It makes sense that Kanye West staged the Manhattan event for his ninth album Jesus Is King at the United Palace—an ornate gold theater that was once saved from demolition by a televangelist in the late 1960s, and still regularly hosts spiritual gatherings today. After hosting a Sunday Service in a New York church yesterday morning, the rapper spent his third straight night sharing a closed-doors, no-phones preview of his new album and accompanying IMAX film. Attendees in red velvet seats chanted “YEEZY” in anticipation. Crewneck sweatshirts costing $140 were available for purchase; alcohol was not.
Kanye started things off by introducing clips from two different films. The first was a documentary about him creating Star Wars-inspired dome houses in the hills of Calabasas, California. It opened with a close-up of the rapper against a blue sky. Shot at a low angle, he’s positioned to appear powerful and holy. He walks in a savanna among giraffes, his daughter North West on his shoulders. “When you’re an artist, you’re spiritually free,” he says in the clip. The film showed Kanye speaking to collaborators, looking at 3D models, and seemingly designing his ideal society.
The second clip came from the forthcoming Jesus Is King IMAX film directed by Nick Knight and Britt Lloyd. It documents his Sunday Service series, and appropriately, opens with big hallelujah chants. The camera zooms out to show famed visual artist James Turrell’s Roden Crater project in Arizona. (Early this year, Kanye donated millions to the project.) The impressionistic film intersperses close-up scenes of nature—fields, moths on a flower, a mountain under stormy clouds—with shots of a gospel choir. While the clip played, Kanye’s children North and Saint danced on the theater stage.
The artwork below, which also appeared on the night’s merch, flashed on the screen. While it’s still unconfirmed, it’s been widely speculated to be the new album’s cover.
“I wasn’t fully saved during Coachella,” Kanye told the crowd, alluding to his Sunday Service performance at this year’s festival. “I came to know the truth and joy of Jesus. This album is an expression of the gospel.”
He then introduced the record itself—10 tracks all featuring heavily religious lyrics and themes. He frequently invokes Jesus and never swears on the album. The tracklist appears to include all the songs Kim Kardashian shared on a handwritten note posted to Twitter, though they were shuffled in a different order. Unsurprisingly to anybody who’s seen his Sunday Service performances, “Follow God” includes sampled vintage gospel recordings, while “Selah” is filled with hallelujah chants and church organ.
Songs also featured allusions to his recent history of political statements; he referenced his talking points about the 13th Amendment and President Trump in “On God.” Ty Dolla $ign appears on “New Body” (a track that, earlier in the weekend, he said would later get a new verse from Nicki Minaj). “Hands On” features gospel artist Fred Hammond. The album’s final song, “Use This Gospel,” features Clipse (both Pusha-T and No Malice in their first song together since 2013’s “Shame on the Devil”) and ends with a Kenny G saxophone solo. There’s a song called “Closed on Sunday,” which prominently features the line, “You’re my Chik-Fil-A.”
As people walked out of the theater, their reactions to the music were palpably mixed. “I can’t believe it’s come to this shit,” one attendee said. “That was fire,” said another.