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We went to see 'Jesus Is King', Kanye West's documentary

The streetstyle of the fans and their reactions to the film directed by Nick Knight

We went to see 'Jesus Is King', Kanye West's documentary The streetstyle of the fans and their reactions to the film directed by Nick Knight

World-class disruptor Kanye West’s latest contribution to the people is a thirty-ish minute art house piece with gospel music, preaching, Bible verses, round camera frames and shots of Wyoming skies (West and his family’s new favourite spot). Jesus is King is as much a vehicle for Kanye’s Yeezus as Jesus persona as it is a chance for fans to get a glimpse into the musician’s warped mind. We all love a good Kanye West meltdown, but Jesus Is King seems to be professing the message that the craziness is finally behind West, and the future is God. James Turrell’s Roden Center serves as the setting for this self-indulgent experimental video art piece and Ye’s Sunday Service Choir is the star. The intimacy of the space and feel is palpable, yet us viewers couldn’t help but feel separated by whatever exaltation the singers and Ye were experiencing on screen. Having premiered the previous night in Los Angeles to a massive crowd of cheering fans and a hyped out Kanye, this morning’s screening at the BFI IMAX in London was a very different experience, as well as not being completely sold out.

Attendees started pouring in a good 40 minutes before the show, immediately set themselves apart from the rest: adidas tracks in every shade of the rainbow, dyed hair and face tattoos, combat boots, bucket hats even though it wasn’t raining and an overall sense of uber coolness was floating around. Many were wearing electric blue clothing to emulate the film’s poster, as well as Yeezys on everyone’s feet (as well as a couple of Kardashians look-alikes). These are the real fans.

The rest showed up as the film had already begun and disrupted the first couple of minutes (Nick Knight, the director, was also among the crowd). Jesus Is King is no doubt a true testament to Kanye West’s bravado and evolution, yet Ye himself is barely in the movie. He appears halfway through and we only get his back, swaying back and forth and holding his head as if he couldn't believe the pure genius that stemmed from his brain. Quotes from the Bible are peppered throughout the whole film, and one can’t help but notice that if this is indeed the Kanye that we all know and love, any sense of self-irony or cheekiness is completely missing.

Yet Jesus Is King doesn’t feel all that transparent; when talking to people right after the screening, the general review is that fans will follow Ye wherever he might take them, even to Church. Having said that, does the leap from Graduation, College Dropout, My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy and especially Yeezus, actually work coherently? Can fans of his rapping years get on board with a full-on gospel album (which, by the way, still hasn’t dropped)? Does Ye even care at this point? As the last shot of the film shows us a super close up of (possibly) his latest son Psalm being held by Ye as he gently hums a religious lullaby, we can get the idea that Kanye is a family man now, and that and God come first. As for his fans, you either embark on this potentially cult-like phase of the star’s career or, as the rest of us, you stand on the sidelines, get some popcorn and enjoy the show. 

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I spoke to people after the screening and many felt that this wasn’t a Kanye West production, but rather an experimental art house gospel video, executively produced by West. The general consensus is that it is undeniably a beautiful piece of cinema, the IMAX surround system is definitely necessary to fully experience the angelic voices of the choir and the set design is hypnotizing. As for Kanye himself, opinions varied but an overall sense of slight disappointment didn’t go unnoticed; the fans wanted more, and they deserve it. Jesus Is King perfectly showcases Kanye’s new sense of self, artistic ideology, beliefs and mental health presently. We can only hope he’ll return to Earth sometime soon, but for now- it’s quite a treat to see him in action and finally in what appears to be his element.