An eclectic crowd of nearly 140 fans -- many of whom left work or class early -- showed up at the Charles Theatre on Thursday to join a global gaggle watching Kanye West's newest projects debut live on the screen.
The hip-hop artist and fashion designer premiered his newest album "The Life of Pablo" and clothing line “Yeezy Season 3” Thursday at Madison Square Garden. He broadcasted the album listening party/fashion show via satellite in movie theaters around the world, with several locations in Maryland, including Baltimore.
The 4:15 p.m. showing at the Charles Theatre attracted Howard University students Fred Sands IV, 22, and Ta’daviyon Reed, 21, who traveled from Washington, D.C.
“I haven’t been to any screenings or concerts, and this is my first time in Baltimore. I wanted to do something outside the norm,” said Reed, who studies audio and film production. “I’m also interested in experiential design, so I want to see what [West] comes up with.”
“The cool part is I don’t know what to expect,” Sands said. “Is it going to be video footage?”
Sands' class was cancelled — but he admitted he would have attended the screening regardless. Reed, who had a design course that afternoon, got permission from his professor to attend and include West’s premiere as a part of his field study.
Hours before the show, Charles Theatre owner and operator Kathleen Lyon said that she expected a big turnout despite the timing, inconvenient to most 9 to 5-ers.
According to Lyon, Fathom, the company hired to put on the screening, was vague on details about West's screening.
“This is a big secret. They wouldn’t tell us what was happening. They just rented the theater for an undisclosed client,” Lyon said.
The company also hired an event coordinator to check tickets at the door. “They’re handling it all," she said.
When asked if she was going to the screening, Lyon replied, “I don’t know if they're going to let me in. I don’t have a ticket.”
Prices for the tickets started at $25 general admission. The most expensive package offered a custom Yeezus jacket, a hoodie, a T-shirt, a ticket to the screening and a digital copy of the album for $581.
Just a few shy of 140 showed up. There was no chaos or screaming, no dedicated fans waiting in the 27-degree weather outside. There were no stampedes and no admonishing from the event coordinator. Aside from a group of around 20 people that accrued around 3:45 p.m., it seemed to be just another day at the theater.
Catonsville resident and self-proclaimed “huge Kanye fan” Michael Ukoha, 23, said timing might have been a factor.
Ukoha was the first one to arrive at the theater around 2 p.m., but he came alone. His girlfriend and his other “Kanye West enthusiast” friends were unable to attend because of work obligations, he said. The show would also stream live for free on Tidal, but the University of Maryland physical therapy student headed to the theater after finishing his only exam for the day.
Despite the turnout, Ukoha still expected a great show.
“I expect a lot of what other people can’t give,” he said of West’s show. “He challenges the boundaries people try to build up with things like this.”
Ukoha bought the T-shirt package, which for $128, included a shirt, a general admission ticket and a copy of the album — a choice justified by the fact that he hadn't attended West's “Yeezus” concert last year, he said.
“It’s creative how he is able to change how people perceive albums. He was changing the title and tracks up until it was released,” said Ukoha, who believes it to be a strategic move in an age where music can be leaked on the Internet.
Within the past few weeks, West has teeter-tottered between album titles, including “Swish,” “So Help Me God,” and “Waves,” which caused a stir between him and rapper Wiz Khalifa, known for using the term “wavy.” The current title, “The Life of Pablo,” was confirmed on Wednesday, a day before West's show.