Rapper Kanye West made unannounced visits to Howard University and The George Washington University, promoting his long-awaited upcoming album while sparking controversy on Saturday, Oct. 12.
His day began with a gospel rap “Sunday Service” performance at Howard, followed by a screening of his unreleased album documentary “Jesus Is King,” a visual film accompanied by West’s new music, at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. Also at GW, West played draft versions of songs from “Jesus is King,” which he said will be released Oct. 25.
West’s “Sunday Service” at The Yard at Howard was open to the public and drew hundreds of spectators. Some attendees observed there were fewer attendees than had attended Yardfest, Howard’s annual homecoming weekend concert, the day prior, according to DCist. Students reportedly received an email announcing the performance two hours before the show.
GW emailed its students at midnight the night before about the show and provided 150 free tickets to them as well.
However, word about the screening leaked on Twitter the night before, and users sold tickets to one another, according to attendee Shankar Thiru (COL ’22).
“We literally found tickets from a random Twitter user because everything was so sudden,” Thiru said in an interview with The Hoya.
West’s presence on Howard’s campus was met with mixed reactions. Some expressed excited about the visit, but others, such as Howard Afro-American Studies Department Chair Gregory Carr, condemned West and his message.
“If @kanyewest is indeed at #HowardU this morning, send him to the third floor of Founder’s Library after he’s done. I have some books for him. #TheMiseducationOfTheNegro,” Carr wrote in a tweet Saturday morning.
West has drawn ire for supporting President Donald Trump, which critics say does more to hurt black Americans than to help them. The rapper recently said at a “Sunday Service” event in Utah that making choices, particularly political ones, on the basis of race is “mental slavery” and has previously argued that slavery was a choice.
West ended the “Sunday Service” by leading a chant: “13th Amendment, gonna end it,” according to DCist. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, although is often cited as a contributing factor to mass incarceration, as it states that involuntary servitude is acceptable as punishment for a crime.
Kim Kardashian West and her and Kanye’s two oldest children, North and Saint, attended the show. Momolu Stewart and Halim Flowers, who were released from the D.C. Jail under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, also spoke at “Sunday Service.”
Kim Kardashian West wrote a letter in support of Stewart earlier this month that contributed to his release, according to The Washington Post.
Kanye’s visit to Washington, D.C., marks one year since his last time in the District in October 2018. Last year, West met with Trump and gave an impromptu speech on a table at the Georgetown Apple Store.
Attendees of the GW screening, including rapper Pusha T, watched the trailer and the uncut version of West’s IMAX documentary, heard samples off his new album and listened to him speak about his recent conversion to Christianity and read Bible verses.
Because viewers saw West up close and listened to unreleased samples, it made for a unique but also secretive environment, according to attendee Matthew Joy (NHS ’22).
“The experience felt intimate because it was literally in a relatively small university auditorium,” Joy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The fact that we have to lock our phones in pouches also added on to this experience because it made everyone so involved in the moment, which contrasts how concerts and events run nowadays with everyone on their phones constantly recording everything.”
West continued the gospel theme at GW, according to Joy.
“The film Ye showed was also interesting because it was shot all in a circular lens and had very crisp vocals for all the songs led by the Sunday Service choir,” he wrote. “One of the highlights of the event was a song in which everyone was humming/singing along to this soccer-like chant and clapping along, very interactive and exciting experience for the whole crowd.”
Joy said that he appreciated the West family’s presence.
“I also loved the fact that Pusha T, Kim Kardashian, and all their kids were there,” he wrote. “The kids were also dancing on the stage during the film-screening which was extremely cute.”