The Chronicle of ‘Donda’

In the most drawn out release of his career, Kanye proves that he is untouchable with the attention of the public.

(Image may be subject to copyright. Billboard 2021)

On the last Sunday of August, Kanye West released his 10th LP, ‘Donda’ under Universal Music Group. If you’re familiar with Kanye, colloquially known as ‘Ye’, you’re familiar with how elusive and inconsistent each release can be. Being a Kanye fan forces you to rid yourself of the idea that an album will arrive on time — aside from the possibility that you’ll enjoy it more than Kanye enjoyed making it. With the Christian-rap album being out for some days now, reviews have reflected a general dislike for the 27-tracks altogether. Pitchfork rated the album a 6.0 out of 10 compared to the drastically less-anticipated ‘Peppa’s Adventures: The Album’, which earned a respective 6.5 out of 10. Rolling Stone considers the album an “overlong mess” with a sparse focus and an insulting rollout for all fans. Tirelessly awaiting the release, it’s difficult to imagine an album good enough to justify all of the logistical hoops. With its odd censorship, mixing weak points, and questionable features, the release of ‘Donda’ demonstrates the nullifying power of a superstar.

Similar to Ye’s rollout for ‘Jesus Is King’, released four weeks after its original release date, the listener’s journey to ‘Donda’ became a spectacle to admire for its hold on the public. ‘Donda’ is consistent with Kanye’s attitude towards timeliness and theatrics, more than ever before; With the album’s first mention back in May of 2020, fans witnessed three listening parties, two shifting tracklists, three separate album covers reveals, and a multitude of celebrities citing the album as Kanye’s best work to-date. Unlike any other release of Ye’s, the rollout for ‘Donda’ was exciting for the older fans and newer ones alike. Kanye donned a full-face mask similar to his ‘Yeezus’ days and continued to credit his nonsecular faith on Twitter for his self-proclaimed greatness. Appearing as confident and experimental as 2010–2013 Kanye with the focus of contemporary Kanye, every fan had a reason to be excited about ‘Donda’.

On July 19, 2021, Pusha T, the prolific artist from Kanye’s label G.O.O.D. Music, announced the listening party for the album at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on July 22nd, 2021. Consistent with the previous rollout for his 8th album, ‘The Life of Pablo’, fans were ecstatic for a finished album. The wait was finally coming to a close. July 20th saw a preview for the track “No Child Left Behind” in a Beats advertisement featuring Sha’Carri Richardson, recently in the news after she was disqualified from the 2020 Olympic Games for a failed drug test. Moreover, the advertisement confirmed the release date for ‘Donda’: July 23rd, 2021.

The first listening party for ‘Donda’ was heavily documented and hyped by the media. The event featured levitating stunt doubles, a full team of hype people dancing across the stadium floor, with moments where Kanye roamed the floor by himself in unreleased Yeezy x GAP pieces (complimenting the Yeezus-style mask). The music showcased was star-studded with features from Jay-Z, Playboi Carti, Kid Cudi, and Travis Scott. The first ‘Donda’ listening event brought hype around the new Kanye era beside the music itself — everybody was excited for the fresh, adapted Kanye-ego.

Jay-Z’s verse as showcased at the first ‘Donda’ listening party, courtesy of @JustinLaboy on Twitter

If the mask wasn’t exciting enough, the Jay-Z verse on “Jail”, a synth-drum heavy track with plenty of room for Jay’s flow, hinted at another ‘Watch The Throne’, a collaboration album between Jay and Kanye in 2011: “This might be the return of The Throne (Throne) / Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus” This album has always been Kanye’s, but the potential influence of Kanye’s old eras on this new album excited the fans, especially those who have disliked the streak of Kanye’s belief-centered albums. Maybe he was going back to a creative mind space that fans have missed for years. Similar to ‘Watch The Throne’ being delayed for a week after it’s initial release date, ‘Donda’ did not release on July 23rd.

(Courtesy of @JustinLaboy on Twitter)

But the blow of disappointment didn’t hit as hard as it could have. A friend of Kanye’s and messenger for ‘Donda’ news at the time, Justin Laboy, engaged with disappointed fans on Twitter after the delay and revealed that the album’s release was rescheduled for August 6th, as tweaks were being made to the work. Kanye and his team (including his main producer, Mike Dean) were reportedly staying beneath Mercedes-Benz stadium in order to buckle down and complete the album.

