Inside Kanye West’s Top-Secret Vegas Listening Party

Church LV is not your average place of worship. Located in a nondescript Green Valley neighborhood, the 90,000 square foot megachurch’s staging, lighting, and sound production rival the world’s most sophisticated concert venues.

The auditorium is illuminated with fluorescent LED installations and larger-than-life video projections. The church’s group of celebrity pastors and guest speakers are so charismatic, they could convince Luke Skywalker to join the Dark Side. 

In Las Vegas, we are accustomed to grandiose spectacles: luxury resorts, extraordinary experiences, and extravagant people. It’s no surprise that the world’s most extravagant person, Kanye West, chose Las Vegas’ Church LV as the site to premiere tracks from his upcoming album Donda — the long-delayed homage to his late mother.

Social media lit into a frenzy on Sunday when screenshots of a private event invitation hosted by Kanye circulated online. Permitted guests were there via invite-only and had to register to confirm their attendance. Large bags and cell phones were not permitted inside the venue. 

The high-profile guest list included Usher, who is celebrating the grand opening of his headlining Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace, NBA star Kevin Durant, and professional basketball player turned social media sensation Justin Laboy. Other reported guests included young entrepreneurs, social media influencers, and well-connected industry insiders.

One of those well-connected insiders was Las Vegas-based DJ, Olivier Sánchez, also known as DJ Exile. Sánchez is the founder of ALTURA Presents, an event promotion company that specializes in Latin events. He has toured with Jennifer Lopez, worked with Bad Bunny, J Balvin, and other notable Latin artists.

Sánchez, a lifelong Kanye fan, jumped at the opportunity to attend the exclusive listening party when his friend Louis extended an invitation. With only 30 minutes to spare, Sánchez slipped on his Yeezy V1’s and rushed to the Green Valley event. 

“As a DJ, I hit lows at the start of my music career, and Kanye’s music really grasped me. His song ‘Last Call’ is a detailed description of his struggle of getting signed, which I could deeply relate to,” Sánchez told VegasNews. “Yet, the biggest influence is his fearlessness. ‘I am going to do me, fight the giants like Nike and major record labels, and WIN.’”

Despite the long line of fashionable attendees outside of the Church LV, Sánchez and Louis had VIP access. They were escorted to a special queue where security patted them down and took away their phones. 

Inside the church, the audience anxiously waited for Kanye to appear. 40 minutes after the scheduled start time, the 44-year-old Grammy winner approached the stage. The rapper wore a Yeezus Era ski mask, green leather gloves, and hood over his head that exposed only his eyes. 

Machines hissed smoke into the room, creating an ever-present haze. A singular spotlight shot from above the platform; he glowed as everything around him suspended in darkness. Visually, he was framed as a deity; intentional or not, the audience would agree with that distinction.

Some people go to church to worship God, these people went to church to worship Kanye. “I do think it felt a little cultish as we were all listening to a human; not a celestial being. Everyone was just hanging to the edge of our seats,” said Sánchez.

Only 30 feet separated Kanye and his audience. They sat in silence and awe as Kanye debuted his unreleased music. With keen ears, they acutely listened for all the trademark tellings of a Kanye album: his inventive use of obscure media, his crystal clear delivery, his vulnerable and sometimes too self-aware lyrics, and his employment of superstar guest features.

Instead of giving one of his infamous speeches during the event, he chose to let the music do all the talking as bounced to the music that pulsed from his MacBook.

“The mood of the album is very Gregorian; chanty meets a Yeezus with a little bit of his older sound as he spits some dope bars. The features include his boy Pusha T and Lil Baby,” said Sánchez. Other reports suggest Playboi Carti, Westside Gunn, Travis Scott, and Baby Keem are on the album.

One track reportedly features a recording of his mother speaking and on one interlude “a woman just says Donda like 50 times.” “The production is light years ahead of its time, and the bars sound like he’s broke & hungry trying to get signed again,” said Laboy on Twitter.

“[The music] was dope. I know a lot of mainstream fans are not going to like this, but Kanye fans will appreciate the album,” said Sánchez.

Kanye’s increasing religious fanaticism culminated in September 2019 when he announced he will no longer make secular music. One month later, he released his first gospel album, Jesus is King to mixed reviews. 

Donda will be another God-focused album, but unlike Jesus is King, it includes profanity, and a variety of sounds and topics, not just gospel-oriented beats.

“He did not say not one word; just played his new album from a laptop, vibed for an hour, and bounced,” said Sánchez. “ I really hope for casual fans to give it a listen with open ears.”

Kanye is holding a larger-scale listening event for Donda on July 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster.

DJ Exile is the longtime resident DJ and host at Blue Martini’s Latin Night. See him spin every Wednesday at Lucky Day on Fremont East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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