Inside Kanye West's 'Jesus Is King' Film and Album Experience

Kanye West performs onstage during his "Jesus Is King" album - Getty - H 2019
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

West, a longtime fan of public listening parties, debuted his latest efforts to a select crowd Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Days ahead of releasing his ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, and his short film of the same name on Friday, Kanye West showcased both projects at an exclusive event Wednesday night at The Forum in Los Angeles.

A longtime fan of public listening parties — having hosted one in 2016 at New York's Madison Square Garden for Life of Pablo, and again in 2018 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for Ye — West welcomed several thousand fans to the venue, with hundreds on the floor among an art installation reminiscent of the desert with sections of prairie grass and various plants. The setting reflected that of the rapper's film, which was shot over the summer in Arizona's Painted Desert and highlights his famed Sunday Service.

As his loyal listeners clamored to get inside — with a number of teenage fans sneaking into the venue, only to be kicked out by security — West spoke briefly from the sound booth, saying, "L.A., what's good? Two days until the album drops," and shouting out "Meg Webster, who we did this installation with."

He also asked attendees to be patient, as the film's screening was delayed almost an hour, before passing the microphone to his wife, Kim Kardashian West, who joked, "Kanye left me with mic — what should we do?" She proceeded to pass the time by filming Instagram stories of a fan showing her his tattoo and recording moments when the crowd broke into chants of "Kanye! Kanye!," followed by "Kim! Kim!" and even, in honor of the eldest Kardashian sister, "Kourtney! Kourtney!" 

Ahead of the screening, the arena, which was capped at about half of its full 17,000-seat capacity, was filled with nature sounds to match the installation. Once most fans were finally inside the building, the 30-minute film began, projected on a huge screen. Jesus Is King largely stars West's Sunday Service choir, dressed in simple brown clothing inside of artist James Turell's Roden Crater installation and featuring songs arranged by West in the gospel tradition, along with some music from his new album. The rapper himself shows up in the film near the end in a solo performance, and in the final moments, appears shirtless and holding his youngest child Psalm West, who is snuggled to his father's chest while he sings. 

Following the pic's conclusion, the crowd once again burst into cheers of "Kanye! Kanye!," whereupon West appeared on the floor in a blue Jesus Is King hat and black shirt. He the climbed to the top of one of the grassy sections and remained there for the next hour as he debuted his album, dancing and singing along as it played over the loudspeakers.

At one point, when one song kept fading out, West got on the mic and called for his sound guy to get more volume out of a machine in his hand. He turned to the audience with the device and said, "This is something, right here, that I wanted to make since Yeezus. It's a portable stem player — we've got it coming out and you can control the music, you can control the volume on the vocals, or the sound on the baseline or drum. I'm going to play the song from this right now," returning to the album. 

West spoke very little throughout the hourlong listening session, but did introduce one specific song: "This one is called 'Closed on Sunday,' just like Chick-fil-A," and, true to that intro, the tune does heavily reference the famous fast-food outlet.

Though surrounded by security, West was at one point mobbed by the hundreds of fans on the floor who had formed a tight circle around the star. He paused a song in the middle to announce, "Y'all got to back up, you need to back up to keep it going, y'all are too tight. Y'all want to move around and mosh and everything, you've got to back up, you've got to back up. We're here, everybody's here, we just need to give everybody more space. Back up so we can listen to this." The warning was largely heeded, giving West more room to bop around the small stage. 

As the album — which, although it maintains a religious theme, has elements of rap, gospel, rock, jazz and a beat heavy enough to make The Forum noticeably shake — came to a close, West took off his hat and wordlessly was ushered through the crowd to the backstage area. After being required to lock up their cellphones ahead of the show, fans were able to reclaim their devices and hit up the merch booth, where blue Jesus Is King hats ($55), T-shirts ($60), hoodies ($170) and sweatpants ($150) were going fast. Some even went home with a living souvenir, snatching plants from West's art installation and making their way past security. 

West's Jesus Is Calling album drops Friday, as does the film, which will be shown exclusively in Imax theaters.