Kanye West kicked off 2019 by declaring himself a Christian, which, after a few years of listening to the rapper play the victim, defend sex offenders, decry the “liberal” media, and obsess over pornography, wasn’t all that surprising. Christianity’s always been part of Ye’s DNA, sure—his breakout single, lest we forget, asserted his “need” for Jesus—but, lately, the spirit that once stirred his soul has been refashioned into his Sunday Services, a celebratory, arguably cynical aesthetic that resonates as both a calculated redemption narrative and rebrand. Can you blame him, though? There’s always been cash in the cross. Publicity, too.
The gospel-flavored Sunday Services are lovely to listen to—who wouldn’t perk at gospel renditions of the rapper’s best songs?—but, like the Hillsong tribe, it’s megachurch culture repackaged for millennials, with a whole lot of pretty masking a marked dearth of substance. Are gospel’s hallmarks still effective when divorced from a spiritual context? Most certainly, but there’s nevertheless something hollow about Kanye’s vague, secular, feel-good “sermons.” You may as well be listening to a prosperity preacher and, in a way, you kinda are.
Just look at Kanye’s Coachella “church clothes” merch table from Easter Sunday, which, per photos from this past weekend, consisted of basic sweatshirts and shirts featuring words like “Trust God,” “Jesus Walks,” “Sunday Service,” and “Holy Spirit.” The former range between $165 and $225, while the shirts run for $70. Socks reading “Church Socks,” meanwhile, go for $50. Though Jesus would’ve flipped that table without hesitation, it’s less clear what he’d do to Kanye’s website, where the merch is currently being sold.
It’s cynical enough to be comical, but Kanye knows what he’s doing. You can’t undersell the man’s ability to compellingly touch on pressure points in the lead-up to his releases, to raise debates that inspire rage on either side of the aisle. He did it with MAGA hats and, as Yandhi inches closer, he’ll probably do it with Jesus, too. To get mad about it is pointless, but people will still get mad about it. At least “Water” sounds pretty good.