Just hours after Kanye West’s latest album “Jesus Is King” dropped Friday morning, Yeezy faithful began queuing up outside a nondescript industrial warehouse in the shadow of the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. Inside, workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on a temporary retail installation that included an all-terrain vehicle, pathways meandering through scrubby flora and religious-themed album merchandise including ball caps, T-shirts and sweatpants.
Several hundred Ye-curious were lined up in the blistering, hot midday sun for the shop’s scheduled noon opening on the first day of the space’s three-day run. (One of the reasons for the opening delay, organizers said, was a big-rig fire — and the resulting leak of flammable liquids — on the nearby freeway the previous evening.) Once inside, a handful of shoppers at a time get to make their way through an installation of tall grasses and shrubs created by San Francisco-based artist Meg Webster (who created a similar installation for Wednesday night’s album and film premiere at the Forum in Inglewood) in one room before entering a dimly lit second room.
During an early visit on Friday, some 60 speakers were stacked along one wall of the spare industrial space, shaking and reverberating as songs from West’s new album issued forth. On the opposite side was a sleek counter punctuated with four cash registers. In between was a sand-banked, crater-like pool containing a Sherp — a muscular-looking amphibious ATV with knobby outsized tires — up to its axles in muddy water.
Was this supposed to be a metaphor about the isolation of celebrity? A statement about creative frustration? Or something else entirely? We’re not exactly sure, although a Yeezy rep told us it was inspired by “the Wyoming ranch experience,” referring, perhaps (but then again maybe not) to the release of his last album, “Ye” in June 2018 at Diamond Cross Ranch in Moran, Wyoming. (Also, in an Apple Music preview of the “Jesus Is King” album, posted Wednesday, West can be seen standing in front of a garage full of similar Sherp ATVs.)
As head-scratchingly incongruous as the installation is, what’s most interesting about the cavernous warehouse room is what’s not visible in it — the album-promoting merchandise itself. During an early iteration of the space, a dozen or so pieces were displayed on the walls next to the cash wrap, but by the time the space officially opened for business mid-afternoon on Friday, customers could view and select from among the items on a hand-held menu.
At opening, the items on hand included T-shirts ($60), sweatpants ($140), crewneck sweatshirts ($160) and ball caps ($45) emblazoned with “Jesus Is King,” some with a watercolor-like illustration of a figure (presumably Jesus) with a nimbus of light framing the head.
Another available T-shirt depicted the holy figure flanked by two others, and ball caps were embroidered with West’s name and the text that appears on the vinyl album (including 33RPM LP and AR1331). A rep for Bravado, the music merchandise company that works with West on the album tie-in merchandise, said the temporary installation (they’d prefer you not call it a pop-up shop, thank you very much) is expected to stock exclusive pieces that won’t be offered through West’s online shop as well as some footwear from the rapper’s Yeezy collaboration with Adidas.
Of course, this isn’t the first time West has made pursuit of his “church merch” a line-blurring exercise in the experiential. Back in April, his performance on the mount on the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had the devoted snapping up Sunday Service socks and sweats with near-religious fervor.
Kanye West’s “Jesus Is King” merchandise experience, 1202 Mateo St. (enter around the corner on Damon Street), Los Angeles; open until 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.