The evolution of Kanye West’s ‘DONDA’

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Jaeden Pinder, Arts Editor

In chemistry, you learn about the concept of suspensions; you try to mix oil and water in a test tube, and you recognize that the oil eventually settles on top of the water, creating a clear distinction between the two. You learn quite quickly that these substances are incompatible with each other and cannot form a homogeneous mixture. The same can be said for Kanye West and album releases.

In the last decade, the rapper-producer has announced several albums (even a collaborative project with Chance the Rapper) only to postpone or scrap the work entirely.

His latest and most complex foray in time management is his anticipated tenth album, “Donda,” which has yet to be released despite being slated for July 23 of last year. 

Last summer, West announced the title of the album of his next project to be “God’s Country” and released the single “Wash Us in the Blood” featuring Travis Scott, deriving from the industrial sound of 2013’s “Yeezus.” Not soon after, West then changed the title to “Donda,” named after his late mother, who passed away in 2007. 

At this point, “Donda” was announced for a July 24 release date, but it never hit any platforms that day. Offering no explanation, he instead released the album artwork on his Twitter, which has since been replaced with a drawing by sculptor Louise Bourgeois, whose subject matter often weighed on motherhood and family. 

Throughout this time, West previewed snippets of songs on social media platforms like Twitter, offering up a tasting menu of what was to be expected from the rapper’s tenth album.

A notable snippet is the unreleased “Believe What I Say,” which featured a sample of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Ms. Lauryn Hill. He also posted cryptic screenshots and sketches of clothing for his Yeezy fashion line and paintings of saints and deities on the same app, a mood board of sorts.

West then released “Nah Nah Nah,” in October 2020, stating that this single was the anthem for his presidential campaign, which he eventually conceded from. With months passed from the original release, “Donda” seemed to be slipping further and further away from reality.

The first half of 2021 was quiet within the music department for Kanye West, most likely due to the turmoil from his separation from spouse Kim Kardashian, who filed for divorce from West in February 2021.

Suddenly though, as if it was all a test in endurance, “Donda” was as close to a release as ever before. On July 21, American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson appeared in a commercial for Beats by Dre, which featured a new song by West: “No Child Left Behind.”

Even more surprising was that the ad served as an announcement for a listening party for the project the following evening. The event was held in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia but was also live-streamed on Apple Music. 

Beginning the show nearly two hours late, Kanye appeared on the field donned in a red parka set and sheer balaclava, drawing comparisons to his fashion from the 2010 VMAs and the Yeezus Tour, respectively. West, an ember among a raging blizzard, stood alone with fog machines blasting across the landscape, intermittently dancing or dropping to his knees.

Songs premiered that night featured artists like Pusha T, Pop Smoke, Playboi Carti, and spoken-word passages by Donda West. The biggest surprise of the night came with the final track, which featured a verse by JAY-Z.

The duo’s relationship remained in question after Kanye’s onstage rants about the Brooklyn native in 2016 and the latter’s subsequent retaliation in several songs from 2017’s “4:44.” Closing out the event with this track, JAY-Z even teased the possibility of a sequel to their joint album “Watch the Throne.”

The album featured a star-studded roster, blurring the lines between experimental and gospel-influenced production while also including both emotional and comedic lyrics from the artist.

University FTVC major James Joy had the chance to attend the event and spoke about his excitement surrounding the album. “The show started so suddenly and the stadium’s speakers throughout the night made the album almost unlistenable. I had the chance to listen to the Apple Music stream and it sounded much better, but the hype after the event and the eventual hold on ‘Donda’ left everyone waiting,” Joy said. “The album sounded good, but unfinished for sure.”

Midnight struck, and fans flocked to streaming services to hear the album all its glory, but “Donda” wasn’t anywhere to be found. Refresh after refresh yielded inconclusive and frustrating. Yet again, the album was stuck in limbo, upsetting many fans after a year of waiting.

In the following days, West set up camp in one of the stadium’s locker rooms to finish the album, assisted by producer Mike Dean. Videos then spread across social media of featured artists Playboi Carti and 2 Chainz recording a day before the listening. There have even been testimonies that JAY-Z recorded his verse mere hours before the album’s premiere. 

Clearly, the album was unfinished, and one could surmise that Ye’s late arrival onstage could have been from last-minute modifications. While working in his temporary recording studio, West himself then announced that a second listening party would happen on Aug. 5 with the album’s official drop happening the following day.

As early as 2016’s “The Life Of Pablo,” West has had a rocky relationship with releasing albums as planned. West remarked that he wanted this LP to be “a living, breathing, changing, creative expression,” which was perceived as pretentious by some but innovative to others. He continually tweaked the album after its original release, improving the mixes and changing the lyrics on some of the tracks. 

After the urban legend of the indefinitely postponed album “Yandhi,” which has floated across the Internet in the last few years, the long-winded rollout of “Donda” creates a debate on whether this is a more insightful look into the creative process or just aggravating to the masses.

Fans at this point seem disheartened and might even judge the body of work more critically than before, after Kanye’s inability to stick to his deadlines. Still, some recognize this as just part of his process and character.

Without an official tracklist, artwork, and missed cutoffs, music enthusiasts are taking everything the artist has said with a grain of salt. 

“I can’t remember the last time an album delay had this much coverage… I feel like Kanye’s never fully satisfied even after a finished album.” Joy said in regards to the confusion following the listening party.

He continued, “I knew ‘Donda’ wasn’t going to drop, he and Mike Dean were working on songs in the stadium during the first show, but this round of advertisements and teasers leading towards the Aug. 5 party makes me think he’s going to release it.”

The best answer for whether or not “Donda” will be released on Aug. 6 is… possibly. The question that looms overhead will only be answered in due time. All that one can do now is wait.