Year in Music 2019

How In 2019 Kanye West Found God -- and Redeemed Himself

Kanye West
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Kanye West during his Sunday Service performance at Coachella in April.

On Jan. 6, Kanye West’s wife, Kim Kardashian-West, posted a clip on Twitter of a spiritual gathering at which West and Kid Cudi performed gospel renditions of “Violent Crimes” and “Ghost Town.” The following week, a fan-filmed video surfaced of West’s cousin and frequent collaborator, Tony Williams, speaking about West’s newly formed passion project: Sunday Service. “The goal is to be able to communicate love effectively,” says Williams in the clip.

Since then, Sunday Service has exploded: Everyone from Brad Pitt to DMX -- who provided a morning prayer to kick off Sunday Service in March -- has attended; Chance the Rapper lauded West during an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in September, referring to him as his “spiritual adviser”; and at the Easter Sunday edition, which West held before day three of Coachella’s second weekend, he debuted merchandise that read “Holy Spirit” and “Trust God.” At one point, West was rumored to headline Coachella, but backed out after organizers allegedly refused to build a giant dome as his stage; he came to the desert anyway, along with the Kardashian clan, Teyana Taylor, Chance and Ty Dolla $ign.

West’s faith has been a recurring theme in his work since his 2004 debut album, The College Dropout. On its breakout single “Jesus Walks,” he raps, “Radio needs this,” later asking, “If I talk about God my record won’t get played/Huh?/Well if this take away from my spins/Then I hope this take away from my sins.”

The timing of West’s latest reconnection with God is particularly auspicious, though: In 2018, West received blowback from the hip-hop community after wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, affirming his support of President Trump. West later invited more controversy when he stopped by TMZ and declared that slavery was “a choice.” Peers like John Legend and Meek Mill immediately called out West for his comments, but despite being momentarily “canceled,” West reemerged as a self-described born-again Christian in 2019 -- and bounced back.

In October, he punctuated his yearlong focus on religion with his 10th studio album, Jesus Is King, which arrived following a series of delays. The gospel-infused project debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 264,000 album-equivalent units, according to Nielsen Music. YG was among those who saluted West on his latest, tweeting: “Outside of him loving Trump. I fuck with bro heavy. Genius!” With Christianity composing West’s new path, Yeezy is seemingly willing to relinquish his pride for his beliefs. As he told Beats 1 host Zane Lowe in October: “Now that I’m in service to Christ, my job is to spread the gospel, [and] to let people know what Jesus has done for me.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of Billboard.

2019 Billboard Year in Music