Three months after kicking off the first Sunday Service in Calabasas, Kanye West brought the series to Coachella on Easter Sunday. Performing on a grassy hill alongside a choir, dancers, and fellow rappers (Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, Ty Dolla Sign, etc) Kanye played gospel versions of older songs like "Father Stretch My Hands," “Power,” and “Fade.” He also gave a peek at the direction of his new music when he debuted an unreleased track called “Water,” featuring vocals from Ant Clemons. The performance drew large crowds at Coachella, and the whole thing was livestreamed through a pinhole on YouTube. Here are our eight biggest takeaways from the experience.
The redemption campaign is in full effect
Six months ago, Kanye West was at the White House, wearing a MAGA hat and hugging Donald Trump. In need of a redemption tour in 2019, he stopped tweeting and started his weekly Sunday Service gospel performance series. Leaning into his strengths, Sunday Service at Coachella 2019 was centered around beats and harmonies, and featured very little rapping. And when Kanye did get on the mic, he leaned in to the soulful sounds of “old Kanye,” performing beloved College Dropout hits “Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down.” So, is the rebrand campaign working? Yes and no. He drew a massive crowd at Coachella and much of the online feedback has been positive, but some people pointed out the hypocrisy in Kanye’s past year, tweeting things like, “lol at Kanye using the ‘black church’ for his redemption but never apologizing to the black community for his action/words.” —Eric Skelton
'TLOP' finally got the full gospel treatment that Kanye had promised
“This is a gospel album,” Kanye told fans before releasing The Life of Pablo. When the album finally dropped, some were disappointed that the gospel sound didn’t permeate the full project, as they were greeted instead by lines about bleached assholes. But on Sunday, Kanye finally fulfilled his promise for TLOP, as he flipped tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Ultralight Beam,” and “Fade,” into full-on gospel songs, with the help of a full choir. The soulful renditions even brought some of the performers (including Kanye) to tears at several points in the show. —Eric Skelton
Kanye gave a preview of his new music with "Water"
I’m not trying to be a spoil-sport here. Great music doesn’t redeem something like say, fucking with Donald Trump, but great music can redeem previously bad music. Ye...sucked, honestly. I want great things from Yandhi and the signs are there that it might be the course-correction we and Kanye need. But if this track is a sign of what’s to come, the ground on that mountaintop just got a lil shakier, my G! I don’t know, man, shout out to Ant Clemons for carrying those notes but the “All Day” live debut, this is not. I can’t say I’m eager for a studio version of this or even a live mp3 rip. Gospel overtones and positivity are cool, but this here ain’t it. Hopefully this is an album interlude at best. —Frazier Tharpe
Ant Clemons is Kanye’s new secret weapon
Kanye diehards first heard of singer-songwriter Ant Clemons when he appeared on ’Ye’s 2018 track “All Mine.” Their collaborative relationship has progressed from there. Clemons worked on West’s 6ix9ine collab “Kanga” and popped up at a Sunday Service back in January on a track called “We’ll Find a Way.” And at Coachella, he was there again, singing on the set’s sole new original song, “Water.” If the last few months are any indiction, we can expect the L.A.-via-New Jersey Clemons to play a big part on West’s upcoming Yandhi when (or if) it surfaces. —Shawn Setaro
Kanye is experimenting with house music (again)
’Ye famously sampled iconic house producer Larry “Mr. Fingers” Heard for The Life of Pablo’s “Fade” back in 2015, borrowed a bassline from David Morales for “I Love It,” and sampled Junior Vasquez for a Teyana Taylor track. At Coachella, Kanye brought the house spirit yet again during an interlude (see above). This makes sense. West is nothing if not Chicago proud, and house was of course created in the city. Does this mean that Yandhi will sound like a night at the Warehouse? We can only hope. —Shawn Setaro
This may not have been the most appropriate time for $200+ merch
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who buys my merch will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by buying my merch will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
I’m not an expert on Christianity, but I’ve gotta say, selling $50 socks that say “Jesus Walks” on Easter Sunday seems… sacrilegious? It would be one thing if the clothes were actually fire, but the taste did not jump out here. These joints look like Forever 21 Pablo merch knockoffs, circa 2016. I personally can’t wait for Going Clear: Sunday Service and the Prison of Belief. —Carolyn Bernucca
Kanye continues to have performance issues
When Kanye performed with Kid Cudi as Kids See Ghosts at Camp Flog Gnaw in November, he forgot lyrics to multiple songs and stumbled through parts of the set. He seemed to clean those issues up when he performed with Cudi again at Coachella on Saturday night, but when it came time to rap “All Falls Down” at Sunday Service, he tripped over the opening lines. He did end up making a full recovery and later performed the song without issue, but some fans were surprised to see him have difficulty with a classic like “All Falls Down,” after chalking up his Kids See Ghosts issues to the fact that those were new songs he hadn’t performed before. Later in the Sunday Service set, Kanye’s voice was so hoarse that he was unable to fully perform his new song “Water,” and had to lean on vocals from collaborator Ant Clemons. —Eric Skelton
Is a summer tour on the way?
Yeezy’s been tinkering with this Sunday Service experiment for months now, but outside of personally invited guests, we’ve only really been experiencing it through truncated Kardashian Snapchats (the best type of promo going, honestly). Coachella was the first time Sunday Service was out in the wild, and although most of us would argue our view was still truncated thanks to that Bounty paper towel tube shot, it appears Kanye pulled it off for the most part.
So what’s next? It’s been a while since ’Ye has been on tour, and he loves a live show that shakes shit up. Summer is right around the corner—might Yeezy eschew arenas and go on his first stadium tour with a traveling congregation singing their high praises in baseball and football fields around the country? Sunday service in Central Park? I’m personally already over all of this, but the more I think about it, the more likely it seems. —Frazier Tharpe
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