Last Christmas, Kanye West gifted fans with the gospel-inspired Jesus Is Born, his ninth album and first with the Sunday Service Choir. On Friday evening, the rapper-producer turned the holiday into a new tradition, releasing a five-song EP titled Emmanuel “inspired by ancient and Latin music.”
Billed in a statement accompanying the surprise release as a “celebration of the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ,” the 12-minute EP, executive produced and composed by West, include the Christian prayer “Requiem Aeternam” (“Eternal Rest”) and the choral work “O Magnum Mysterium.” The Sunday Service Choir features on the entire classical project, which prizes Gregorian chants over beat-based production. West ends the EP with his interpretation of the ubiquitous Christian hymn “Gloria.”
West recommitted himself to Christianity in 2019, speaking publicly about his faith and kicking off a long-running series of performances with his choir, Sunday Service. “What I’m thinking is gonna be a week or two, now I’ve been in the company of Kanye West for the last 10 months,” Jason White, the Sunday Service choir director, said ahead of the release of West’s 2019 album Jesus Is King. “I’ve spent every Sunday riding with him.” While delving into the same spiritually minded themes, Emmanuel’s brief length stands in stark contrast to the 19-song, 84-minute Jesus Is Born.
The surprise release of Emmanuel, which translates to “God is with us,” arrives with none of the drama that accompanied Jesus Is King. West had worked on his first foray into gospel until the last minute, tweeting that he was still “fixing mixes” on three songs on the night of its supposed release. That album featured vocal contributions from Clipse, Ty Dolla $ign, Fred Hammond, and Ant Clemons, along with saxophone from Kenny G and production from Timbaland and Mike Dean, among others.
In November 2019, West staged the religious opera Nebuchadnezzar at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which found West reading Bible verses offstage amid wordless singing from the Sunday Service Choir. Last month, it was reported that West was the subject of two class-action lawsuits brought by select choir performers and crew members against West concerning underpayment around the production. West has yet to publicly speak on the lawsuit.