TMN went inside the chaos & euphoria of Kanye West’s NY listening party [exclusive]
From The Life Of Pablo’s anarchic Madison Square Garden launch to ye’s Wyoming bonfire, Kanye West has made the unexpected listening event a phenomena. For his most recent album Jesus Is King, he’s taken to decadent theatres in Detroit, Chicago and New York, debuting it alongside clips from a forthcoming IMAX film of the same name.
When ye arrived, West had caused plenty of controversy with his Trump-supporting behaviour and lengthy Twitter rants. He’s been controversial for almost the entirety of his career but his outlandish political comments made him more divisive than ever and clouded the release of both that and his Kid Cudi collaboration Kids See Ghosts.
This time around, he hasn’t publicly backtracked or apologised for his comments, but he’s taken himself off social media and remained largely out of the spotlight. Instead, he’s dedicated himself to his Sunday services around the US. While some may still question his popularity, in New York the line snaked around the corner for his third and final listening party – an event announced only hours before the doors opened.
The venue was United Palace. With a capacity of just over 3,000, it’s Manhattan’s fourth-largest theatre but a venue small enough to have West fans lining the streets, begging for tickets. Nearly all of these fans were aware that he wouldn’t be performing but his appearance and the promise of a new album was enough to create mass hysteria. Inside the venue, the merch lines were full as $140 sweatshirts were handed over to fans at a furious pace.
The album release event is getting more and more ambitious for music’s biggest names. Katy Perry infamous locked herself away in a ‘Big Brother’ house when Witness dropped, Lady Gaga showed up in dive bars around the US to launch Joanne while Taylor Swift turned to merch pop-ups and YouTube live streams for her latest Lover. West’s have always remained much the same. They’re akin to an impromptu house party. He plugs in his laptop, plays the album and occasionally chimes in.
At the time of the New York listening party, Jesus Is King was nearly 72 hours late. His wife Kim Kardashian had announced a 27 September release date, later pushing it back to 29 September. Inside, there was a general mood of frustration and excitement. On one hand, people wanted the album. On the other hand, they were now going to be some of the first people in the world to hear it.
The night started with a preview of the Jesus Is King film, accompanied by a dancing North West, before Kanye stepped up with the laptop. He appeared much calmer than usual. His tone was careful while he avoided expletives as he told everyone about his “incredible journey” back to faith. The night before, he told a Chicago crowd that he would no longer be making secular music.
Religious music hasn’t always been viewed as turn-up music but as soon as Kanye pressed play on the record, chaos ensued. He invited people to leave their seats and fill the aisles which created a stampede in a theatre that had likely never seen anything like it before. Choirs blared and heavy drums pulsated. Each song is laden with notions of faith and redemption but sonically, it’s a modern hip-hop record infused with gospel. It’s Yeezus with the occasional grandeur of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The event marked a year since the planned release date for Yandhi – a record that never arrived. One track ‘New Body’ from that album made it across to Jesus Is King despite leaking online earlier. It’s already become a West favourite and fans were excited to hear it make the cut. The song did not make the original tracklist but was aired at the first listening party. In Chicago, he cut a Nicki Minaj verse and replaced it with an instrumental verse. By New York, he’d cut the verse altogether.
Such is the messy joy of a West album rollout. It still sounded unfinished even though it had been played to 10,000 people by the end of the weekend. There is almost no other major artist that would get away with that and yet West fans relish it. At one point, the crowd was so anarchic that West told the crowd that the NYPD had threatened to shut down the event. They never did but stressed theatre employees hustled up and down the aisles unsuccessfully attempting to tell people to return to their seats.
Judging a West album based off the reaction of his crowd is like asking a Mother whether her child is talented but this crowd was particularly wild for Jesus Is King by its end. When the music dropped out he had everyone chanting part of ‘Use This Gospel’ repeatedly before the house lights went on.
Everyone in attendance had to lock their phones away and by the time we stepped out of the theatre, there was an expectation that the album would’ve dropped. It hadn’t. Plenty of people owned the merch but they were still yet to have the album.
For other artists, there’s almost nothing to be learned from a West album rollout.
The mystery, deception and messiness of the whole ordeal is something that would anger most fanbases but West fans have grown accustomed to it. He may be one of the most divisive figures on earth but his die-hard fans follow him through everything. Even when they’re often left empty-handed.