If one thing has been confirmed and reconfirmed in the past month’s drama around Kanye West’s “Donda” album, it’s that punctuality is not his strong suit.
The album — a tribute to West’s beloved mother, who died suddenly in 2007 — was first announced in July of 2020, then revived last month before a listening event was held on July 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and was scheduled to be followed by the album’s release later that night. As he has done several times in the past, West pulled back the album release, essentially set up shop in the stadium, and then scheduled another listening event there for Thursday night, again to be follow by the album. At the time of this article’s publication, the album still has not been released, but West did premier a dramatically overhauled version of the album on Thursday night, with a new feature from the Weeknd — among many other guest appearances.
In fact, the project and the show — which was much more elaborately staged than the one held two weeks ago — actually serve as prime examples that West’s true strength is in collaboration.
The newer version of the album also features from Jay-Z, Lil Baby, Pusha T, Don Toliver, Kid Cudi, Fivio Foreign, Jhe Rooga, Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Baby Keem, Young Thug, Vory, KayCyy, Roddy Ricch, Lil Durk, 070 Shake, Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Jay Electronica, Sheek Louch, Jadakiss, Styles P, Larry Hoover Jr, Pop Smoke, Francis and the Lights and West’s Sunday Service Choir, along with quotes from his mother. His ability to incorporate so many different voices into a single album is yet more proof of his stellar abilities as a producer and conceptualist.
Visually, Thursday night’s show was a collaboration with Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, who came aboard as creative director. While the first “Donda” event had simply featured West sitting or stomping around a white, ice-rink-like surface on the stadium floor, Thursday night’s tied in with West’s recent Christian themes, with elaborate afterlife elements like screens of heavenly skies and brimstone fires that played along the upper ring of the stadium’s dome — and ended with West being lofted to the stadium’s ceiling, as if he were ascending to heaven.
As with the previous event, West spent the entire time at the center of the arena’s floor, masked and this time dressed in all black, within a square of light, while dozens of dancers either walked in a big circle around him, or threw silhouetted shapes onto the floor. West’s center area was outfitted with a simple bed, pillow, candle setup and various other items — a spartan set-up that reflected his social media posts of the living quarters he has taken at the stadium over the past couple of weeks.
For the audience inside the stadium it was hard to discern Kanye’s movements much beyond moments of pacing, praying and at times doing push-ups. Photos and livestream images offered the most compelling imagery from the event: In the stadium, all the audience could really see was a black clad mass circling West.
While the event lacked the electric energy of expectation from the initial event, there were unexpected moments that helped break the ceremonial tone. At one point an imposter in orange broke onto the floor, earning ripples of laughter from the crowd as security tracked him down and dragged him away. The moment happened early enough in the event that it did not interfere with the overall design of the event.
Before the listening even started, Justin LaBoy offered social media updates about the project, down to the minute the Lox landed (2:34 am), triumphant from thrashing Dipset at their Madison Square Garden Verzuz event Tuesday. And although West’s soon-to-be former wife, Kim Kardashian and their four children were present and showing support, most of the stadium never caught a glimpse of them or West’s famous friends in the house.
As always, West was meant to be the star of the show, and no matter how disjointed, elements of the theme remained intact. So few were probably surprised when, as the final song closed, he ascended into the heavens of the arena by harness, assuming an arc-like dangle, high in the air.
The spectacle was impressive. But it would have been more amazing — and surprising — if the finished album had actually dropped at midnight.