Kanye West has done some unlikely collaborations in the past. For his second album, he tapped the talents of indie rock producer Jon Brion—perhaps best known for his work with Fiona Apple—to oversee production. Following the release of his jagged 2013 album Yeezus, he hunkered down in the studio with Sir Paul McCartney for a trio of songs. On his latest album, Jesus Is King, he invited Kenny G into his living room to lay down a saxophone track.
But this weekend, Kanye was part of another kind of jam session: he brought his “Sunday Service” tour to Lakewood, pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch. Kim Kardashian West, his wife, took in the performance while seated next to Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick.
At first glance, West and Osteen seem like unlikely bedfellows—but they’re similar in that they’ve both intertwined faith and fortune in their respective careers. On West’s debut album, The College Dropout, he rapped about his willingness to lose listeners in the service of preaching on his double-platinum single “Jesus Walks.” In the song he prayed: “God show me the way, because the devil’s trying to bring me down.” The year after West released the song, Osteen published a letter to his flock explaining that “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” (Osteen’s net worth is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $50 million.) And in their own ways, they’re both preachers of prosperity gospel. West, who’s also been famous for preaching the gospel of, uh, Kanye West, declared at the church this weekend: “Jesus has won the victory because now the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for Him,” referring to himself.
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The idea of Patrick and West together would have been shocking just a few years ago, though. Patrick is a hard-line conservative Republican, and West was headlining Democratic National Committee fundraisers (and being introduced by Barack Obama) as recently as 2015. For most of their respective time in the political spotlight, the only thing Patrick and West have had in common is an eagerness to go after sitting presidents on live television.
In recent years, though, West has undergone a Trumpian conversion, declaring his love for the president and his pride in wearing his red MAGA hat—so him and Patrick hanging out now seems downright obvious. Patrick wrote about the meeting, which took place after “Sunday Service,” in an email to supporters on Sunday night. “Kanye has turned his life over to Christ and his message of faith is reaching young people across the country and bringing them to God,” Patrick wrote, boasting that West wore a pin Patrick himself designed “many years ago” while reassuring his followers that the man he met with was a different Kanye than the one they may be familiar with. “He gave a compelling message about how he committed his life to Christ after being lost for so many years.” The two spoke mostly, Patrick wrote, about a privately funded prison ministry program the politician had started, along with Democratic state senator John Whitmire, in 2011.
In addition to appearing at the megachurch and spending time with the lieutenant governor, West also made an appearance for a different audience in Houston—he brought “Sunday Service” to the Harris County Jail, performing for incarcerated people at the county lockup on Friday, doing sets for both male and female prisoners. (According to the Houston Chronicle, West also offered to perform for people incarcerated at a long-term prison facility run by the state, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice refused.)
After kicking off with one performance for more than 200 men at the 701 San Jacinto building, @kanyewest ducked down into the underground tunnel and turned up in the main Baker Street jail to do a second show for a smaller crowd of women. https://t.co/VNJqoq3Ult pic.twitter.com/95ZFVWQ0HC
— Houston Chronicle (@HoustonChron) November 15, 2019
The fact that West’s latest album is called Jesus Is King is also probably not a small part of why politicians like Patrick—and Governor Greg Abbott, who was effusive in his praise of West’s performance, calling it “transformative”—were so eager to embrace the rapper as of late. On the album, West attempts to win converts, and he also raps about hot-button culture war issues that folks like Patrick and Abbott have also touched on. On “Closed on Sunday,” West raps about Chick-Fil-A, the fast food chicken joint famous for A) being closed on Sundays, B) making donations to anti-LGBT causes, and C) being celebrated by Texas politicians including Patrick and Abbott, who signed a “Save Chick-Fil-A” law over the summer. West chose the song to close out his performance at Lakewood.
“Kanye West spent his weekend in Texas at a county jail, a megachurch, and with the state’s ultra-conservative lieutenant governor, rapping about Chick-Fil-A and urging prisoners to find Jesus” is a sentence that would have sounded like a Mad Libs puzzle a few years ago. But at this point, it’s really just par for the 2019 course.