Kanye West Plays 'Jesus Is King' Album for Eager Detroit Crowd Ahead of Release: Inside the Event

Kanye West
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Kanye West performs during Chance the Rapper in concert at United Center on Sept. 28, 2019 in Chicago.

Kanye West may not have released his new album, as was expected, on Friday (Sept. 27). But he did play it that evening for a select group of fans in Detroit, a few hours after his Sunday Service performance there.   

Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Experience, announced just after the concert on Friday afternoon, offered the first public listening of Jesus Is King, the rapper's anxiously awaited ninth studio album, for a crowd of about 1,000 at the city's Fox Theatre. West himself was on hand for the event, introducing the proceedings from a VIP box in the theater's mezzanine and then coming to the main floor mixing board to play the 10-track, 35-minute album himself, blasting it in quadraphonic sound. West introduced each song without commentary and identified some of the featured guests -- notably hip-hop duo Clipse and easy-listening saxophonist Kenny G on the album-closing "Use This Gospel."   

West also interacted energetically with the crowd, which crammed around his position waving arms and shouting encouragement -- including one fan who called for "Free Bird."  

As austere as West's Sunday Service Collective is lush, Jesus Is King -- whose track list was tweeted by West's wife Kim Kardashian during the playback -- won a clear thumb's-up from the Detroit crowd. Not scripture-based like the Sunday Service, the album is a decidedly hip-hop exposition, using mostly spare keyboard and percussion arrangements with plenty of space for West's vocals.

The easy first-listen favorite was the throbbing "Closed on Sunday," whose refrain of "just like Chic-Fil-A" was picked up so quickly that West began pulling the sound down briefly to let the crowd carry the lyric during the choruses. But the vibe was strong throughout the night, from the brassy opener "Up From the Ashes" to the more musical "Water," which West teased during this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival, and the prayerful "LA Monster." "Follow God" and "On God" were more full-bodied and uptempo, the former with an intricate vocal weave, while "Nobody" and the repentant "Hands On" featured some of West's fiercest flows. And "Use This Gospel," in which West declared that "it's a hard road to heaven," even made use of a soccer-style cheer melody that many in the crowd were singing as they exited the theater.

The Experience also included previews of two IMAX documentaries West called "works in progress" -- one about architectural projects he's involved in around the world, the other about the Sunday Service Collective, featuring several song performances. IMAX was also on hand to film Friday's event, while some of West's staff excited the crowd before it started by handing out Jesus Is King T-shirts and sweatshirts.

West gave no hint about when Jesus Is King will be released -- nor did he reveal additional credits and insight into the songs -- but Kardashian took to her Instagram Stories following the event to share that the album will arrive on Sunday following listening sessions in Chicago and NYC.

After "Hands On," West did note, "We're all trying our best. We all fall short, but I appreciate y'all hanging with us." The feeling at the Fox was certainly mutual.