Donda

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Donda
Black square cover art for Donda
Studio album by
ReleasedAugust 29, 2021 (2021-08-29)
Recorded
  • September 2018 – August 2021
Studio
Genre
Length108:49
Label
Producer
Kanye West chronology
Jesus Is King
(2019)
Donda
(2021)
Singles from Donda
  1. "Hurricane"
    Released: September 14, 2021

Donda is the tenth studio album by American rapper Kanye West. It was released on August 29, 2021, by GOOD Music and Def Jam Recordings. The album was initially set for release on July 24, 2020, but was delayed multiple times. In July 2021, West set up a provisional recording studio at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where listening events were held on July 22 and August 5. On August 26, a third listening event was held at Soldier Field in Chicago; after the events, West continued to make alterations to the tracklist.

Donda is primarly a hip hop, gospel, progressive rap, and pop album that draws from West's previous work and features elements of numerous genres, including trap and drill. It is both minimalist and maximalist, with a reduced presence of drums in the production, which was handled by an array of producers including West himself, Boi-1da, E.Vax, DJ Khalil, Gesaffelstein, Mike Dean, Ronny J, and Swizz Beatz, among others. The album features vocal contributions from multiple artists and is darker in tone and lyrical content than West's prior efforts, exploring religion, addiction, ego, West's mental instability and relationships with his family, his separation from Kim Kardashian, and his late mother Donda West, after whom the album is named.

Donda immediately faced controversy, with West claiming the album had been released without his approval, which Universal Music Group denied. It was also met with mixed reviews; while more favorable appraisals deemed it superior to West's most recent work up to that point, many critics felt the album was overlong and lacking in coherence, with some lamenting the guest appearances of controversial artists such as DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Nonetheless, Donda debuted at number one on several charts, including the U.S. Billboard 200, where it became West's tenth consecutive number-one album, tying the record set by Eminem. It also marked one of the biggest opening-day streaming tallies in the history of Spotify and Apple Music. "Hurricane" was released as the album's lead single on September 14, 2021.

Background and recording[edit]

On November 18, 2019, West announced on Twitter that he was working with fellow rapper and producer Dr. Dre on a collaborative album entitled Jesus Is King Part II.[1] Nine days later, record producer Ronny J confirmed that he had recently been in Wyoming to work on the album.[2] During a December 2019 concert of his group the Sunday Service Choir in Lynwood, California, West stated that he had always wished he could collaborate with Dr. Dre and added, "Who knew all I had to do was do an album for God and then Dr. Dre would start mixing my beats? Spend your time on God, and he'll handle the rest."[3][4] That same month, fellow rapper Consequence confirmed that he was in Wyoming when asked about recording for Jesus Is King Part II.[5]

In March 2020, West recorded new music in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, before returning to Wyoming with his family due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[6] That same month, GOOD Music president Pusha T stated in a Discord interview that he had been recording with West recently.[7] Pusha T was planning to meet with West on March 16, 2020, to complete a project, but cited "flights slowing down" due to COVID travel restrictions as the reason for a delay.[7] On March 12, 2020, rappers Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine were spotted in Wyoming recording for West's album.[8][9] Westside Gunn would later confirm his collaboration with West in an interview for Elliot Wilson on Tidal, alongside recalling that they were set to travel to Cabo San Lucas, California after recording in Wyoming, until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled their plans.[10]

On May 25, 2020, cinematographer Arthur Jafa revealed that he was working on video material with West for a single from West's forthcoming album under the title of God's Country during a conversation with fashion designer Michèle Lamy in an Instagram Live stream.[11] On June 26, 2020, West unveiled a collaboration between his fashion company Yeezy and clothing retailer Gap alongside the launch of the #WestDayEver promotional campaign on Twitter, which accompanied announcements of different projects that same day.[12] One of the projects was a music video for the track "Wash Us in the Blood" that features fellow rapper Travis Scott, directed by Jafa; the video was released on June 30, following a teaser in which West officially announced the album's title as God's Country.[12][13] The track was set to be included on Donda, but did not appear on the final track listing.[14][15] On July 13, 2020, Kanye shared a snippet on Twitter of the track "Donda", which featured his late mother Donda West reciting KRS-One's "Sound of da Police" (1993) and was accompanied by archival footage, including the Wests rapping together.[16]

