Kanye West has been moved.
What once drove his passions and pursuits has now shifted. Since he began debuting a collection of Sunday Service performance, complete with an ensemble gospel choir that interpolates gospel lyrics and faith with ‘90s and 2000s’ R&B classics, the more West has leaned upon his faith. It never truly left him if you’ve listened to “Jesus Walks” or found spiritual connotation from “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” or “Power,” it just wasn’t as direct and hyperfocused.
Some fans, as they did Sunday night inside Lakewood Church may call him ‘Yeezus’ from time to time, which was either a bit of trolling or anointing, depending on your spectrum of belief. Give West a theme and he’s all in. Minimalism? See the current clothes from his collection, frumpy and non-descript. Stadium-like atmosphere? Listen to any album post-Late Registration and those elements are there. Gospel? Well, not exactly.
Gospel and faith are intertwined. It’s something you feel and if moved by it, you will respond to it. During the Sunday Service portion of West’s weekend in Houston, his choir belted out remixes to Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” and SWV’s “Weak,” tipped a bit of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” while also leaning to West’s early catalog as well. The stronger, earlier gospel tugs from “Ultralight Beam” and “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” from The Life Of Pablo flowed and gained even larger gravity in the West Universe. Even the inclusion of house music in the sanctuary was an interesting wrinkle as West’s children, North and Saint continually ran up on stage and jumped off in their own personal stage dive.
The flip of A$AP Ferg’s “New Level,” complete with “Put the Devil in the dirt,” threw most of the sold-out crowd at Lakewood into a frenzy seen mostly at Travis Scott concerts.
At one point, I wondered aloud if the kids who had been waiting to see Kanye, whether it be the ones rumored to have sold free tickets for up to $500 to those who wore tour merch and Yeezy sneakers were willing to have a mosh pit right in the house of the Lord. After all, it was those kids who knew this was less about the church and more about performance, hence why they rushed into the main sanctuary, festival style.
Since it was announced that West would be making the trip to Lakewood on behalf of lead pastor Joel Osteen, no one truly knew what Sunday night would be. Or this entire Houston trip for that matter. West spent Friday visiting inmates at Harris County Jail and delivering an impromptu Sunday Service performance there. Saturday, he and his family were at the Galleria, unbothered by much of the crowd and attendees who merely wanted a jump on holiday shopping.
As he stood in front of Osteen’s congregation on Sunday morning, he made it perfectly clear what brought him to this moment, even if he did refer to himself as “the greatest artist God ever created”. A mental health breakdown drove him to be closer to the Lord and in Osteen, he found a voice who could connect him in ways he previously hadn’t.
“God has been calling me for a long time,” said West. “The devil has been distracting me for a long time.”
In his car, all he listens to is classical music and Osteen, who he says taught him how to be positive. “When you remove the fear and love of God, you create the fear and love of everything else,” West said. “Reinstate the fear and love of God and eliminate the fear and love of everything else.”
“It’s something we don’t have to be afraid of,” West said following the 11 a.m. service where he spoke for 20 minutes and defended Osteen. “I think people have made the idea of giving your life to God, is an idea that you’re scared of, and being a Christian and giving your life to God is one of the most fulfilling things. It’s fun.”
For a Sunday, West gave fans and skeptics a bit of everything. Osteen spoke in his usual mix of panache and motivation, hinting that everyone wouldn’t be part of your journey and that people won’t like you as you reach the highs God intended for you. The Kanye fans, mostly teens and young adults stayed to stomp and clap for “Jesus Walks” and “Closed On Sunday”. They may never come back to Lakewood or seek out Osteen’s preaching style but for a night, they were all one.
As for those who left following Sunday Service? It remains to be seen what next step they take, whether they reaccept Kanye back into their lives or not. Either it’s all a veneer or facade to them and it feels more like a stage play or they truly feel as if he’s walking in the right direction, at least with his faith. Because in this, fans and others are once more having to twist themselves in knots on whether to truly like the guy who in recent years has made it more and more difficult to do so.
The choir was beloved, even if “Follow God” or any of the Jesus Is King material sans “Closed On Sunday” stirred up more movement than “Power” and the ’90s remixes.
The Spirit was somewhere in the city. Whether he was at Lakewood Sunday night, is up to interpretation.
You can watch Sunday Service At Lakewood in its entirety below.