Fifteen years after he made Jesus walk on his 2004 College Dropout single, Kanye West spent the first quarter of 2019 taking listeners to church with his weekly live gospel performance series: Sunday Service. The ultra-exclusive gatherings see the rapper performing hits from his catalog, along with covers of R&B and gospel gems, while backed by a gospel choir and musical luminaries.
Depending on how cynical you are, the sessions seem to be earnest musical celebrations inspired by church (with a backyard barbecue vibe) or a stop-gap to divert our attention away from the oft-delayed Yandhi. Either way, Kanye’s Sunday Services are the culmination of his career-long movement to merge gospel and faith with rap.
And now, after submitting thunderous performances for the past few months—the majority of which have taken place around his local Calabasas area—Kanye is bringing his passion project to Coachella on Easter Sunday, where he will perform atop a private Palm Springs mountain at 9 a.m. PST. Before that goes down, let’s look back on the key moments from Kanye West’s Sunday Service sessions.
January 6, 2019: Kim Kardashian teases Sunday Service on Instagram
Arriving nearly four months after Kanye announced his forthcoming album, Yandhi, footage of the first Sunday Service rehearsals had fans formulating theories, with some predicting it would lead to a tour announcement from Ye and Kid Cudi in support of their Kids See Ghosts joint album. Others wondered if we were about to get a glimpse of the follow-up to West’s 2018 LP, ye.
On the first Sunday of the year, both potential outcomes seemed possible, as Kim K shared reworkings of tracks like like “Heard ‘Em Say,” “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Reborn,” and “Ghost Town” on her Instagram stories, before closing out the day by implying that the Sunday Service would become a weekly offering, tweeting, “Just hearing music as our Sunday Service was super inspiring. See you next Sunday.”
January 13, 2019: Sunday Service kicks off inside Kardashian-West home
One week after teasing the live gospel series, Kim K delivered on her promise, as Kanye’s Sunday Service kicked off on January 13. This time, though, Kris Jenner was in charge of marketing, as she made use of her 25 million followers by livestreaming the event on Instagram. With the whole family on hand, Kanye led a full choir through hits from every era, blessing those in attendance with reworkings of “I Wonder,” “Father Stretch My Hands,” and “Lift Yourself.”
January 20, 2019: Kanye debuts “We’ll Find a Way,” at second Sunday Service
With David Letterman in attendance, Kanye debuted a new song at his second weekly Sunday Service. The track, called “We’ll Find a Way,” fits in with the inspirational and uplifting vibe of the sessions, focusing on themes of coming together to create a better world. Of course, a live Kanye performance isn’t legitimate without an impromptu message. So, after holding his tongue during the inaugural Sunday Service, ‘Ye let loose in the second installment, as he touched on his own perseverance, saying, “Don’t it feel good to know you can never be canceled? They say, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t do that, you’ll lose your career,’ but I’m still here.” [Editor’s note: Video of “We’ll Find a Way” has been scrubbed from the internet, but you can see a snippet from the second week’s service.
February 10, 2019: Kanye celebrates ‘College Dropout’ 15th anniversary at Sunday Service
Following the first three weeks of Sunday Service, the fourth edition came in the form of a series of loose ‘Ye freestyles from Dame Dash’s L.A. studio, before Kanye took a break from the spiritual gatherings on February 3, Superbowl Sunday. The following week proved that the wait was worth it, as the fourth jam session— which fell on the 15th anniversary of College Dropout—celebrated Kanye’s iconic debut album with a rendition of his breakthrough hit, “Jesus Walks.” The highlight of the day, though, came via unreleased music, including a song rumored to feature the late XXXTentacion and Ty Dolla $ign.
February 24, 2019: Red-haired Kanye becomes a meme
This is the moment Sunday Service entered the pop culture zeitgeist, resonating as more than an invite-only event frequented by affiliates of the Kardashian-West clan. Naturally, it needed a meme to get there. Leave it to Kanye’s long-time co-conspirator CyHi the Prynce to capture the glorious vine-length clip that remains the lasting image of the gospel sessions: a red-haired Kanye hitting his signature head bob, while chopping up Fred Hammond’s “This is the Day” behind his ASR keyboard.
March 5, 2019: Sunday Service moves to Adidas headquarters in Portland
After taking his jam session to the hills of Calabasas, Kanye switched things up again in early March: This time, he gassed up the private jet and flew the entire team to the Adidas headquarters in Portland for a special Tuesday edition of Sunday Service. The flight doubled as an opening act, as Kanye kicked things off on the plane with a cover of Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit single “Back to Life.” Still sporting red hair, he went on to put on a show at Adidas, which was highlighted by a guest appearance from Charlie Wilson, who assisted ‘Ye in a rendition of “Bound 2.”
March 17, 2019: DMX leads Sunday Service with a prayer
At this point, it’s fair to assume that Sunday Service will be remembered for the red-haired Kanye meme and viral clips of North West dancing. Which is a shame, really, given that the series has also featured a spoken word performance from DMX (fresh out of jail, no less) in Week 12. He blessed fans with a passionate intro prayer, some of which was pulled from Grand Champ’s “The Prayer V.” “I am the object of your affection,” X yelled in his signature bark. “Your favor surrounds me as a shield and the first thing that people come in contact with is my favored shield. I have favor with everyone that I deal with today. Doors that were once closed are now open for me. I receive preferential treatment and special privileges. I am God’s favorite child.”
March 24, 2019: Sunday Service reportedly shut down by police after complaints
Shame on whoever called the cops (on a pristine spring afternoon, on a Sunday, during March Madness) in an effort to shut down Week 13 of Sunday Service. Granted, the noise complaints didn’t damper Kanye’s spirits: paparazzi photographed him laughing with the LAPD. While the event didn’t debut any new music, it did feature three of its biggest celebrity appearances to date: Tyler, the Creator, Katy Perry, and Orlando Bloom.
March 31, 2019: Kanye announces Coachella appearance for Easter Sunday Service
On January 1, just days before Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett was scheduled to announce Kanye as one of the headliners for the festival, West pulled out after the festival couldn’t meet his stage design demands. But on March 31, ‘Ye offered up even better news: the announcement of a Coachella-edition of Sunday Service taking place on Easter Sunday, to boot. Into a loudspeaker on board of a privately chartered plane, Kanye relayed the news. “737 passengers, we’d like to make an announcement that we just booked another show,” he said. “We will be doing Sunday Service sunrise at Coachella.”
April 7, 2019: Kanye pays tribute to Nipsey Hussle
One week after the tragic passing of Nipsey Hussle, Kanye added to the outpouring of support by incorporating Nip into his latest Sunday Service offering. Kanye used audio from Hussle to open the gathering. “Just wanted to send some words of encouragement,” said Nipsey. “Y’all stay focused, y’all keep working hard. Believe in y’all self. Prove everybody that doubt y’all wrong. Show up every day. Stay pure. Stay motivated. Stay smart. Show love to your people.” That built to a full choir singing in honor of the late rapper, joined by the band that Kanye had assembled for the weekly jam. The inspirational message was followed by a soothing performance from the choir, along with North West’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “As”.
Like him or not Kanye drums to a beat all of his own…. and only God knows what’s next…. Stay tuned.