Initial cover art, shared by West in July 2020
Second proposed cover, showcasing an adaptation of a Louise Bourgeois painting from 2007

On July 21, 2020, Kanye West announced a release date of three days later and posted a revised tracklist, two days after he had tweeted another tracklist and subsequently deleted it.[17] West also confirmed the title had been changed to Donda in honor of his mother, who he had previously named his creative company after.[17][18] Ultimately, the album missed its planned release date.[15] On July 25, 2020, West tweeted an image of the album cover,[19] showing an infrared scheme of orange and red mirroring the shape of the people, sun, and moon in the sky, backed by green mountains alongside purple and white clouds.[13] West later tweeted a possible replacement cover, sharing an adaptation of a Louise Bourgeois gouache painting that was created in 2007, the same year as Donda West's death, and included in Bourgeois' series Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges (2015).[20][21] A woman is shown in monochromatic red on the painting and a matching ponytail flows behind her, while a fertility idol is also partially present.[20][21] After Kanye West posted numerous potential covers, a plain black square was ultimately used as the artwork for the album.[22]

On July 28, 2020, West flew fellow rapper Lil Baby out to Wyoming to work on Donda, following on from him stating, "Lil baby my favorite rapper but won't do a song with me."[23][24][25] Lil Baby ended up recording his verse for the track "Hurricane" after Kenyan-American rapper KayCyy suggested to him that he should contribute to it.[26] The original version of "Hurricane" was leaked online as an original song recorded in September 2018 for the scrapped project Yandhi, with different verses from artists such as 6ix9ine, KayCyy, and Ty Dolla Sign; however, none of their contributions made the final cut, which features vocals from Lil Baby and Canadian singer the Weeknd.[26][27] West sent out a series of tweets about his relationship with Universal Music Group in September 2020, mostly addressing his desire to buy his master recordings back from them. The rapper asserted that these efforts were obstructed by his signed contracts, suceeding this by tweeting multiple images that supposedly showed the contracts.[28]

On September 26, 2020, West shared a 39-second snippet of the track "Believe What I Say" to Twitter.[29] West later released a song entitled "Nah Nah Nah" on October 26, calling the song his 2020 presidential campaign's theme music; it includes him referencing his candidacy.[30] On November 13, 2020, West released a remix of "Nah Nah Nah" that features fellow rappers DaBaby and 2 Chainz.[31] After the original and remix were both removed from streaming services in the lead up to Donda's release, neither of them made the final cut.[32][33] On November 23, 2020, Consequence expressed enthusiasm about the album, describing it as "fire".[34]

On March 8, 2021, Cyhi the Prynce stated in an interview with VladTV that West had once again begun working on Donda amid his divorce from his wife Kim Kardashian.[35] On May 30, West was joined in the studio by fellow rapper Playboi Carti.[36] West's manager Abou "Bu" Thiam teased the release of Donda on June 8, 2021, commenting on Gap's Instagram post announcing their jacket with Yeezy, "WestDayEver. Album OTW!"[37] On June 14, 2021, court filings revealed that West was recording for it in Honolulu, Hawaii, after reportedly "freaking out" during his deposition in an ongoing lawsuit with tech company MyChannel.[38][39] Singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson worked on music with West in San Francisco on July 15.[40][41] Speaking for Cocktails with Queens on Fox Soul, Johnson said she recorded "Donda Chant" as well as vocals for another song in the session that was ultimately scrapped.[42]

On July 17, 2021, Consequence posted a video of West in the studio with Tyler, the Creator on Instagram. The caption of the post suggested a late 2021 album release.[43] On July 19, Pusha T announced on Instagram that West would be holding a listening event for the album on July 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.[44] Audio products company Beats by Dre then premiered a commercial during game six of the 2021 NBA Finals with athlete Sha'Carri Richardson, scored by West's track "No Child Left Behind".[45] The commercial also showed the release date for Donda as July 23, 2021, and marked the first preview of music from it.[45][46] French producer Gesaffelstein later revealed that he produced the song, marking his second time working with West after having previously contributed to the rapper's sixth studio album Yeezus (2013).[47] Immediately following the commercial's debut, Def Jam Recordings reaffirmed the album's release date and revealed that the Atlanta listening event would be globally livestreamed on Apple Music.[48][49]

