If the delays are any indication, DONDA is either a very important project to Kanye West or the dog ate his homework. He’s been teasing his follow up to Jesus is King, his divisive modern gospel project since 2020. Then, it was called God’s Country, had unofficial art, and recording sessions that dated back to West’s March spent in Cabo San Lucas before he returning to Wyoming for COVID.
Aside from “Wash Us in the Blood” with Travis Scott which seemed to signal a new era of Kanye and the slated release of July 2020 for God’s Country, the hype surrounding another Kanye gospel record in the middle of his laughable presidential campaign run created little hype and it never saw the light of day. No explanation was given from the West camp. Since then, West has been characteristically busy, reaching billionaire status through his scalable high fashion brand deal with GAP, giving speeches that were closer to outbursts, and getting a divorce from one of the most influential women in America.
It took 16 months for Kanye to return in his trademark fashion – with a new album, a new format, and a whole lot of noise.
Despite pushing back the release date for DONDA three times and fans questioning if West would follow through with any of his promises since no single, snippet, or music video exists to confirm a finished product, West is experiencing a big bump. His streams are up, his two release events aggressively sold out, his initial private party announcement in Vegas created an internet firestorm based off of a few cellphone pictures, and DONDA merch sales at the Benz Stadium reportedly accumulated to over $7 million dollars (breaking Taylor Swift’s per show record). Even after twenty years of relentlessly being in the spotlight and at the centre of aggressive discussion, it’s clear that Kanye is back in the cultural conversation.
Nobody does it like Kanye...whether this is liberating or bizarre is determined by the beholder, though West’s behaviour is if anything fascinating. After the first DONDA listening event in Atlanta, West set up camp with a recording studio and a sparse living arrangement in what appeared to be an empty storage closet adorned with a makeshift “Donda Super Room” sign on the door. He set up a livestreaming webcam so the world could see his unrelenting drive to finish his latest project and the top shelf collaborators who entered to pay their respects. Despite all of this, DONDA is still not out and no clear explanation has been given for its delays. Kanyetothe, the Kanye subreddit community, and fan social media reads like yelp reviewers lost in Guarez, Mexico.
The public is losing trust, faith, and interest not just due to West’s inability to meet his own deadlines, but also the oddly quiet promo circuit. Around this stage of the album rollout, West would normally be making loud public appearances on TV and the corporate offices for social media companies. Instead he has yet to give an interview, turned the sound off his preparation stream, and ignored advice from Jack Dorsey.
The smarter people in the room however speculate West is playing all of us like a fiddle. West’s ambition and affinity for subversion may seem like a massive troll when considering his last releases: the alterations of The Life of Pablo after its release, his album-a-week rollout in 2018, or even Yandhi, which despite never seeing the light of day constituted an unofficial release of leaks created by fans. There’s no way Kanye will just release an album conventionally anymore; he thinks too highly of himself as an artist. So on the ground level this might mean that DONDA (…Detox) just isn’t good enough right now for all of us to hear and so we can’t rush the master (the physical and the person really), but look a little deeper and Kanye might be going a step further in his career long questioning of the “album as art piece.” DoodleDrop on reddit speculates that he is trying to create the “first official unreleased album” or the first project of its kind that materialized itself into existence without actually ever being released.
The songs exist, they’ve been released and heard by a select few, Billboards state the album is streaming despite not being available on platforms, he’s invited Anthony Fantano and the big dog publications to review the record like it’s available for purchase, but whether it’s a protest against the label marginalization he’s been railing against since The College Dropout, a comment on the era of streaming, or just one massive publicity stunt, he’s not playing their game. We can’t go get the album despite it being very real. It’s like that one of a kind Wu Tang album, but actually this isn’t for sale at all. Kanye has ultimate power and Martin Shkreli isn’t going to be able to drop a million dollars on this.
Whether you’re on board for this or not:
a.) It doesn’t seem like the DONDA rollout is anywhere near the end of its course.
b.) Despite if you think it’s genius, divisive, or just plain stupid, Kanye’s done something special again - there has been nothing like this.
Still, the DONDA rollout has been a total mess in several regards.
For one there really are no clear answers to even the minutia: before the first release party, Kids See Ghosts partner and Kanye mainstay, Kid Cudi tweeted that he wasn’t on the record, then after the second release party he confirmed his involvement. There have been more than a few deleted tweets and rumours range from Kanye moving stadiums to a Watch the Throne sequel on the way.
