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The Story behind Kanye's Sunday Services

We tried to wrap up the meaning and tell the tale of Ye's new vocation

The Story behind Kanye's Sunday Services We tried to wrap up the meaning and tell the tale of Ye's new vocation

On February 14 of 2016, Kanye West was the main guest of Saturday Night Live, where he ended the show with his new track, “Ultralight Beam”, that was to be featured in his album, “The Life of Pablo”.
In the song there’s a strong parallel with the life of Saint Paul the Apostle, who was blinded by the light of God on the road to Damascus.
It’s obvious to note how  crucial the song was for the body of works that was required for his new album, a body of work that could be interpreted as religious in a broad way, along with the staging of a true cultural and musical Afro-American tradition. For the exhibition at SNL Kanye staged a real gospel chorus, plus the features with Chance The Rapper, The-Dream and Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin - one of the most famous gospel musicians of America. The live ended with Kanye laying of the floor and Franklin intent to deliver his sermon. A quite emotional moment, that journalist Jamieson Cox of The Verge described as follows:

“It made for a striking, suggestive image, the acknowledged sinner tiptoeing towards redemption with a little help from his friends”.


That exhibition, just like the general mood of TLOP and “Father Stretch My Hand” was replicated almost three years later, from the very same Kanye West, during his Sunday Services.
It was the January 6th, when Kim Kardashian announced to her fans on Twitter the birth of a new family tradition – which daughter North West really seemed to enjoy: the Sunday Services.
Firstly, what is a Sunday Service? These celebrations are types of musical jam sessions, which Kanye directs and coordinates along with a gospel choir while playing several instruments. It’s not clear what will be the goal of these Services, that came with an obvious religious meaning, starting from the day in which they are “celebrated”.
According to Tony Williams, Kanye’s collaborator, Sunday Services are meant “to be able to communicate the message of love effectively”. It’s a similar idea to the reason Kirk Franklin began to collaborate with West:
“If I’m working with a mainstream artist I’m trying to find a bigger purpose. As a Christian I’m trying to shine the brighter light."

From the outside, Sunday Services seems like a little slice of Afro-American culture: a kind of glamour and Hollywood - like version of the traditional black Sunday in the Christian communities, with the same feeling of family and participation but with a rapper as opposed to a Pastor.
We know very little about how Sunday Services work: Variety was able to keep the contact with some attendants and obtain some insight. For example, there is a dedicated brunch before the actual performance, and an accommodation that really looks like the one from the real Church. There is not a single location, it changes around California (Kanye’s Calabasas office, the wood around LA) and USA (adidas HQ in Portland, Oregon). Some of the guests come straight from the LA jet set: Diplo, David Letterman, Tyler the Creator and, obviously, the Kardashian/Jenner family.

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On the Easter week, Sunday Services will be brought to Coachella. During the past months, Kanye's performance was first announced and then cancelled, because of the incompatibility between Coachella stage and Kanye’s concept.
However now, it’s not clear if Kanye was supposed to stage the Sunday Service since the day one, or if Coachella changed its mind right after the enormous success of the format. A format that give the fans the idea that the “Old Kanye” was back. “All music. Very little Jesus stuff. 60-person choir. 20-piece band. Gospel songs, his songs, classics. I went last week. It was excellent. Kanye is wildly talented and sweet when he's not suffering from mental illness” wrote comedian Neal Brennan on his Twitter account.

Sunday Services are giving back to people the idea that Kanye is going back to the artist we know prior 2016, before the mental breakdown that lead him to wear the MAGA-hat, to be used from the alt-right and keep close with Donald Trump.
It’s really emblematic that Kanye was able to come out from the mediatic shit storm only with the help of his wife Kim, who was also the first to share his renewed Christianity. Religion was in fact something that was always present in Kanye's career.

From his “Jesus Walks” single to his Rolling Stone “Passion of Kanye West” cover in 2006, where Kanye wore a crown of thorns resemblant of Jesus, and finally Yeezus -  there always been a mix of the sacred and the profane in Kanye's ideology. A distinction that was never so clean in rap music. As Robert Tinajer wrote in his paper “Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric” there are three main characteristic in the ethos of religious featuring in rap: “ A solidarity with Jesus as a symbol of suffering and marginalization, the glorification of the life and suffering of Jesus, and the notion of good and evil existing simultaneously within people and society as a whole”. From this kind of religious perspective Kanye walked away for a bit to remerge with TLOP in 2016. It was a period of time where he rediscovered his faith thanks to Chance The Rapper – who, meanwhile, boosted the “Christian Rap” with “Coloring Book”: “I need to speak about how Chance demanding that we record in Chicago reconnected me with my roots and also my faith in Jesus Christ”, he wrote in a tweet at the end of 2018.

At that point in his life a lot was happening, including the creative episode from which emerged “Ye", “Kids See Ghost” and “DAYTONA” (among the others) on Wyoming woods. Kanye also should have recorded “Yandhi”, his next anticipated album.
So anticipated that some have started believe that, maybe, “Yandhi” is actually the union of all the Sunday Services. It could be true, in some ways, after all. The modus operandi with which Kanye delivers his Sunday Services is really similar to the one he applies in the studio. In an interview with director Jordan Peele Chance the Rapper described in this terms Kanye's ways of working: “We’ll have a studio rented out, and he’ll bounce between rooms working on different songs, writing for a second or adding or subtracting productions. He’ll also put a bunch of people in a room that he thinks might have good ideas and try to see what they come up with”.
Kanye is always in the middle, pastor and preacher alone, but with the capability to collaborate with the others for the best. As it happened in a choir, maybe the best way to give us back the good old Kanye.

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