Todd Rundgren Says He Worked on Kanye West’s ‘Donda,’ Too, to No Avail: ‘As a Musician, He’s a Shoe Designer’

Todd Rundgren opens his virtual tour
Jim Snyder

Todd Rundgren, who’s about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn’t sound like he hopes to ever see Kanye West joining him there. “I’m one of the few artists not on Kanye’s album,” Rundgren says in a new interview — but it wasn’t for lack of being asked. The rocker says he was invited to participate on “Donda” and even has “three albums’ worth of Kanye stems on my computer,” but finally bowed out after a year of work, with no end and not much valuable input in sight.

“I kept getting called by Kanye to add vocals onto the record,” the artist-producer says in a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock. “When it got into the homestretch in July, I just said, ‘That’s enough for me. I have no idea whether any of this is being used.’ You don’t get much feedback from him regarding what it is.” Not that he had any objections to the tone of the material. “I didn’t mind working on his gospel stuff. If you want to sing about Jesus, go ahead, I don’t care. I’ll help you do it, you know? If you want to sing about your troubles with your wife, go ahead and do it. I don’t care.” But he wasn’t OK with continuing to be “driftwood in the process” without knowing how or even if his work would be used.

After initially telling writer Matt Wardlaw that “I’m one of the few artists not on Kanye’s album,” Rundgren hedged on that a little, saying there might be “a possibility that I’m actually in there somewhere. There’s so much junk in that record! I eventually came to the realization that, as a musician, he’s a shoe designer. He’s just a dilettante at this point,” Rundgren said, citing West having “stupid money” to endlessly toy with his work. “Nobody rents a stadium to make a record in. Nobody flies in the entire world of hip-hop just to croak one syllable, just so you can say that everybody was on it.”

Rundgren was actually enlisted for “Donda” by 88-Keys, for whom he still has great respect; that producer is a Rundgren fan and apparently had it as a dream to hook the two up. But after a year of trying to accommodate West’s wishes and then parting ways, the rocker doesn’t sound like he’s sorry he’s (probably) not on the record.

Rundgren says that, listening to “Donda,” he believes West “hurriedly wrapped the whole thing up and put out what is obviously really raw, unprocessed stuff. It’s because Drake was running the whole process.” Afraid of being overshadowed by Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy,” Rundgren maintains, West “hurried up and released the album the weekend before Drake could get his out. And in the end, Drake ate his lunch anyway.”

Rundgren is not the only one who did some work on the long-gestating “Donda” that didn’t make the album, of courser. Soulja Boy and Calboy complained on social media about having his verse cut, and Chris Brown griped that he’d been reduced to essentially a background vocalist instead of a featured guest. A leaked track also featured an unused contribution by Andre 3000, who seemed grateful that his part wasn’t used, since he felt his rap about his late mother was out of character with the direction of the rest of the song.

In a separate Ultimate Classic Rock story, Rundgren talks about how he won’t be showing up for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland Oct. 30, but is willing to pipe in an acceptance speech or other acknowledgement from the concert he’s doing that night in Cincinnatti. He indicates that he wants to avoid outrightly disparaging the hall or letting down his fans who have clamored for years to get in, but adds that he’s “too much on the record about my feelings” about the institution to be too accommodating. Read that story here.

Rundgren is set to release an album later this year, with a possibly satirical title, “Space Force,” that suggests he may not yet be done tweaking the sensibilities of right-wingers after creating a stir with a comical anti-Trump song, the Donald Fagen collaboration “Tin Foil Hat,” in 2017.

His current tour has him doing two- or three-night stands in most cities on the routing, with different set lists each night that include either the first or second half of 1973’s epic “A Wizard, a True Star” as the opening set. The tour touches down at New York’s Gramercy Oct. 7-9 and L.A.’s Belasco Theatre Nov. 12-14 (with three-show passes available in both cities) before ending at San Francisco’s Fillmore Nov. 16-17. The full tour routing can be found here.