerable. That ultimately these mythical spiritual entities actually represent the self-determination, will, and power one must muster up in order to persevere in a world littered with suffering, pain, evil, injustice and unanswerable questions.
Could it be that when you drop to your knees and take Jesus Christ into your mouth, that Jesus’ seed ends up working exactly the way the placebo effect does? A trick to allow someone to experience a cure of their ailments. Mind over matter. That it’s possible to will something into existence if you believe in a concept, or have “faith” as they say, to manifest a tangible outcome to attribute to your worshiped deity.
Is it also possible that when Kanye became a born again Christian, he renamed the voice in his head: God?
Long ago I decided that taking Christianity literally was too far-fetched of an idea. I couldn’t rely on faith alone, nor could I find any comfort in pretending to believe. Even though, like most black people in this country, Christianity is very popular within my family. Not so much in my household though.
Like many kids, I was dragged to a segregated church against my will on early Sunday mornings and didn’t pay much attention to the Word of God once I got there. We didn’t go every week, which is why it sucked on the days that we went because I had already known what life was like without it.
This was far more important to my adolescent mind.
The tradition that was forced upon my mother and her generation wasn’t as strict by the time it found me in the last years of the 20th century, where I’d managed to survive the Y2K scare of the new millennium.
But on the days that we did attend church services I found them to be rather dull and boring.
I tuned most of it out and wound up falling back to sleep by the time we got there. To entertain myself I doodled drawings on the service programs, brought toys to play with. But my favorite thing to do was point and laugh at people possessed by the Holy Spirit who were speaking in tongues, screaming as they ran laps around the building, or at old ladies in pastel suits in big hats, dusty stockings, and stench-ridden perfumes slam dancing in the aisles.
The music was celebratory and its infectiousness penetrated those who believed in the deliverance of this cacophonous energy and I think this is what Kanye was trying to capture, demonstrate, and celebrate in his Sunday Services.
Because after all, the service was mostly catered to fans of his music, who showed up more for the spectacle and the novelty than the message of Jesus. And even if the fans were God-fearing, or God-curious, I doubt they’d run to Kanye to be delivered to the almighty. But they’d run to him for entertainment because he’s been known to put on a good show.
Overall, the Sunday Service seemed to be a praise for the power of gospel music—some of which Kanye has sampled in the past in order to create his own music.
The choir sang medleys of traditional gospel hymns while seamlessly segueing into the sampled work, allowing for transition into live renditions of classic soul tunes, or old Kanye West songs, sort of producing live mashups catering to Kanye fans.
So, maybe in a way, this touring Sunday Service art project was a repentance, or a way to give back credit to the source he’d borrowed from. And he did this by allowing the songs to be put on a platform Kanye himself believed they deserved.
Gospel music, which is so steeped in colonization, slavery, mistreatment, manipulation and oppression, derives, like many art forms, from a place of pain. But there is something about this music that’s also steeped in a rejoice that transcends the concept of God, and is merely felt. Black trauma and suffering converged into positive uplift hits a certain magnitude and frequency that tugs on the heart-strings of the soul.
Over a hundred singers of various registers, each mic’d, projected their voices with an awesomeness that vibrated atoms and entered the eardrums at divine pitches to release a rush of dopamine and serotonin into the brain like a broken levee. There was a psychedelic quality to how captivating and present the music had on the audience, who were absolutely engaged and captivated by the grandness of the choir’s talent. The experience was operatic in how bone-chilling the combined sound of enriching voices amplified to the heavens was. And Christian or not, it was undeniably a sonically transcending experience.
The service was rather traditional though.
No excessive bells or whistles.
In fact, apart from the monumental aspect of the choir’s volume, the show was pretty simple. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want Kanye to perform something.
Prior to the service, he’d been most relevant on my radar for these album leaks that were being uploaded, deleted, and re-uploaded on to YouTube and the internet proper, which were drastically different from the energy on display at the Sunday Service.
More frantic, and less tame.
The leaks came from the previously working title, Yandhi.
I believe he’d recorded these tracks and demos during the stir-crazy media storm of him wearing the MAGA hat, meeting with Trump, going on SNL, making comments about slavery. TMZ. He was in an extreme mode of making bold declarative statements and it reflected on these leaks.
The production of the beats mixed modern rap, soulful synths, gospel, and just classic Kanye innovation of musical transcendence and there were lyrics like:
“Money ain’t real. Time ain’t real.” repeated multiple times.