So with a third listening event scheduled to be hitting West’s hometown of Chicago on August 26 at Soldier Field stadium and the media questioning when the public will get to hear a finished album, here’s a brief play-by-play of what DONDA has brought to the conversation so far.
The album release party has been something of a Kanye staple. With Pablo’s iconic MSG showing and large sessions held in Wyoming for Ye, Kids See Ghosts, and Nasir creating splashy press and properly presenting the theatric scale of Kanye’s productions.
For this album there have been three release events. DONDA first popped up in Vegas at a private party attended by West’s closest collaborators. That night Pusha T instagrammed an event card for the next release party, a stadium event listening session on July 22, later confirmed by Live Nation. The event was sold out with West reserving 5000 tickets for the faculty, staff, and students from Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as for his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and their four children. The DONDA release party streamed exclusively to Apple Music subscribers, and broke viewership records despite starting two hours late.
Aside from a short snippet appearing the following day in a Beats Electronics commercial featuring athlete Sha'Carri Richardson of a song aptly titled "No Child Left Behind,” we have yet to receive any official audio outside of the live streamed events. Also notably, West did not leave, setting up a sleeping bag and streaming his naps and meetings with the album’s alleged features including Playboy Carti, 2 Chainz, Steve Lacy, Chance the Rapper Vic Mensa, Fivio Foreign, Lil Yachty, Kid Cudi, and The LOX who flew in from New York just a day off their Verzuz win.
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Then the second release party came on August 5, many of the songs now updated and thrown in with a few new ones in an adjusted sequence. It was also a far greater spectacle with Georgian fashion designer, Demna Gvasalia from Balenciaga nabbed as DONDA’s creative director. Unlike the first show, they shut the house lights off and West performed positioned in the middle of a crowd of bodies before he was levitated hundreds of feet in the air to the bewilderment of his audience.
Young Thug and Kid Cudi were added to what fans are calling “Remote” and new songs featuring The Weeknd, The Lox and Jay Electronica were unveiled as well. West has confirmed the next DONDA event at the 67,000 capacity Soldier’s Field in Chicago where he will likely be raising the bar.
For years, it was oft speculated that Jay Z and Kanye were no longer cool. After the challenges of mounting Watch the Throne and its tour, the two have commented on each other’s sophisticated working relationship. Things appeared to have worsened after Beyonce and Jay failed to attend the West Kardashian wedding. Kanye has called out Jay Z a few times in his notorious in concert stage rants while Hov notably referred to Kanye as his little brother on My Next Guest with David Letterman. That’s why the significance of Jay Z and Kanye working together again without any notice was such a big talking point after the first DONDA listening event.
Allegedly recorded 4 hours before the party, JAY Z’s verse created speculation of a second potential marquee crossover event in Watch the Throne 2 and typically made efficient use of his guest appearance:
"I told him to stop all that red cap, we going home
This might be the return of the Throne.
Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus."
Like Google, a company that he frequently compares himself to, Kanye West is all about getting the consensus of the room to make what he considers the most informed decisions possible. Between Jon Brion’s close work on Late Registration, the presence of the Soulquarians on The College Dropout, and Rick Rubin’s overhaul on Yeezus, Kanye West always ensures to surround himself with smart people. You don’t have to explain the significance of Mike Dean to a Kanye stan. The producer guitarist has been held close to Kanye’s chest, developing his live sound, mixing his records, and even playing guitar solos. Dean has been integral to the creation of DONDA, working overtime to the point of parody and allegedly mixing to the last minute before the release parties.
On Saturday August 14, Dean appeared to be quitting the DONDA sessions after posting a series of frustrated tweets exclaiming "F*CK THIS" and appearing to confirm the sessions as “toxic” in a reply to a user.
After another fan typed “Fine but then go help Kanye PLZ,” in response to Dean’s tweets that he would prefer to focus on his own projects, Dean answered, “Helping myself. Thx.” Another user mentioned the producer and said, “mike dean is more than just donda guys,” with Dean replying, “A lot more. Very much more.”
Dean shot down rumours he was leaving the project:
“I haven’t quit anything…The album continues. Lol. People read too much into tweets. Lol.” Pray for Mike Dean.