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On most Sunday mornings, beneath the celestial force of the Southern California sunshine, Kanye West and a congregation of celebrities trek toward the hills near Hollywood, singing, dancing, repenting and reveling in their shared energy.
Its an invitation-only affair, known as the rap megastarsSunday Services, and admission is the hottest ticketin town.
Part concert and partreligious service, the West-led worships includedancers and a full choir. Weekly clips emerge on social media depictingcongregants moving to the gospel sounds of such songs as Lift Yourself and Jesus Walks.
But whats the business and branding behind the bethel?
If this is a sincere move to offer Christian love to those in need, then it is for sure a useful way to encourage people, said Rev. Ryan Rose, associate pastor at Evangel Temple in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Fox News. If this is a business plan or an avenue to promote his name, it would be a tragic exploitation of faith and those hurting.
In addition to the famous Kardashian and Jenner clans, the event has attracted the likes of A$AP Rocky right after his jail release Travis Scott, Scooter Braun, 2 Chainz, DMX, Lizzo, Donald Glover, Kid Cudi, Teyana Taylor, Jaden Smith, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, Idris Elba, Paris Jackson, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt and Courtney Love.
The location in and around Hollywood changes almost weekly, includingboth indoor and outdoor spaces. West also takes his services on the road andrecently opened up the event to the public. The service is free, but attendees generally have to snap up a ticket in advance, given the immense popularity that has thousands vying for a coveted patch of the earth below the West pew.
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Earlier this year, West made headlines when he held an Easter Sunday Service at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the parched and picturesque desert of Indio, Calif. The jam session was live-streamed through a peephole camera.
Still, much about theprivate services remainsmurky, as guests are mandated to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to Variety magazine.
And even though theservices are free and West doesnot take an offering,they seem to provide West with at least an indirect financial gain. His new,gospel-themed albumwas released last month and immediately soaredto the top spot on the Billboard charts.
More than a month earlier, he updated his website with a curiousimage, which his wife Kim Kardashian West also tweeted. It cryptically featured a Bible open to the Book of Psalms, poised beside a notepad inscribed with an apparent album title and tracklist, in addition to the proposed release date of late September. The marketing mystery of the religious album dragged onfor an additional month before the record, his ninth studio album,finally droppedon Oct.25.
Jesus is King features several religious-themed tracks, including God Is, Use This Gospel, Follow God and Jesus Is Lord.
So, is Kanye saving souls, selling records or both?
Sunday Services are an amazingly innovative way for Kanye to express himself, observed Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR. Like any great artist-entrepreneur, he is taking that opportunity to turn his passion into a new revenue stream.
It makes sense. Whether it started intentionally or not, this is another extremely innovative way for Kanye to stay in the news cycle, expand his audience, and grow his brand as well as his bank account.
Over the summer, it was revealed that Mascotte Holdings, which has filed for trademarks at Wests behest in the past, applied for Sunday Service in reference to shirts, scarves, socks, loungewear, and pants. The move has sparked speculation about how exactly the rap star and fashion designer intends to leverage his growing popularity as a spiritual leader.
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In connection with his Coachella showdown, West peddled associated merchandise socks, sweatpants, and apparel ranging from to 0, emblazoned with slogans such as Church Socks and Jesus Walks. Aftera sharp and substantial backlash to the high-priced products, the online website wentdark.
Kardashian-West told Elle magazine earlier this year that it wasnt precisely a church, but rather, more like a healing experience for her husband.
Its just music; there is no sermon. Its definitely something he believes in Jesus, and there is a Christian vibe, the reality star said. But theres no preaching. Its just a very spiritual Christian experience.
West has made no secret of the demons he has battled personally and professionally.
In 2016, he canceled a profitable tour and sought medical treatment for temporary psychosis. But in an episode of his wifes long-running reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians which aired in June, the Gold Digger singer confessed that he always wanted to open a church of his own.
That could at some point in the future lend itself to a step toward charitystatus.
To be tax-exempt, an entity, which cannot be owned by individuals, must be formed for charitable or religious purposes, explained Beverly Hills-based entertainment attorneyJulian Chan. But some still manage to do well by paying large salaries or directing benefits to related entities, using persons who appear disinterested but may act as friends.
Chan also noted that while the trademark application does point to a connection to commercialization, it doesnt mean West is not sincere in encouraging others to explore the Christian faith.
They are not exclusive, he said. We have seen many people explore faith, but still positively influence others.
But for now, there is no minister. And there is no apparentpaperwork filed to establish any sort of non-profit religious institution.
Moreover, Rose noted that if he is running religious services and operating as a Christianity ministry, there should not be any roadblocks in becoming a non-profit.
Ultimately, if his Sunday Services are going to continue, and this becomes something of a church, movement or denomination, I think it would be wise for him and his team to develop a spiritual guidance or accountability board so that there would be sound theology and practices in place, Rose said.
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And in an era and industry where faith is often frowned upon, West might just be reviving Christianity in a way that comes across as cool among the Tinseltown crowd.
Celebrities have been told, for decades, to cover up their religious beliefs out of fear of polarizing audiences, said Jeetendr Sehdev, a celebrity branding expert. Its great that Kanye is putting his faith front and center, and showing us what really matters to him. Its a brave and unapologetic move that should be lauded.B:
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