Kanye West debuts his weekly Sunday Service series at his home in Calabasas, California. The event, teased on social media by wife Kim Kardashian, features gospel-soul takes of Kanye’s hits with the rapper’s celebrity pals rounding out the congregation.
West brings his church-like Sunday Services to locales around California – including a mountaintop in Palm Springs for an Easter Sunday performance at Coachella – before branching out to other areas around the country, such as the Adidas headquarters in Portland, Oregon. But the first performance is a private affair at the home he shares with Kim Kardashian.
Kanye introduces gospel arrangements of “Jesus Walks,” “Ghost Town” and “Lift Yourself,” enlivened by The Samples choir. The services also feature gospel-inspired covers of R&B songs and renditions of traditional gospel tunes with the help of musical guests like Kid Cudi, Charlie Wilson and Chance the Rapper. DMX even delivers a sermon at the inaugural event. West also uses the gatherings to debut new music, with “We’ll Find A Way” and “We Have Everything We Need” hitting fans for the first time during future services. Or at least online snippets of the performances – the shows are typically invite-only. Lucky attendees include Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt, and David Letterman, among other celebs.
Critics, however, wonder how genuine Kanye’s motives are, suggesting the Sunday Service is little more than a ploy to redeem the image of the controversial rapper. In 2018, his pro-Trump tweets riled his liberal fans and his incendiary comments – including claims that slavery is a choice – incited backlash in the media. Although he professed his Christian faith on songs like “Jesus Walks,” Kanye’s Sunday sermons preach the gospel of hip-hop rather than the gospel of Christ. The New York Times criticizes the rapper of appropriating black faith traditions for his own gain.
But it’s not the first time Kanye equated religion and music.
“Hip-hop is a religion to a certain extent, and the rappers are the preachers, the music is the scriptures, you know?” he explained. “It’s just like church, because you go to a concert, you raise your hands in the air, you sing songs and you definitely pay some money. It’s just like church.”
According to Tony Williams, Kanye’s longtime collaborator and vocalist at the Sunday Services, the motive behind the events couldn’t be purer: “The goal is to be able to communicate love effectively.”