Kanye West premiered his long-delayed studio album “Donda” at a listening event at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium on Thursday that was broadcast live on Apple Music. While many details about the album have leaked in the days after hints about its imminent arrival first popped up on Sunday, one that didn’t was a fiery guest verse from Jay-Z on the album’s last song, apparently titled “Guess Who’s Going to Jail Tonight?”
As he has at past listening events, West did not perform but stomped around the arena floor in a bulky red outfit with a bright orange pair of Yeezy boots and a gauzy full-face mask. Jay did not appear at the event, but during his verses West stood with a hand aloft (pictured above).
This Jay-Z verse on Kanye West’s new DONDA album is insane.pic.twitter.com/LdVBh446J5
— Tellaman (@Tellamahn) July 23, 2021
— MUSICXCLUSIVES (@MusicXclusives) July 23, 2021
Jay’s verse, apparently from the perspective of a man in prison, references not only his brotherly and at times contentious relationship with West — at one point he compares the pair to “Moses and Jesus,” at another he tells West to get rid of his “Make America Great Again” hat, at another says “This might be the return of the throne,” checking the title of their 2012 collaborative LP “Watch the Throne” — it also ties in with the album’s larger lyrical themes of religion and West’s beloved mother Donda, who passed away suddenly in 2007.
Unconfirmed reports say that Jay recorded his verse on Thursday afternoon, just hours before the listening event (maybe that’s why it started almost two hours later than the scheduled 8 p.m. ET).
Not all of his words were immediately clear (thanks to Genius.com for clarifying some) but the sentiment certainly is:
God in my cell, that’s my celly
Made in the image of God, that’s a selfie
Pray five times a day, so many felonies
Who’s gon’ post my bail? Lord, help me
Hold up, Donda, I’m with your baby when I [unclear]
Told ’em stop all of that red [MAGA] cap, we goin’ home
Not be with all these sins, casting stones
This might be the return of the throne
Hova and Yeezus
Like Moses and Jesus
You’re not in control of my thesis
You already know what I think, I think pieces [?]
On my cell, in my cell tonight
Don’t have to see you to touch you
This is what braille look like
This on sight
If they take me to jail
Hold my girl, tell her send my mail
We know what Hell look like
Still it’s a hell of a life, yikes
Variety will have much more on the album and event in the next few hours, but after one listen, “Donda” seems to be the most musically adventurous and fulfilling album West has released since 2016’s “Life of Pablo,” retaining the Christian themes and lyrics of his recent gospel material but containing only a few elements of religious music (church organ and choirs on a couple of songs). However, fans should not expect hard beats: it’s slow and contemplative, recalling at times his “808s and Heartbreak” album — the one he released after his mother’s death — with sustained keyboard chords and phased guitars that recall King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Lil Baby and Pusha-T are among the guests.
Word of the album’s imminent arrival popped up on social media Sunday after West held a small listening party in Las Vegas, which featured him wearing a heavy hoodie and a ski mask. Gradually his label, Def Jam, confirmed that the album, “Donda” — which is probably very different from the album of the same name he was reported to be releasing two years ago — would arrive on Friday.
The release date was established during Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday within a Beats by Dre ad featuring track star Sha’Carri Richardson, which West scored and edited. The commercial previews the track “No Child Left Behind” from the album, and is a strong show of support for 21-year-old Richardson, who was suspended from the Olympics’ Team USA on July 2 after testing positive for marijuana.