Or, “I’m giving up my slave name.”
Or, “I don’t believe in time. I just believe in signs.”
Something about these Yandhi leaks made me feel like Kanye was trying to speak as recklessly and openly to us about his thoughts and perspectives because he was so highly scrutinized under the scope of the media.
Something about Yandhi, and it’s release, felt taboo, like he was slipping it to us under the table.
He speaks on woke culture, a lot about not being a slave, being in the sunken place, running for president, using love as currency, Christianity, ideas of the future, comments on plastic surgery, peace, love, harmony, being on and off medication, his mental health diagnosis, questioning reality, and the whole record is littered with your classic Ye braggadocios scattered about. Which were humorous and amusing, but overall the leaks radiated Kanye’s confidence.
There was an urgency on Yandhi, that seemed like Kanye was running out of time to capture this energy before coming down off this high.
It felt unleashed.
The features on the leaks include Young Thug, The Migos, Kid Cudi, XXXTentacion, The Clipse, Teyona Taylor, 070 Shake, The Dream, Lauren Hill, and some dude named, Ant Clemmens.
And since the album never came out, it’s accurate to say that it technically doesn’t exist. Which, is cool considering I’m talking about it as if it does. But, fans and people on the internet mixed, mastered, and even added production onto songs, uploading their versions of Yandhi based off of loose tracks that mysteriously found their way to the internet.
Even when the Yandhi leaks would get removed from Youtube, another, better version would replace it the next day.
The life, death, and after-life of Yandhi was once again, very on brand for Kanye. And sort of Gandhi-esque in how he liberated his own music to provide a nourishment to the people.
But instead of Yandhi, what we got were these Sunday Services. And, eventually, Jesus is King.
Which ironically shared similar musical production and arrangements as Yandhi but the messages had been changed to drain all of the boisterous Kanye confidence that had made Yandhi great and substituted Kanye West rapping about God instead of himself.
Eventually the worship choir simmered down after a soul swooning hour and segued into the sermon.
Strolling on stage with a pep in his step was a tiny, middle-aged, blonde, white man dressed like an Abercrombie model who claimed to be a Los Angeles pastor, and the music silenced with his presence.
He addressed the crowd, stating his intentions to preach, and to deliver his sermon.
And right then and there, the magic fell from the air and something else replaced it.
It was reported that The Sunday Service had recruited some local choir singers from churches to join them for their Detroit performance, which I thought was a very kind gesture, and very cool. Kind of like when FKA Twigs went to Baltimore to workshop choreography with local dancers after all the social uprisings surrounding police brutality exploded there a few years back.
When an extremely well-known artist works with a local community, specifically a systematically marginalized community, there’s a gesture of camaraderie there by offering up the opportunity. So, when a friend of mine could literally point on stage at a sea of black and brown faces and see a girl she went to church with be apart of such a rare experience, it meant something special.
But when Pastor Adam appeared amongst this congregation of black and brown faces, this flashback of historical implication made the situation cringe-worthy.
The aesthetic didn’t seem correct.
In the same way that Kanye offered the opportunity for local young gospel singers to participate in the Detroit Sunday Service, it would seem likely that he would’ve done the same for the pastor who would follow the worshiping aspect of the service.
But instead, Kanye brought his own L.A. pastor.
And immediately I thought, “Oh shit! They got Kanye!”
My conspiratorial Spidey-senses were tingling.
I’d been recently looking into this guy named, Doug Coe, who was a very influential evangelist who manipulated the perception of Jesus Christ into an equation that meant: “Jesus + Nothing,” which means that you can use Jesus as a scapegoat, or justification for practically any want or need that you desire.
He used Jesus as a mascot to equip politicians, national leaders, and people of power with a confidence that in order to be Christ-like, it meant that you were to be more like the wolf, than the sheep. He preached that Jesus was neither the lamb, nor sheep, but the wolf who took what he wanted, and that if you did as Jesus did, nothing else mattered, and no amount of accountability was your own.
It was a perspective of Christianity that was reduced to promote self-determination and success by any means necessary, and without remorse.
Doug Coe played a pseudo-spiritual advisor to every US President since Eisenhower to Obama, and used his position to establish ruling power and impose fundamentalist ideals to legislators, rule-makers, dictators, and corrupt regimes through the power of suggestion and the manipulation of his Jesus equation.
