So on this Easter Sunday, as I prepared to watch the live stream of Sunday Service by Kanye West at Coachella, I waited with excitement because I had seen the previous clips on the internet and I wondered how they would execute it on such a big stage. I also had previously seen Kanye live during the Late Registration Tour and the Yeezus tour, both being some of my favorite all time concerts, so I knew the caliber of his showmanship.
As I watched, I noticed some issues throughout the set with sound. Teyana Taylor at one point had her in-ear monitors in her hand. Kanye had to start and restart his first verse for “All Falls Down” because of issues. This had to be such a headache, but I applaud the whole Sunday Service Crew for pushing through the difficulties. Now that we got that out of the way, the digital doors of the church are open.
This set was like a course on Black art and culture. We heard covers of Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band, Kool and the Gang, and Soul II Soul. The Church vibes were definitely in full effect with songs like “Brighter Day,” “Oh Lord,” “How Excellent,” “Never Would of Made It,” and other songs in the set had their lyrics tailored to make Jesus the focal point. I never imagined I’d hear someone tell people to lift their hands up to Jesus and see a sea of hands at Coachella following the call. Kanye even edited his lyrics for the occasion. I honestly really appreciate that a lot, because profanity and worship don’t really gel that well.
In some parts, it seemed like Chance the Rapper didn’t get the full memo because he let a couple of colorful words fly. I still think the atmosphere was set and all involved were dedicated to keeping it that way.
During my experience, there was one visible issue with my Black Church dreams, and I’m not talking about the pinhole view. When I looked at the Congregation of Coachella I noticed it didn’t have many people of color. I think that element did take away from the experience for me. The black church without black people can feel like our culture is being consumed more than appreciated, that’s not a good feeling. I noticed when Jason White the Choir Director invited people to sing, it was noticeable that they didn’t’ know the words. For some people, the set probably felt more like a production, instead of songs being lifted up to God.
Now I know Kim Kardashian did say on Jimmy Kimmel when talking about Sunday Service that, “There’s no sermon, no prayer, no word. It’s just music and it’s just a feeling,” so maybe that’s the point. I just feel it’s hard to take God out of Gospel music.
Now this being Coachella, I do admit that it is a challenge to perform songs of worship to alcohol, drug-induced crowd. But at the end of the day when we are actually worshipping is the crowd the audience or are we singing to an audience of one? I guess maybe that’s something that is more for the person worshipping to decide. I also don’t think people necessarily come to Coachella for a church, but I do believe that church was had during this set.
Kanye West shared a new song called “Water” where it painted this picture of God’s love being water, and us being made of water and needing water to live. I’m super excited to hear the final version of this record. I also think this song is a glimpse of where Kanye’s next record might be taking us.
Then it happened for me. I felt a shift in the atmosphere when Earl “DMX” Simmons came on stage and did a prayer at the end of “Ultra Light Beam.” DMX has this way of showing how much he needs and loves God without giving you an edited version of his journey or personhood. During this prayer, Kanye was even moved to tears. I definitely felt something as well.
Throughout the Sunday Service set I think it should be noted that it didn’t feel like Kanye was even the main focal point. Even though his name and records are what brought us in, the real stars were undoubtedly the Choir Director Jason White, his choir known as “The Samples,” and the band. The way they executed everything was immaculate and Jason White’s direction is something that should be studied. Kanye is known for surrounding himself with talent and collaborating with only the best, and this should’ve been expected.
The Samples had to stay in tune singing different parts and harmonies, the band was playing with different transitions through the set, with their sound issues this crew did what some would deem impossible. I also want to give some love to everyone who was in charge of art direction, wardrobe, make up, and hair. This is what operating at excellence should look like. Even though the performance may not be what I pictured or thought it should be I’m humble enough to admit that my preference is not that important.
I don’t know the vision that God gave Kanye, so it’s not meant to be something for me to understand or to please my expectations. I think I also need to constantly remember who Worship is really for. While I was looking at the crowd, I was reminded that worship is really for God. We saw people worship God and let Him know how they felt without having to have the crowd be the driving force of how they perform.
Every time I heard them yell “He’s Alive!” and when they sang “Satan We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down!” I believed that they really meant it. If we’re honest we saw a beautiful display of boldness. We saw a group of vocal believers worship God in the midst of believers and nonbelievers and none of that was able to waiver their engagement with God. Everyone at Sunday Service had a specific role, an individual gift, but it felt like they all had one goal and focus – to make sure Jesus’ name was lifted up.
Watch video from Sunday Service below: