Detroit remained the center of the Kanye West universe Friday evening, as the rapper staged a pop-up listening party to reveal his new music at the Fox Theatre, hours after hosting an outdoor gospel event.
About 2,000 very zealous fans gathered inside the grand theater as West served up the first listen of his 10-track “Jesus Is King,” the much-delayed album that at one point was scheduled for Friday release. As revealed by the listening session, guests on the record include rap duo Clipse and sax man Kenny G (closing track “Use This Gospel for Protection”), along with Detroit-raised gospel singer Fred Hammond (“Hands Off”).
“He’s dropping the album Sunday,” his wife, Kim Kardashian West, wrote on her Instagram Story late Friday. “Just a few final tweaks to the mixes.”
Fans lined up at sunset Friday before Kanye West’s presentation of “Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Experience” at the Fox Theatre.
With his wife and daughter looking on, West also revealed clips from a forthcoming IMAX film, “Jesus Is King,” directed by British filmmaker Nick Knight.
With photographers barred and fans forced to lock their mobile devices in pouches, West had the full attention of his Fox crowd, which included the Detroit Pistons’ Derrick Rose. The evening had a Kanye-community feel — a group of diehard Ye devotees lucky enough to score the free tickets during an afternoon release.
The listening session revealed an album infused with spiritual themes, including cautions against the temptations of superficial culture (“L.A. Monster”), songs of personal revelation (“Hands Off” with Hammond) and urgings of faith and devotion (“Closed on Sunday” — “just like Chick-fil-A,” as Kanye quipped).
As played by West at the Fox, the album’s song selection and running order were different from those posted last month by Kardashian, who was greeted by a roar as she took to a box seat with daughter North West.
Kanye West’s “Jesus Is King” is a typically unconventional Kanye West album that functions as a message of faith, like the hip-hop prayer “Water” and quickly infectious “New Body.”
For all the spiritual overtones, “Jesus Is King” isn’t a gospel record, beyond the occasional swirling organ — although “Selah” certainly reaches ecstatic fervor with its “Hallelujah!” chants.
Rather, it’s a typically unconventional Kanye West album that functions as a message of faith and praise, like the hip-hop prayer “Water” and quickly infectious “New Body.” It’s a collection of songs laced with elastic beats, dreamy soundscapes, sing-songy lines and the regular array of Yeezy sound effects.
West, who positioned himself by the Fox’s sound board, drew the crowd’s focus to his direction as he rolled out the tracks — forcing a scramble from ushers to get over-eager fans from standing on the theater seats.
Occasionally, he restarted tracks to encourage crowd participation — urging fans to sing the refrain they’d just heard on “Closed on Sunday,” for instance, or chanting along with the “soccer stadium melody,” as he called it, that opens “Use This Gospel for Protection.”
The listening event, which was announced Friday afternoon minutes before the free tickets were released, was part of a quickly devised Detroit visit that included West’s Sunday Service gospel event at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre.
There’s still no official explanation why West chose the Motor City for his activities on the day of his album’s scheduled release — but choir director Jason White may have provided a clue earlier Friday when he paid tribute to the city’s deep, vast gospel tradition.
Friday night’s event also introduced the upcoming IMAX film, featuring gospel performances by Kanye’s Sunday Service Choir. The scenes screened at the Fox — intimate, long-held shots — drew rousing reaction from the rapper’s gathered faithful.
West also showed short clips from a documentary about his forays into architecture and affordable-housing projects as he seeks designs “that maximize human experience,” as he said onscreen.
Among the fans on hand were Nick Boyd and Noah Tidmore, part of a group of Nashville fans who took an impromptu trip to Detroit. They were among those who scored the lucky twofer — tickets to both the Sunday Service and the Fox event.
Boyd, 22, described the day as a communal affair, “less about individually wanting to see Kanye than to be with a group of people seeing him.” He called Friday’s Detroit activities “the most public intimate thing he’s done.”
For Tidmore, who says he was raised in the church but has found himself in “a state of doubt,” the “Jesus Is King” album was a moving experience.
“I think it was impossible for anyone to leave unchanged, no matter what you believe,” said Tidmore, 23.
And that’s what made a Friday night hip-hop event a spiritual happening.
“I’m in a room full of people who believe different things,” he said, “but we were unified by a purpose.”