Kanye West has made headlines against for a spectacle. This time though, it was a brilliant piece of performance art for his upcoming album. At a second listening party for his Donda album, West ascended to the heavens and broke down in front of the crowd. Over the past few weeks, West has been building hype for Donda, and last night’s performance was a creative cherry on top.
Kanye Sparks Controversy With Interesting Guest List
For awhile there, the biggest Kanye story was the neverending Donda listening parties, and his petition to change his name to simply, “YE.” Now, however, the rapper is facing controversy of a different kind. It was certainly noteworthy that ex Kim Kardashian showed up to the third listening party in a wedding dress, but that story was soon eclipsed by another that Kardashian claims she didn’t know would be happening – Kanye’s interesting guest list.
One person who surprised the audience was none other than Marilyn Manson. People reports, “Manson, who is facing four sexual abuse lawsuits and has been accused by more than 15 women of sexual assault, did not perform, though a spokesperson for the musician told PEOPLE his voice is featured on the new album. (Manson has previously denied the sexual abuse allegations.)
West, 44, is also facing criticism for including DaBaby in the event, less than a month after the rapper, 29, came under fire for making homophobic remarks about the LGBTQ+ community. (He has since apologized.)”
Kardashian reportedly didn’t know Manson would be there and missed his contribution. Sources close to Kardashian agree that she’s focused on good public appearance and would not have involved herself with such a controversial event had she known – she was simply there to support the father of her children. Backlash online was swift as people demanded to know why West thought it appropriate to have an accused sexual abuser on stage with him, and an accused homophobe.
If West was living by the, “all publicity is good publicity,” mantra then he certainly achieved his goal and got people talking. But given the gospel-like feel of Donda and repeated images that evoke redemption and rebirth, it was an odd choice.
Donda Listening Party Redux Pt. 3, Etc.
The listening parties, they never end. West is now swooping in for a third listening party – growing the anticipation for Donda to an audible roar. Since setting up camp in the stadium at Atlanta, West has since packed up and hopped cities to Chicago, premiering the next part of the album tonight. And he’s making himself at home in the stadium, again. Although this time, it’s literal. West is reportedly building a replica of his childhood home right on Soldier Field. After all, why not? If West is going all-out for tonight’s revelation, might this be the day when the album is actually released? Only time will tell. For now, it’s just the next in a line of listening parties.
There’s only one problem with the neverending listening party model: the more hype builds, the more Donda has to live up to.
Is it all hype, smoke and mirrors or is Donda going to provide music worthy of this ongoing Kanye circus? So far, what music has been shared at listening parties is promising. Polished, heartfelt, and honest, Donda so far seems to be something special. Kanye has made bank from the process of sharing it piecemeal, earning $7 million in merchandise from the first party alone. But only time will tell if people’s interest will continue or fade out as West’s antics stretch into their second month.
Donda Stem Player Allows Customization
Being released with the Donda album is apparently a nifty little gadget known as a Donda Stem Player. Developed as a collab between West’s Yeezy Tech and Kona, the Donda Stem Player is an 8GB music player with capacity for jack headphones and bluetooth. The cool little device fits in the palm of your hand and has a soft silicone skin, but what it can bring to your music experience is the best part. According to The Verge, “As for what you can actually do with the Donda Stem Player, the website says you can:
- Control vocals, drums, bass, and samples
- Isolate parts
- Add effects
- Split any song into stems
The site also says it offers the following tools:
- 4-channel lossless audio mixing
- Realtime loop and speed control
- Tactile effects
- One hits
- Live samples
- Save, playback, and share mixes
- Customize colors
- Content and software updates from your browser.”
Quite frankly, that’s a lot of firepower from one little hockey puck. But if the company can deliver such a customizable experience in one little device, it may blow up among TikTokers and amateur artists looking for more versatile music players.
Of course, incredible things are to be expected from West who has an impressive music empire at his fingertips with which to create. Although soon, that empire may need a new name: West has recently petitioned to change his name to simply, “YE.” And to that we say, heck ye-s.
Donda’s Second Listening Party
Donda‘s first listening party happened at Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta on July 22. It drew an enthusiastic audience and dropped some of the album’s music, which has an intense, brooding rap/gospel feel to it. After the first event, West set up shop in the stadium. The rapper moved into a small cinderblock cell-like room in the stadium, liking the vibe as an inspiration for the rest of the album. However, Donda wasn’t released by the end of July as intended; the stadium-living West pushed the release back and set up another listening event, which happened August 5th.
And what an event it was. Fashion designer Demna Gvasalia helped create the atmosphere and look for last night’s show. It was a mock-up of West’s current creative bedroom at the stadium, and a stylized backdrop for the brooding, pacing, dark tones of an album that seems to explore the heartache of the loss of his family through divorce, his struggles through the pandemic with loneliness and career, and West’s faith.
On Thursday, West paced, laid in the bed breaking down emotionally during a song about losing his family, and set the stage for performance art that was revealing and raw. West wore a bulletproof vest with his name on the back and again, a stocking over his face. West’s performance evokes the idea of a faceless man struggling with darkness, loss, and holding on to hope. The stocking cover helps generalize the character West is portraying; with no clear face, it could be anyone. It could be any of us.
While West is often considered eccentric by his detractors and he does struggle openly with mental illness, he also has a brilliant creativity that lent itself to last night’s performance. At the end of the night, West ascended to the heavens to the sound of his “No Child Left Behind” song from Donda, while the lyrics, “he’s done miracles on me,” played. Some might say it was a bit of an ode to his own genius; West is known for comparing himself to Jesus. But fans saw it as West escaping the doubts, darkness, and grief that has plagued him.
Either way, it made for a compelling performance that continues to build the mystery and hype around Donda.
Kanye’s Industry Pals
Despite his eccentricates, or maybe perhaps of them, West has an impressive array of musical collaborators and partners. Variety writes, “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.”
The Weeknd‘s buttery croon was a part of last night’s performance, and Chance the Rapper was there too, along with Offset and Quavo.
Notably, West’s ex Kim Kardashian was also there with their kids to show support for her estranged husband. Despite the turmoil of their divorce and the bitter battle over West’s mental health before they called it quits, the pair seems to be mutually supportive. It’s indeed quite brave of Kardashian to sit in the audience of a performance basically telling the honest and emotional story of their family’s dissolution.
Kanye works on Kanye time, so it could be weeks or months before Donda sees the light of day in completion. West continues to occupy his creative space at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and his fans continue to wait eagerly.
West’s series of performance art disguised as “listening parties” continue to keep interest in the album high. West’s music varies from very surface and light in subject matter to deep and thought-provoking. Donda is almost certainly to be an album of the latter form; telling a story of a man in pain. Whether you’re a fan of West or not, this slow build-up to release has to be peaking at least some interest. And for fans, it’s almost intolerable to wait. But so much of West’s brilliance is the process, and this is all a part of it. It will be well worth the wait, whenever it hits streaming services.