"The line was wrapping around the building as they started to let people into the Fox around 6:30 p.m.," says Mark Cavitt, an attendee who scored one of the free tickets available to the public. "We stood around while members of Kanye's crew randomly handed out exclusive merchandise. Around 8:30 p.m., Kanye, Kim, and their daughter North surprised the crowd below as they waved from the balcony above."
Before Kanye played his new album, Jesus Is King, he previewed two film projects. The first was a mini-documentary that focused on architecture. "It was about him designing and building this structure in Calabasas for the choir to sing in," remembers Danielle Bennett. Next, he played a preview of an IMAX film. "The second video we saw was basically an extended trailer for his movie coming out in October," Bennett says. "I think it's a film about the Sunday Service rehearsals, but that's the only thing we saw of that."
After the screenings, Kanye played Jesus Is King in its entirety. "He came downstairs to the middle of the room and played it off a laptop where the soundboard guy was at," a fan named James Murphy says. Throughout the listening, Kanye was relatively quiet, outside of naming the songs. "He didn't do a lot of talking during the event," says Cavitt. "He did a short intro so people knew what to expect, and then he introduced each song so people knew the names and and features. Nothing specific about when the album would drop."
As its title suggests, Jesus Is King is centered around religious themes. "The entire album was not strictly about Jesus, but it was an ongoing theme throughout," says Bennett. "Some songs focus more on spirituality and religion, and some were more lighthearted and geared toward a wider audience. Some tracks had a more classic Kanye feel, and some had a Sunday Service feel." An attendee named Inan Ahmad adds, "I'd say 80 percent of the album was about Jesus and God. There were a couple songs which were different and faster, but most of the album is gospel, with him rapping occasionally."
Some songs focus more on spirituality and religion, and some were more lighthearted and geared toward a wider audience.
The album features several high-profile guests. "Both Clipse members are featured on the last track, along with Kenny G," Bennett notes. Fans also remember Fred Hammond and Ty Dolla Sign making appearances, but Ahmad and Murphy each say Nicki Minaj's verse was missing from "New Body," which leaked earlier in the year with her vocals on it. Kanye is rumored to have said that Minaj's verse is being re-recorded and added this weekend, but accounts from attendees who spoke to Complex differed from one another.
Jesus Is King is free of explicit lyrics, according to those in Friday's audience. "I don't remember there being any vulgar lyrics, which is definitely a first for him," Bennett says. "I think the entire album really represents this transition he's gone through from being angry and struggling with his mental health to finding God and becoming a new person."
Throughout the event, crew members covertly gave away Jesus Is King merchandise, which is also available on Kanye's site. "Random workers were giving people merch, and nobody knew where or how to get it," says Murphy. "It was like it was a huge secret."
"The most interesting part of the night was the whole mystery around the free merch that was being passed out," Bennett adds. "There were three or four crew members dressed in super-inconspicuous outfits that were shoving tees and hoodies into people's hands, then quickly walking away. But people caught on and were harassing and following the crew members. It quickly turned into a big mess. I talked to one guy who had an entire tray of food and drinks dumped on him because he was shoved by some guy trying to snatch a shirt."
Reflecting on the energy of the evening as a whole, Bennett explains, "It was mainly chaotic, but in a good way. There was a lot of excitement, from the mystery behind trying to get free merch to listening to the new album. People were standing on seats and yelling. Police had to come in because security was having such a hard time getting people to cooperate."
If you missed Friday's event in Detroit, you still have two more opportunities to catch the Kanye West experience this weekend. Late Friday night, Kim Kardashian revealed on Instagram that Kanye will have a listening session in Chicago on Saturday, followed by another on in New York City on Sunday (which is also the day she said the album will arrive).