Dónde está DONDA?

Photo by Axel Antas-Bergkvist on Unsplash

More than a year after its initial release date, Kanye West’s tenth studio album, “DONDA,” was released on August 29, 2021. Kanye West is no stranger to missing deadlines or working on his albums up until the very last minute, but “DONDA” takes the cake. With three listening parties under his belt before the album came out, Kanye’s tribute album to his mother is one of the most exciting album rollouts in recent memory.

The story of “DONDA’s” release mirrors several of West’s previous projects. “DONDA” was initially supposed to release on July 24, 2020. The tracklist in the tweet contained 19 songs, although this tweet was quickly deleted. Then, a few days later, West made another tweet alluding to the album dropping on the upcoming Friday, albeit with a new tracklist. This tweet contained a tracklist showing 12 tracks, with several alterations from the previous tracklist.

 August 24 came and went with the album remaining unreleased. The day after the album was supposed to release, West tweeted a photo of the cover art for the album, before the album took a backseat to his bid for the presidential election.

Kanye West working on albums at the very last minute and missing deadlines is not out of the ordinary for him. He worked on the mixing and mastering of his album “The Life of Pablo” well after its release. The most well-known of these alterations is with the track “Wolves,” in which West tweeted out “Ima fix Wolves” before reinstating Vic Mensa and Sia’s contributions and altering the mix of the song.

Of course, with the near radio silence about DONDA from West’s camp, many fans began to fear that “DONDA” would go the route of several other West projects and never see the light of day. The most recent of these scrapped projects was “Yandhi.” Supposedly to release on September 19, 2018, “Yandhi” in its original form would never see the light of day, with much of the album being reworked into his gospel album “Jesus is King.”

Jesus is King” is still a polarizing album. Fans who listened to the leaks of “Yandhi” desired tracks like “Hurricane,” those who wanted more rapping from Kanye were put off by the sudden change of genre and Kanye’s support of Donald Trump still put off his others. The lack of cursing became a rallying cry for certain fans, with release threads of his post JIK singles lamenting the lack of explicit songs.  The phrase ‘I miss the old Kanye” from West’s skit “I Love Kanye” became a familiar feeling among a portion of his fanbase.

On July 19, Pusha T posted on his Instagram a text post revealing a “DONDA” listening party taking place at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22. Around this time, a new cover for the album surfaced. Said cover was inspired by the work of Louise Bourgeois, whose art often touched on her relationship with her mother, which mirrors one of the central themes of “DONDA.” On July 20, 2021, West previewed a snippet of the song “No Child Left Behind” in an advertisement, which revealed the album’s supposed release date to be July 23.  The listening party featured a seemingly unfinished version of “DONDA,” with listeners noting how rough the album’s edges sounded. A top comment on a Reddit thread in r/hiphopheads read, “Kim took all the drums in the divorce,” in reference to the recent divorce of West and Kim Kardashian.

Joshua Kish, who attended the listening party, has mixed feelings about the experience.

“The music was interesting, even if the sound quality wasn’t great,” he said. “The songs sounded unmastered like he finished it an hour before the show.”

On July 23, ”DONDA” was nowhere to be found. A tweet from social media personality Justin Laboy gives fans a new release date of August 6. Around this time, Kanye West and producer Mike Dean move into the Mercedes Benz Stadium, presumably to finish the album.  Another listening party was held in the stadium on August 5, with an accompanying live-stream hosted by Apple Music.

This second listening party upped the ante quite a bit compared to the first one. In addition to the music sounding more finished, the production of the entire event was taken up a notch, with help from Demna Gvasila, one of the creative directors for Balenciaga. The production differences were striking, with the highlight being the finale of the event where West levitates hundreds of feet in the air while the ethereal chorus of the song “No Child Left Behind” plays in the background.

Junior Ryan Tran attended the second release party and was impressed with what West had to offer.

“The visuals were sick, and the album sounded amazing,” said Tran. “You could hear the bass and the 808s. “

Now, with a second listening party under his belt and a relatively finished-sounding album, one might make the mistake of assuming that the album came out on August 6. August 6 came and went, and the album was still left unreleased. Apple Music set the release date to August 15, but this date also came and went. Rumors also began surfacing that producer Mike Dean had quit working on the album; Dean himself swiftly debunked those rumors on Twitter.

On August 18, West announces the third listening party, which would take place in his hometown of Chicago. Around this time, Kanye returned to his Instagram to post a picture of his childhood home and then seemingly reignited his longstanding beef with Drake by adding him to a group chat and sending the image of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker alongside a threatening message.

Kanye’s third listening party occurred on August 26. Before this, West announced the Donda Stem Player, a device that will allow users to customize what versions of the album’s songs they want to hear, essentially allowing the audience the ability to fix “Wolves.”

The third listening party featured a reconstruction of West’s childhood home, West setting himself on fire and apparently remarrying Kim Kardashian at the end. With the third listening party just as striking visually as the second, expectations were higher than ever. The music also featured some changes from the Atlanta version, with JAY-Z and Kid Cudi features removed and a DaBaby feature added.

“DONDA” was finally released to the public on August 29.  Featuring an all-black album art and a 24-song tracklist, “DONDA” is West’s sonic tribute to his late mother. Across the 24 tracks, West demonstrates that his versatility has not diminished and that he still is, in fact, Kanye West. The features across the album are similarly varied, from industry legends such as JAY-Z to up and comers such as Fivio Foreign and Baby Keem.

“DONDA” seems to be a reconciliation between pre “Jesus is King” West and his older material, with an increased focus on rapping compared to JIK, while also wearing his Christian faith on his sleeve. The album also lacks explicit lyrics, with curses being cut out whenever a feature would use them. This reconciliation also comes with the fans of “Yandhi” finally being thrown a bone in the form of an officially finished version of the song “Hurricane” on the album. The songs on “DONDA” are somewhat varied in comparison to “Jesus is King.”  “Off the Grid,” for example, features guest verses from Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign rapping aggressively over a drill-inspired beat. In contrast, the aforementioned “No Child Left Behind” features an epic organ performance while Kanye reaffirms his Christian faith.

West is no stranger to controversy, and “DONDA” would not be a Kanye album without its release also being dragged into the said controversy. Kanye took to Instagram earlier this morning and made a post claiming that Universal released the album without his permission and blocked the song “Jail Pt. 2” from being on the album. “Jail Pt.2” features verses from rapper DaBaby, fresh off the heels of his homophobic controversy, and Marilyn Manson, who recently was subject to a sexual assault scandal.

Why “DONDA” took as long as it did to release is anyone’s guess at this point. Many speculated that Kanye was simply waiting for Drake to drop his long-awaited album “Certified Lover Boy” so he could drop at the same time just to spite Drake. Ultimately, Kanye’s tribute to his mother being delayed as many times as it was not out of the normal for the rapper. Instead, with his listening parties, we got a closer look at the chaotic inner workings of a West album dropping, and that in of itself is going to be a defining aspect of the “DONDA” era.