Contemporaries in some ways, and arch nemeses in others, what Joe Budden and Kanye West share is a desire to act as contrarians in the hip-hop world. Brought into the game in the early 2000s, their career paths may have splintered off into vastly different areas but their statuses as lightning rods for controversy has been their unifying factor. Kanye, currently steeped in the most divisive period of his career, emerged from a period of self-imposed radio silence over the weekend to deliver his sermon on the mount. Just under a year after espousing the logic that “slavery was a choice,” the creative mastermind gave revelers in the desert of Indio, CA a chance to bear witness to the first public edition of his “Sunday Service.”
Choir members at Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” Coachella performance, April 21 2019 – Rich Fury/Getty Images
Save for fragmented clips from the Kardashians’ Instagram stories, these gospel choir-led performances have depicted Kanye as a far-cry from the belligerent, self-destructively minded figure that we got accustomed to back in 2018. Entrenched in the sounds that informed his early production work, rekindling his love affair with soul and the sounds of worship has led many to believe that we’re seeing the resurrection of the universally acclaimed “old Kanye” before our very eyes. Seemingly attuned to his past, present and future, this spiritual awakening has led to a renewed sense of self and the 50,000-strong congregation that gathered to see him at “the mountain” were extended an experiential olive branch that had many ready to absolve him of all of his transgressions.
In the eyes of the eternal skeptic Joe Budden however, this spectacle wasn’t anywhere near as earnest or transparent as it’d been portrayed as in the lead-up to the event. Never one to self-censor, Joe pulled no punches upon hearing of the accompanying merchandise that went along with the Sunday Service. Comprised of t-shirts, crew necks and $50 socks, the rapper turned podcast host and cultural commentator laid his feelings bare via his typically incendiary Twitter account:
“From justifying bigotry on your ppl to Church merch and Coachella choirs…. God bless us all.”
Chance the Rapper was among the performers at Kanye West’s Coachella “Sunday Service,” April 21 2019 – Rich Fury/Getty Images
Submerged in a vat of scornful sarcasm, Joe’s latest comments on Kanye’s exploits are in keeping with the exasperation that he’s displayed over the past year. Whenever Ye has made one of his more inflammatory remarks, Joe has been quick to declare that the time for heralding the G.O.O.D Music architect as a force for good has elapsed. Taken from the May 2nd edition of The Joe Budden Podcast, the NJ native made his feelings known in no uncertain terms: “Self-centred. Self-absorbed. Self-obsessed. Selfish. All the self’s except self-aware… The only point that I’m making is that all of his problems as of late are personal indictments against him. They’re never for this greater good or this greater cause…. He’s just speaking in f****g riddles.”
Then in September, Joe was once again aggrieved by what he viewed as Kanye’s megalomaniacal tendencies and believed that he had to pay penance for his actions:
“I don’t think this version of Kanye is anywhere near the best version of Kanye. I don’t think he produces the best version of his music anymore, I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to say about Kanye. I need a streak of selfless acts from Kanye, that’s how much damage I feel like he has done.”
In conjunction with his latest comments, it becomes clear that Joe Budden has an enshrined outlook on Ye that will require more than token gestures and splashes of religious iconography to overhaul. For him, the pricing of his new garb unveils his true intentions and is a case of misdirection that’s portraying his selfishness and selflessness. As if it wasn’t already clear from context, Joe made his stance all too robust when he replied to Twitter user @lordsunborn’s remark that “I feel the exact same way. Started his strategic marketing to lead up to Coachella Easter Merch.” With the seed implanted, Joe coyly bowed out as he replied, “I’m shutting up.”
Anything but an impartial adjudicator, Joe doesn’t harbour any desire to see a redemptive narrative laid out before Kanye without real, demonstrable admissions of wrongdoing. With that said, his partisan viewpoint doesn’t necessarily invalidate his stance or detract any possible truth that it may contain. For most of his career, Kanye West has walked a fine line between sacrilege and basking in the glow of his salvation. Aware of his own inner-duality, the fact that the man who was “here to convert atheists into believers” on “Jesus Walks” is now giving his music a sanctified sheen is no great U-turn. However, where Joe Budden’s concerns lie is whether it’s the product of a genuine desire to spread goodwill to all or if it’s informed by the more financially lucrative racket of a fraudulent televangelist.
Teyana Taylor at Kanye West’s Coachella “Sunday Service,” April 21 2019 – Rich Fury/Getty Images
Since 2016, Kanye West’s financial woes have been well-publicized. Said to be $53 million in debt at one stage, the lofty price tags that come with the new ecclesiastical garments are in keeping with the exorbitant amount of money that a pair of Yeezy’s also demand. With this in mind, it’s easier for a more sinister perception of his motives to seep in. Budden’s stance has found itself with an unexpected corroborator in Sharon Osbourne. Speaking on Monday’s edition of The Talk, the artist manager and media personality spoke of her wariness around Ye’s recent collection:
“I don’t like using the term ‘church merch.’ I don’t think the church has anything to do with his merch, and what church, the church of Kanye? It’s the same as his service in Calabasas. It’s for celebrities, so he claims… I do love what he’s doing musically, but I suppose everything he does is a business. The same as his shoes, and his music, he’s making a profit, so he’s a businessman, so that’s what you do.”
While she may have balked at the prospect of the “The Church Of Kanye,” there is reason to believe that this isn’t as farfetched an idea as it may seem at surface level.
In a recent Instagram post that marked the Coachella service, Kim mentioned that in addition to being an exercise in “healing,” Kanye “had this vision of starting a church for few years and it was magical seeing everyone else get to experience.” As throwaway a remark as it may seem, it takes on a greater significance when you consider that the Kardashian clan are no strangers to funneling money into the world of religion. Formerly known as LifeChange, the family matriarch Kris Jenner co-founded the California Community Church back in 2009. Led in prayer by none other than the formerly disavowed pastor Brad Johnson, the church goes beyond your average collection plate and asks each member of its flock to donate $1000 or 10% of their income per month to the church in exchange for access to its wisdom. Known to be tax-exempt, religious organizations and denominations of all kinds have managed to accrue immense sums of money through the tithe of their parishioners. With the know-how at his disposal, it raises the question as to whether Joe Budden could’ve hit the nail on the head and Coachella’s Sunday Service was less of a genuine holy experience and more of a grandiose recruitment drive for The Church Of Kanye that he’s been prefacing through his recent activity.
Kanye West at his Coachella “Sunday Service” gathering, April 21 2019 – Rich Fury/Getty Images
Speculated on by UK tabloid The Mirror and Twitter users alike, only time will tell if Kanye will be filing all of the relevant paperwork to turn his music-infused form of worship into an institution with legal underpinning. With that being said, it appears that the cynicism that Joe Budden has been exuding over the past year may not be the ramblings of a mad man or “hater” and could’ve forewarned us of the next phase of Kanye West.