Kanye West may have found God. But he’s still brandishing his trademark cockiness.
“Jesus has won the victory because now the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for Him,” West said onstage Sunday at Lakewood Church.
The rapper spoke onstage with Joel Osteen for about 20 minutes, his first of two appearances at the megachurch. He’ll return at 7 p.m. to perform songs from his “Jesus is King” gospel album with his Sunday Service choir.
During the brief, sometimes rambling conversation, West, 42, talked about his battle with the Devil, mental breakdown and subliminal messages in the media. He prayed with Osteen and praised the televangelist’s “anointed words.”
And West made it clear throughout that he sees himself as a changed man.
“All of that arrogance and confidence and cockiness that y’all seen me use before, God is now using for Him. Because every time I stand up, I feel that I’m standing up and drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘I’m here in service to God, and no weapon formed against me shall prosper,’” he told the crowd.
Kim Kardashian West watched her husband from the front row as parishioners angled for photos. She was seated next to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
West’s appearance came after 30 minutes of music from the Lakewood choir, which sent hands and phone into the air. Several attendees were dressed in their Sunday sparkle best, and they shouted words of affirmation at West – until he stopped them.
“I go into these streams of consciousness when I’m talking, and when you speaking in the middle of it, it distracts me,” he told one particularly vocal man. “I really appreciate the support, but I would like for everybody to be completely silent so I can let God flow through me as I speak to you guys today.”
Lakewood is the nation’s largest church and attracts as many as 50,000 people a week to the former Compaq Center. In front of a rotating gold globe and under lush blue lighting, West told the crowd that he grew up regularly attending church with his parents and that God has been calling him for a long time.
“When I was in my lowest points, God was there with me and sending me visions and inspiring me,” West said. “I remember sitting in the hospital in UCLA after having a mental breakdown, and there’s documentation of me drawing a church and writing (that I wanted) to start a church in the middle of Calabasas.”
West’s Sunday Service began in early 2019 in Calabasas, Calif. and quickly spread across the country. They feature gospel versions of popular songs, and straightforward hymns under the musical direction of Houston native Philip Cornish. Another Houstonian, Donadl “DeP” Paige, is part of West’s Sunday Service choir. The events have attracted a number of celebrity guests, including Katy Perry, Lil Nas X and David Letterman.
Though it’s taken some by surprise, West has mused on God and religion throughout his career: 2004’s “Jesus Walks,” 2006’s “Anything” with Patti LaBelle and Mary Mary, 2012’s “New God Flow.” And his statements have often been direct.
“Even though I’m a man of God/My whole life in the hand of God/So y’all better quit playin’ with God,” he raps on “I Am a God” from his 2013 album “Yeezus.” Some saw that title as sacrilegious narcissism. Looking back, it was more about West’s internal struggles with who he is and what he believes.
“Jesus is King,” his first proper gospel album, was released in October and became his ninth consecutive to top the Billboard 200, selling 264,000 equivalent album units. It also topped the Christian, gospel, R&B/hip-hop and rap album charts. A half-hour “Jesus is King” film played for one week in IMAX theaters and grossed $1 million worldwide.
“God is all in and through that album,” said Billy Dorsey, a Grammy-winning gospel singer who served as a Lakewood outreach pastor. “The potential power (West) would have to win souls most churches could never reach is massive. I’m praying that he is sincere, that he is getting solid, biblically sound discipleship and that he is surrounded by strong believers.”
West is just the latest mainstream artist to publicly embrace his faith. It’s a regular occurrence in country music, where Blake Shelton recently scored a hit with “God’s Country.” Tori Kelly first gained notice as a pop singer before turning to gospel. Rapper Snoop Dogg sampled the waters with last year’s “Bible of Love.”
There have been unconfirmed reports that West will now solely focus on gospel music. But he surprised fans last weekend at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, where he performed “Follow God” and 2007 hit “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
Osteen’s favorite song on West’s new album is “God Is.” He played 30 seconds of it for the crowd and called it “very, very powerful.”
“You said more in 60 seconds than I say in my 30-minute message,” Osteen said.
West, however, singled out “Closed on Sunday,” a song that references Chick-fil-A and its policy to let employees “rest and worship” on Sundays, according to its website. He called it – there’s that signature bravado again – “the hardest record ever made.”
“It’s as hard as NWA record because it’s talking about protecting your kids from the indoctrination of the media, the thousands and thousands of images that are fed to children by the age of six or seven,” West said.
“I got lost. I got caught up in my own ego, my own strategy, my own ideas. I tried to hold everything in my own brain. And then I had to just let go and let God and put it back in his hands.”
West was joined in Houston by his family a few days earlier. He put on a pair of unannounced performances for inmates at the Harris County Jail. His wife visited death row prisoner Rodney Reed in Livingston and was there when he won a stay from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The couple was also spotted Friday at The Galleria with their children. They tried out the ice skating rink, visited The Lego Store, signed autographs and took a few photos.
Joey Guerra is the music critic for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Twitter. Get experts’ picks for concerts, kids’ stuff, fine arts, movies and more by subscribing to the Preview entertainment newsletter.