My morning devotional the day of the Kanye West concert came from the eleventh chapter of Matthew where Jesus asks the crowds, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” As odd as it may seem this might be a good question to ask yourself before attending a date on the Yeezus Tour. What are you setting out to hear? Merely a rapper? A genius? A conflicted egotistical moron who happens to make good music? Or as our President has called him, a ‘Jackass’? Any answer might be good, but I’m guessing if you have ears to hear you might walk away confronted by something else.
The concert opens with a play off of a line from John’s Gospel stating “light beamed into the world but men and women ran toward the darkness.” And from there a masked Kanye West runs through a set list of darkness, with wardrobe changes, twelve dancers, a mountain, a demon, and some heartfelt discussion of his mother’s passing. The concert is an ambitious display of imagery. While the energy dips at a couple of points Kanye hits many of the highs in his loaded catalog of music and manages to get in every song off the Yeezus album. At one point a massive procession of high-church Catholic liturgy takes over the stage and Kanye leads “Runaway” from a set-up that seems almost like a pulpit. For the first three quarters of the concert the audience is truly invited into Yeezus worship and by virtue of the fact that you actually went to a Kanye West concert, this is a great place to be.
That is until White Jesus appears. We’ll call him White Jesus because that’s what Kanye calls him when he comes out onstage. “White Jesus is that you?” is followed with awkward laughter in the crowd as a white bearded man in a white robe approaches Kanye (picture the Sunday school classroom images of Jesus). Kanye then proclaims “I’ve been looking for you my whole life man.” White Jesus responds to Kanye “But I’ve found you. I’ve been here the whole time.” And for the first instance all night Kanye removes his mask. Kanye continues to be shocked with White Jesus responding “I didn’t come to make bad people feel good, I came here to make dead people alive. To show people the light, that’s all I need from you is to show people the light.” As Jesus walk away a beat of “Jesus Walks” begins to build as Kanye falls to his knees. If you aren’t familiar with the song it ends with this lyric:
I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs thisThey say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?
Well if this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about
Next time I’m in the club, everybody screaming out:
And at that precise moment the crowd literally does scream out “Jesus Walks!” From that point on Kanye delves into music about light rapping “Flashing Lights” and “All of the Lights.” But as the energy winds down one final time White Jesus climbs up the mountain that has been on the stage the whole night. As he reaches the top Kanye and his 12 dancers kneel before the mountain while a sample from his first song of the album plays over and over:
He gives us what we need; it may not be what we want.
At this moment all the lights turn off except for the light that shines on White Jesus on the top of the mountain. With this, the concert ends.
So this brings us back to our starting point, what did you go out to see? Leaving the concert I couldn’t quite answer that question. All the imagery, the Bible verses, the demon, the darkness, and then White Jesus? Bringing the dead back to life? The more I thought about it, the more theories about the art of Kanye West developed. The least popular thought, the one I’m not quite sure how to express is that Kanye was explicitly contrasting the worship of Dark Yeezus with the revelation of White Jesus. As uncomfortable as I am with contrasting darkness and light with race at play, I think Kanye West could care less. For him the art of bringing the light into the world is nothing to be shy about because many of us would balk at the point of bringing White Jesus on stage.
Of course, I wouldn’t blame you if don’t believe any of this Kanye West and Jesus stuff. He is, after all, one of our most controversial figures in public life. However, I would encourage you to see the Yeezus tour if you get a chance, even if it’s just for the darkness we run to when the light beams into the world.
Postscript: Shortly after I saw the concert, Kanye got engaged and did basically the same act in other places. But during that run he appeared on a radio station in San Francisco. They asked him about White Jesus. Kanye talked about a Pastor friend who brought out the fact that Christians have never been shy about portraying Jesus. One of the hosts clearly annoys him with something about antichrist and Kanye is ready to change the subjects. But before letting the segment move on he states “one of the things I really wanted to get across with that message is that you could have a relationship Jesus, you could talk to Jesus…Anytime the word Jesus could be used more in our lives I believe it’s a good thing.”