Kanye West Makes a Surprise Visit to GW

GW students got an exclusive preview of the rapper’s upcoming album and documentary as well as the project’s new release date.

Kanye West
Kanye West at a Norwegian musical festival in 2011. Photographers were not allowed at his appearance at Lisner on Saturday. (Photo by: Kim Erlandsen/NPK P3)
October 14, 2019

By Tatyana Hopkins

Kanye West made a surprise appearance at the George Washington University Saturday to host “Jesus is King: A Kanye West Experience,” a listening party for his upcoming album and an advanced screening for its corresponding IMAX movie.

Nearly 1,500 people packed Lisner Auditorium for the impromptu preview, where Mr. West played drafts of songs on his highly anticipated ninth studio album titled “Jesus is King” and screened what he called a “rough edit” of his film with the same name. He gave the audience a “tentative” release date of Oct. 25 for the album.

The university announced the surprise visit and 150 free tickets for students on Instagram and Twitter at midnight the day of the show. Security was tight at the event. Attendees had to turn over their mobile devices before entering to prevent the taking of photos or videos.

Although the show began at 2 p.m. a line wrapped around the outside of the auditorium early in the morning.

Sarah Kennedy, a sophomore majoring in American studies, camped outside overnight for a ticket and was the fourth person in line when the doors opened at 1:30 p.m.

“I saw it on Twitter at 2 a.m.,” Ms. Kennedy said. “All of my friends were sleep, and I was not waiting for anyone. I threw some clothes on and ran. I got here at about 2:30.”

Mr. West, who is widely known for his secular music, marked the upcoming release as a “gospel album.” He said his recent devotion to the Christian faith “within the last year” inspired the music, noting that while he used to “worship material things” like designer labels and cars, he is now focused on worshipping God.

“I’m not here for your entertainment,” he said. “I’m here to spread the Gospel.”

Mr. West recited Bible verses as he played parts of songs from the album on his iPhone such as “Selah,” “On God” and others, some of which were unfinished. He told the crowd that he began working on one song he played just the night before.

The sample he played of “Closed on Sunday” made reference to the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A: “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A,” the song’s hook repeats. “Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away. Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray.”

He described the new songs as a merging of choir harmonies with beats that sound similar to his previous work and lyrics that feature themes of religion, family and social justice to support the album’s gospel designation. He highlighted lyrics about the mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States and acknowledged the recent work on prison reform of his wife, Kim Kardashian West, who was in attendance. He also mentioned her efforts on behalf of former D.C. inmate Momolu Stewart.

“Modern day mass incarceration is modern day slavery,” Mr. West said.

Angela Yungu, a GW sophomore studying economics and French, went to the event with her friend Mouna Loueke, a first-year student studying political science.

Ms. Yungu said she liked the rapper’s contemporary play on African American gospel music.

“I love how he incorporated his 2004/2005 vibe to it and just really played around with the music,” she said. “I love how he incorporated his culture, our culture, and then he’s making it so that everyone can relate to it.” 

Prior to Mr. West playing music from the new album, he held a viewing of its movie component, which featured documentary footage of Mr. West’s Sunday Service choir and Bible verses that appeared in between scenes. The movie is set to play in IMAX theaters Oct. 25 to 31.

Some shots featured the group performing songs arranged by Mr. West in the Roden Crater, a large-scale art installation within a dormant cinder cone volcano in Arizona’s Painted Desert created by artist James Turrell.

Andrew Almeida and Gaurav Gawankar, two juniors studying international affairs, said they needed to “cool off” after the preview.

“The film was pretty cool,” Mr. Gawankar said. 

Mr. Almeida added, “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. [Mr. West] is on a different wave. He is on an Afro-futurist wave.”

Before his visit to GW, Mr. West held a surprise Sunday Service at Howard University during its homecoming celebration.

Student Life