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Sunday Services’ “Emmanuel” Reviewed

December 22nd 2019, I went to Lincoln Center to catch Kanye West’s birth of Christ presentation “Mary” at Lincoln Center (here) and was blown away by the music featuring his Sunday Service Choir, a wonderful Christian vocal group who had been performing with Kanye throughout 2019 in surprise Sunday services across the country. There was one in New York City which I missed, but I made up for it on the Sunday before Christmas. The presentation seemed like amateur hour but the glorious Gospel Music never did. On December 25th, Sunday 2019, Kanye West’s Sunday Service Choir released Jesus Is Born. Three months before that, West released Jesus Is King. And Christmas Day 2020, two days ago, Kanye composed and executive-produced and released  and the now named Sunday Service sang Emmanuel.

That makes three perfect works of religious art in a row.

There is, simply, no one capable of, or willing to do, what West does. I don’t care if he supports Trump, I don’t care if he ran  for President, I don’t care if he is, in effect at least, a religious zealot. A look at Hillsong Church will find how easy it is for Christianity to become a cult, and there is something cultish and zealotry about Kanye’s conversion into a world of black faith. But there is also something righteous about a man ripping apart his life and starting again.

The first result, Jesus Is King, is by West himself and is the place where the West of Yeezus and the West of  Jesus, it keeps elements of his own music and adds deeply religious vibes. Opening with Sunday Choir’s ecstatic “Every Hour,” Kanye is reverent and yet humorous, “Closed On Sunday” references “Chick-fil-A,” “Use This Gospel” is utilitarian in the extreme, and Kanye is never better, it isn’t what we expect from the 808s guy (or rather, didn’t) but there are few West fans who wouldn’t embrace the album – A

The next is Jesus Is Born, a full on Gospel album with the gorgeous voiced Sunday Service Choir in full voice on songs that move from simple Gospel declarations of faith to be a place in 2019 where it all makes sense – A-

Emmanuel, the five song EP, turns it bak on popular music, or gooey carols, and returns not to the beginning, but to the second act of Christianity, where the Holy Roman Empire embraced the faith, the mass was read in Latin and the music were Gregorian chants and that’s the music. The first song is “Requiem Aetenam” – an Eternal Rest or Requiem aeternam is a Western Christian prayer asking God: to hasten the progression of the souls of the faithful departed in Purgatory to their place in Heaven…”

The prayer translates to

“Eternal rest, grant unto him/her (them), O LORD,
℟. And let perpetual light shine upon him/her (them).
℣. May he/she (they) rest in peace.
℟. Amen.”

And a downbeat opening for sure, though it sounds timeless, it sounds like the sopenin shots of the Abbey in The Sound Of Music”. But the more you listen the more beautiful it is, Kanye has committed career suicide to be rebor. With nearly 150 members, Sunday Choir sound incredible, and completely unlike anything you’ve heard if you don’t listen to the liturgy. That West composed the music itself is a testament (if you’ll excuse the word) to the sound of spiritual healing.

The fourth song is the “O magnum mysterium” – a call and response for Christmas morning:

“O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.

While, clearly, the height of his pop powers occurred in 2009-2010, the height of his musical powers hasn’t happened yet. The twelve minute EP reflects the end of West as a pop phenomenon, neither Jesus Is King, nor Jesus Is Born, did much action (not even on the Gospel charts), and this will do less. If I was to find God, I would find it in the extreme. Like West.

Grade: A

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