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Jane Mo, USA TODAY
Kanye West is kicking off 2019 by giving fans – many of whom were left disgruntled by the rapper’s rocky 2018 – a new reason to be excited by his work.
West’s “Sunday Service,” a weekly event that started in January, brings together a group of lucky attendees – with celebs including Paris Jackson, Courtney Love, Rick Rubin, Kid Cudi, Busy Philipps and Diplo recently in the audience – to watch West lead a choir and perform new compositions of his old hits. West sings, often standing in front of a keyboard, as the guest vocalists provide backup in gospel rearrangements of his songs.
While photos and videos from the sessions often show up online in the hours after, and West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, occasionally streams parts of his them live, the Sunday services have remained elusive to West’s larger fan base. Details about the shows, like the set list and run times, have remained private.
As mysterious as the Sunday services may be, the clips that have leaked from the sessions show flashes of old-Kanye inspiration, a new reason for fans to believe in the rapper after a series of disappointments.
Following a nearly yearlong disappearance that encompassed most of 2017 (which West later attributed to a mental breakdown), the rapper returned in 2018 and spent much of the year embroiled in various controversies. Among his headline-making stunts: Calling slavery a “choice,” his ranting visit to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, a one-sided feud with Drake and his inflammatory appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” His personal dramas haven’t completely subsided in the new year, as he’s currently battling music publisher EMI, comparing his contract with the company to “servitude.”
In between his run of controversies, he released his seven-song “ye” album, its poor quality suggesting that West had become an artist more concerned with throwing bombs than making hits.
While West isn’t debuting new music during his Sunday services, revisiting his old catalog has made for exciting viewing. The visuals alone are entrancing: Choirs dressed in all-white clothing executing choreographed movements in venues that have included a lush green landscape in Calabasas for the March 10 session and a room bathed in purple light for Feb. 10’s gathering, the latter celebrating the 15th anniversary of his “College Dropout” debut album.
His hits, rearranged for gospel-choir glory, are even more compelling, making the series reminiscent of another project from West’s golden days, his “Late Orchestration” live album and concert video, in which he performed songs from “College Dropout” and his 2005 “Late Registration” album with a string orchestra.
It’s now become a Sunday ritual for West fans to check the social media feeds of Kim Kardashian and West’s other celebrity guests, with many fans taking to the comments to ask the rapper to turn the sessions into a full tour, or release them as an album of live recordings.
It might be working. Last week brought the first evidence that West may be interested in taking his Sunday services on the road, after he traveled with his choir to Adidas’ North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to perform soulful renditions of “Jesus Walks” and “Bound 2” in a striking red room.
A Sunday service tour would be vindication for fans who missed out on West’s Saint Pablo tour in 2016. West cut the tour short and canceled 21 dates following two controversial concerts in which he criticized Jay-Z and Beyonce, sported MAGA hats and told concertgoers he was considering a 2020 presidential run.
That’s the Kanye his fans have been more familiar with for much of the past year, with his outbursts making headlines more often than his actual work.
Thankfully, with his new Sunday project, fans are getting a glimpse of the artist that entranced listeners in the first place.
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