He used Jesus, instead of politics, to establish influence on politicians, while simultaneously popularizing the annual National Prayer Breakfast amongst political powers in Washington, D.C, to congregate international leaders to discuss off-the-record business under the guise of a religious event.
Doug Coe eventually died, right when Trump was elected, and my conspiracy theory was that Coe’s descendants wanted to move past political influence, and start tapping into cultural influence. So, when I saw Pastor Adam, a red flag came with him.
And as he flapped his gums, he who spoke with the same tone of a salesman trying to sell you something you’d never imagine buying, further beginning to present the crowd with the solution to all of our problems and ailments.
Essentially, we needed to be saved.
And these were the three ways to be saved and know the lord according to Pastor Adam.
1. God is holy.
2. You are a sinner.
3. Submit to the lord, or suffer alone without him.
This is what the pastor, who was not as charming or cunning as he believed himself to be, wanted to share with us. And I got the feeling that many in the crowd, who were mostly millennial and Gen Z kids, weren’t buying it.
There were some middle-aged and elderly black folk who were rocking with the message, but overall, the sense in the arena was that something about this pastor was insincere or out of place because he wasn’t getting the uprooting response I’m sure he was used to getting preaching in front of a super church congregation.
Prior to Pastor Adam, the Sunday Service was almost an anthropological and musical appreciation event, catering to a pro-black experience. But when the pastor came on, he was the physical epitome of a record scratch. A Debbie-downer. I don’t think anyone had come to be duped into actually hearing some out of touch holy man reprimand them for the lives they were living.
Kanye’s previously perceived humbling silence had now seemed to be more of a muzzling.
Say, the Sunday Service wasn’t Kanye’s idea, but someone’s poor attempt at using Kanye’s name to push a conversion agenda via tent revival. Far-fetched, but for a moment that seemed plausible.
Using Kanye’s status to impose the fear of the lord on a perceived hedonistically liberal and morally inverted youth when they least expected it. Some shadow society of white supremacists desperate attempt to reinvigorate the minds of their children, and grandchildren, who have been suckling at the teet of black culture.
Perhaps not. But there was something about this pastor that soured the whole experience and felt sort of sinister.
Reminded me of how Christianity was indoctrinated unto negro slaves to begin with.
Some charismatic, blonde-anglo male using fear and intimidation tactics to pacify the mind, create a co-dependency using faith, making a more docile slave, who was now physically and psychologically shackled, reinstating the power dynamic of master and slave.
Christianity has always been abused by those in power to manipulate and control, and to justify criminal behavior.
And so, they detached the negro from the massive tapestry of Gods from the mother continent, bleached the languages from their minds, replaced them with European tongues, and gave them Jesus, and what black people did was make him their own, infusing him with the enormous spirituality carried inside the bodies of the African diaspora people.
The negro spiritual, the gospel, the praise song, the worship, is sonically some of the most innovative and influential folk music to take root on the bloody soil of this country. And the influence of black suffering can be heard in a majority of popular music over the last century.
Blues. Jazz. Rock ’n’ Roll. Folk. Country. Motown. Doo-Wop. Soul. R&B. Reggae. Disco. Techno. Hip-Hop. Rap. EDM.
So, we find ourselves at an event that taps into the origins and roots of modern music, and who appears when the volume of the music quiets?
And to reprimand us no less?
Ole’ Massah Pastor Adam.
I couldn’t help but to think that Kanye had been compromised, co-opted, exploited in some way. Especially after listening to Yandhi. Is it possible for Kanye to be that out of touch? Or perhaps when he stopped taking his medication someone saw an opportunity.
But that’s what these L.A. pastors do. They feast on the egos of celebrities when the world is against them, much like the media was against Kanye during his media frenzy.
So, eventually, Pastor Adam finished his sermon, which fortunately was rather brief, and the worship service picked back up, this time with Kanye participating slightly, chopping up some live samples, but the damage had been done.
The energy for the rest of the service hadn’t the potential to rise back to the monumental peak it had garnished.
In fact it plateaued the moment the pastor left the stage. And slowly people began to filter out of the arena, until finally it came to an anti-climactic close, sort of just fizzling out.
And I couldn’t help but to wonder that when Pastor Adam spoke of Jesus with Kanye, if either of them saw the same man in their minds.
Does the pastor see a blue-eyed white bearded man?
And if so, what does Kanye see?