Kanye West, like many people operating with a great sense of purpose — regardless if that comes with an extra scoop of delusional — has long said that his life's work had divine roots.
In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, West revealed that he knew there would be a “backlash” for speaking out against homophobia but noted “it didn’t scare me, because I felt like God wanted me to say something about that.” He explained to Fader in 2008: “I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector.” The next year, he told Details, “My story is so written, like God has a plan for me.”
He echoed a similar sentiment to Vibe around that same time: "I just think God has put me in a really good space. And I think he has a mission for me. There's gonna be ups and downs. But it's something that he wants me to deliver to the world."
Finally, in 2011, West divulged to Fader: “I get to represent somebody I don’t think is getting represented right now. The regular dude: the guy who believes in God but still likes pussy.”
Yes, West has consistently used religious themes and imagery in his music. And, sure, it was a good thing for him to speak against societal, not-very-Christian-like beliefs and behaviors like homophobia. The question now, with the launch of his so-called Sunday Service, is what exactly does Kanye West have to say, and on whose behalf? Because it doesn't quite seem like God's.
On Jan. 6, the first Sunday of the New Year, Kim Kardashian West declared on Twitter: “Our new Sunday Service is starting. Check out the rehearsals on my Instagram stories.”
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Kardashian West was referring to the latest endeavor from her husband, Kanye. In subsequent weeks, she along with other attendees — including other Kardashians, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom and Tyler, the Creator — have since posted snippets of Sunday Service across social media. Think: Kanye and Kim’s eldest daughter North West dancing alongside her friends, rapper DMX delivering a sermon and, of course, a very somber and purposeful-looking Kanye West leading a choir as they perform gospel versions of his hits like “Ghost Town” and “Lift Yourself,” along with covers of genuine gospel songs. (They also incorporate quite a few covers of ’90s R&B hits, just because.)
As legend has it, the weekly services are invite-only, require attendees to sign a nondisclosure agreement (but posting on social media is somehow allowed) and, of course, no expense is spared. Its buzz culminated in West taking his Sunday Service to Coachella, where some 50,000 people reportedly attended during the first weekend of the immensely popular music festival. This sizable crowd once again included various celebrities — this time, the likes of Chance the Rapper, Donald Glover, Lizzo and Kid Cudi.
With respect to Sunday Service’s stated purpose, Tony Williams — a friend of Kanye West and frequent collaborator — said "the goal is to be able to communicate love effectively." Kardashian West offered a similar secular-like explanation to Jimmy Kimmel: “There’s no praying,” she told him. “There’s no sermon. There’s no word. It’s just music, and it’s just a feeling.”
“But it’s Christian,” added Kourtney Kardashian.
In a separate interview with Elle, Kardashian West also stressed that sentiment: “It’s definitely something he believes in — Jesus — and there’s a Christian vibe. But there’s no preaching. It’s just a very spiritual Christian experience.”
I know the legal beagle Kim Kardashian West is far more of a frequent churchgoer than I — a lapsed Catholic — am these days, but this feels like me convincing myself that I am getting closer to God because I used Ezekiel Bread for my fish sandwich. I suppose it’s Christian in terms of choir, song selection and singing in church attire, but it's explicitly not rooted in important tenets of the faith. How Christian is that exactly?
The timing of Sunday Service’s launch is equally curious. West became a public pariah in 2018 for his defense of Donald Trump and bizarre, ahistorical and stupid-as-all-hell declarations like “slavery is a choice.” West’s career suffered greatly as a result — and it should not be lost on anyone that his coverage has improved dramatically since the start of Sunday Service.
True believers of Kanye West may resent such cynicism, but there is reason to be suspicious of his motives.
If Kanye West wants to spend his money organizing a choir to perform SWV’s “Weak” every week, such is his right, but there are people lauding his Sunday Service for reasons that confuse me. Am I seriously supposed to be happy that the guy who pals around with the Nazi-sympathizer in that ugly red hat brought a black choir to perform a quasi-religious ceremony for a predominantly white crowd? The same goes for the notion that Yeezus brought Jesus to Coachella: Jesus would not have demanded as high a markup as West did for the “Church Clothes” he sold to fans for the performance.
I may have had my issues with the faith in which I was raised, but one of the most beautiful, lasting things about Christianity that I keep with me is the idea of redemption — that, because Jesus died for sins, we can be redeemed. Redemption, though, has to be earned; one must make acts of contrition.
Has Kanye West apologized to the black people he hurt after his insulting remarks to our ancestors and his zealot-like affinity for the man who personifies the very racism that brutalized them? No, but he is exploiting a black tradition — Sunday services — as a means to reclaim some of the fanfare his uninformed, caustic political views helped diminish. Even when it comes to the purported goal to “communicate love effectively,” it’s coming from a guy who said he loves the man responsible for locking up babies in cages.
People want to believe others can turn on a corner and, if you are a fan of Kanye West and his music, you are probably even more inclined to believe he has turned on a corner so that you can enjoy his songs in peace. But Sunday Service is not his redemption; it is yet another self-serving mission engineered by an egomaniac and his enablers. It is soulless, exploitative, and selfish. We have enough false prophets out there; we needn’t entertain more — no matter how good they make beats.