On Sept. 28, I saw Kanye West in person for the first time. And if you know me, you might know that’s kind of a big deal.
Although I completely disagree with his recent political statements and stance on medication, Kanye’s music has impacted me on a deeply personal level. From the somber, anguished “Runaway” to the soulful, optimistic “Ghost Town”, Ye’s music has provided the soundtrack to so many of my life’s highs and lows. In fact, my first NBN article was about Kanye. When I wrote that piece, I was eagerly anticipating the release of a new album. Now, nearly a year later, I can finally say I’ve listened to it — and Kanye himself was the one who played it for me.
When I woke up to the news that Kanye would be holding a listening party for his upcoming album in Chicago, I was struck by the realization that I might finally get to see my favorite artist in person. Less than 12 hours later, I was in line outside the Auditorium Theatre, staring at a sign which read “Jesus is King: A Kanye West Experience”. After waiting for multiple hours, I filed in, locked my phone away and took my seat. What followed was an experience unlike any other.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Kanye appeared. The applause from the crowd was deafening, close friends hugged each other and I could tell a lot of bucket lists just got shorter. However, the show didn’t start with music or theatrics. Instead, it began with a prayer and a short film showcasing Kanye’s affordable housing projects. While that might have been of little interest to the fans who were only there for the music (myself included to an extent), it set the tone for the night and made one thing clear: this was not a concert.
After the film concluded, Kanye started playing his new album, Jesus is King. As the title implies, the project’s subject matter focused entirely on Christianity. It felt surreal to be listening to a new Kanye project for the first time with the man himself in the same room, yet it wasn’t the life-changing experience I was half-expecting it to be, and with good reason. I won’t review the album (how could I possibly be objective given the nature of the experience?), but the one thing that stuck out to me was that this was a Kanye West completely devoid of egotism.
Throughout his career, Kanye has thrived off a cult of personality — his creative output, media presence and fanbase have revolved around his brash arrogance. Jesus is King had none of that. Even though the event was subtitled “A Kanye West Experience,” the focus was almost completely off Kanye himself. At one point, Ye gave a speech expressing regret toward his past actions (specifically, the fact that he built himself up to be a god and called himself “Yeezus”). In a way, it shattered the illusion Kanye spent so many years crafting — gone was the man who leveraged his musical ability to build himself into a mythical figure. In his place was someone who simply wanted to spread a message through art.
The event concluded with another short film, this time focusing on the Sunday Service project Kanye began earlier this year. While Kanye did appear in the film, which featured gospel renditions of several of his classic tracks, his appearance once again lacked the ego that dominated the majority of his career. After the film’s conclusion, the lights were raised and the event ended unceremoniously. No fanfare, no encore and no final words from Mr. West. For an artist notorious for speaking out of line and stealing the limelight, this was surprising. Not bad, just unexpected.
Admittedly, my expectations for the night were completely different from what I actually got. I always thought my first in-person encounter with Kanye would be a transcendent experience. In a way, it was. I never once felt like I was in the presence of an artistic god, but I absolutely felt like I was seeing an incredibly talented person humbly sharing the work (both musical and otherwise) that he was deeply passionate about. “Jesus is King: A Kanye West Experience” made someone I’ve idolized for years feel deeply human, in the best way possible.