(Courtesy of @kanyewest on Instagram)

Just two weeks after the listening party, Apple Music announced another listening party for August 5th. You would imagine the album to come after this event, but as a Kanye fan you would be disappointed. The album appeared more coherent with better mixing in the stadium speakers; every bounce and kick drum felt a bit cleaner compared to the first listening party in July. The Weeknd also added vocals to “Hurricane” for a cinematic, epic track that semt his tone into the rafters with reverb. The second version of ‘Donda’ featured new verses from Westside Gunn (for “Keep My Spirit Alive”), Roddy Rich (for “Pure Souls”), with Jay Electronica and The LOX (for “Jesus Lord pt 2”) behind improved drums and refined vocals. The night concluded with Kanye floating into the ceiling as the pre-order went live on Apple Music for ‘Donda’, now slated for August 15th.

August 15th came and fans were without an album, yet again. Mike Dean went to Twitter to inform fans that the album was still in the works. Amidst the delays and antics, Kanye announced a third listening party for ‘Donda’ in his hometown of Chicago taking place on August 18th. Considering the release-rumors from the previous listening parties, fans were rightfully concerned about the album’s release. Ye’s manager, Bu Thiam, responded to these concerns in the Instagram post for the listening party details, confirming the release of ‘Donda’ after this third event. If fans weren’t disinterested already out of offense, the third listening party didn’t help.

(Courtesy of @XXL on Twitter)

‘Donda’ is dedicated to Kanye’s mother, Donda West, after her passing in 2007 from complications after cosmetic surgery at 58. A consistent motivation for Ye’s music across his entire career, Donda West has been a beacon for his belief along with his hometown of Chicago. In “Jesus Lord”, the album’s conceptual focal point, Kanye ponders: “If I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life? And if I die tonight, will I see her in the afterlife?” The third listening party was to be held in Soldier Field Stadium with a replica of Kanye’s childhood home at the center. This album rollout struck as a spiritual, and literal, homecoming.

Lounging on the porch of Kanye’s home with him was Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, facing criticism for misogynistic assault and flagrant homophobia, respectively. The two are credited on an additional track on ‘Donda’, “Jail pt 2”. Without the track appearing at any of the listening parties prior, fans were apprehensive to listen to morally wicked figures. After filing for divorce from Kanye in February 2021, Kim Kardashian also made an appearance at the event, wearing a wedding veil to mimic a night of matrimony. The tracks featured that night were as refined as they could be. At this point, the fans just wanted the album regardless of its quality. But the album was nowhere to be found afterwards. With DaBaby’s feature on “Jail pt 2”, the album’s delay was due to the verse not being cleared by DaBaby’s team.

(Courtesy of @StrappedHH on Twitter)

A week and a half later, ‘Donda’ was released on August 29th across all streaming platforms. At 27-tracks with a range of artists, the album stands at an hour and 48 minutes long. The blend of Christian rap, Brooklyn drill, and gospel has since received mixed reviews. However, the work goes beyond music — ’Donda’ displayed Kanye’s encompassing grip on the media. A grip that has been manipulated at the will of someone who has reached the pinnacle of artistic success. With unorthodox promotion, the album has been all the buzz because it’s Kanye West.

As an album capable of criticism, the album doesn’t hold up well. The mixing on tracks like “24” and “Tell the Vision” highlight moments of laziness and arrogance for an album that was delayed countless times. Why are there censorship cuts instead of re-recorded, clean verses? Moreover, 27 tracks of the hit-and-miss pattern makes the album feel bloated with unfinished tracks that hurt the album’s coherence. Kanye’s role as a catalyst for other rappers to gain exposure shines on ‘Donda’ more than the artist himself . “Jonah” features amazing performances from Kentucky-based Vory (on the chorus) and Lil Durk. Lil Yachty wears one of the meanest flow of his career on the following track, “Ok Ok” while Fivio Foreign absolutely shows out on his second feature on the project.

I wanted a Kanye West album. But I received an exciting display of every artist on the playlist (because it doesn’t run as an album, let’s be honest) except for Ye; the high’s are only high until you consider how Kanye’s touch on the album is overlapped by something/someone else. “Believe What I Say” is an great point in the album but “24” brings you to a pause when you consider how the intriguing production was independent of Kanye’s vocal performance. Looking forward, I believe Kanye will remain great as a producer and mogul of pop culture but I believe his ideas on ‘Donda’ are disconnected, at best. “Jesus Lord” is the most coherent track on the album for its straightforwardness and penmanship. In the 8-minute conceptual closer, Kanye reflects on every main trope in the album, including imprisonment and spiritual awakening.

As an homage to his mother, the album reverberates as an extension of his love for her and all she means to him. The rollout for ‘Donda’ has been another example of Kanye releasing an album however he wants before a care in the world for his fans, let alone those who want a Kanye-centered album. In the opener for ‘Yeezus’, Kanye’s distorted vocals chant “And I’m not dyin’, and I can’t lose / I can’t lose, no, I can’t lose” He proved just that. He can truly do whatever he wants without consequence. As long as he has the attention, he won’t lose. This time around, it’s in the name of Donda West.

Listen to the album here.

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