On July 22, 2021, West held a listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Donda.[50] Following the listening event, West had taken up temporary residence in one of the stadium's rooms, converting it into a recording studio to finish the recording and mixing with producer Mike Dean.[50][51][52] Videos and photographs posted to social media also showed rappers Playboi Carti and 2 Chainz recording vocals in the locker room a day before the listening event.[53][54][55][56] Fellow rapper Jay-Z allegedly recorded his verse mere hours before the listening event began.[57] After failing to meet the album's scheduled release date of July 23, West continued recording sessions and was living in the stadium up until the second listening event held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 6, 2021.[58][59] 24 hours before the second listening event commenced, West could be seen doing numerous activities during an Apple Music livestream.[60][61] West also recorded for Donda at Bighorn Mountain Ranch in Greybull, Wyoming, which he bought for $14.5 million.[62] The ranch spans over 6,700 acres, covering a larger area than the Monster Lake Ranch property in Wyoming that West previously bought.[62] Further recording sessions were held at Island Studio in Honolulu.[63]

Scrapped tracks[edit]

Chris Brown (left) and Soulja Boy (right) publicly made comments aimed at West, as a result of the removal of their verses from the album.

A song titled "Never Abandon Your Family", was previewed at the listening events for Donda on July 22 and August 6, 2021, although it ultimately was not included on the album.[64] The song "Donda", originally titled "South Carolina", when previewed at the listening parties on July 22 and August 6, 2021, originally featured a verse where West traded bars with Pusha T. The verse contained references to West's South Carolina rally from his 2020 presidential bid.[65][66]

The song "New Again", featuring vocals from R&B singer Chris Brown on the hook, originally included a verse performed by the singer, which was later leaked by Brown himself, after publicly calling West a "whole hoe".[67][68][69] On September 28, the song was reuploaded to streaming services with Brown's vocals removed and replaced with West singing his parts.[70] Rapper Soulja Boy originally recorded a verse for the track "Remote Control", although he was ultimately not included on the final version of the song. Following the album's release, Soulja Boy shared a snippet of his verse on Instagram, with the caption of the post saying "Fuck Kanye".[71][72] Fellow rapper André 3000 also recorded a verse for an unreleased track entitled "Life of the Party", which had been previewed at a listening event for Donda in Las Vegas.[73][74] In the song, West disses Canadian musician Drake, who leaked the song in retaliation amidst a feud between them. André 3000 lamented the feud, stating that his verse was written before West's diss.[73][74]

On September 7, 2021, DJ Akademiks shared a screenshot of a conversation between West and an unnamed engineer that worked on the album, showing West firing the engineer after no response to his morning message to start work.[75] On September 14, 2021, American multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren revealed he had recorded heavily for Donda and was tolerant of West delving into different subjects, but became frustrated with the rapper after a lack of feedback about his material.[76] Rundgren also assumed it should be made clear if he can contribute or not and saw "a possibility" he is "actually in there somewhere" among the album's "junk", concluding by branding West "a dilettante".[76] On September 24, 2021, after multiple artists had revealed that contributions to Donda from them were scrapped, West's sound engineer Nikolai Skrobat revealed that an upcoming playlist consisting of "forgotten tracks" from Kanye's discography may include the album's unreleased material.[77]

Musical style[edit]

Donda covers the stylistic groundwork of West's previous albums;[78][79] it has been described as a hip hop,[80] gospel,[81][82][83] progressive rap,[84][85] and pop record.[86][87] The album includes elements of trap, drill, boom bap, and hip house.[88][89] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Mikael Wood described the album as blending "the harsh industrial hip-hop of Yeezus, the church-organ gospel of Jesus Is King, the gothic swagger of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the bleeping electro-pop of 808s & Heartbreak".[79] Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic perceived that "stylistic innovation has driven West's career till now, but maybe he conceives of Donda as the album of his life—a capstone, an anthology".[78] However, the album is unusual in his catalog due to its lack of drums,[33] besides a light amount of snares and occasional synth basses that imitate rhythm sections.[64] Donda's integration of gospel music is more subtle than that of West's previous studio album Jesus Is King (2019),[90][91] instead favoring the usage of trap beats and Auto-Tune.[82][92] At Pitchfork, Dylan Green noted the production "jumps" from trap and drill to boom-bap and gospel, invoking GOOD Music's compilation album Cruel Summer (2012).[88]

According to Ed Power of The Daily Telegraph, the album is a maximalist hip hop record that follows a "more is more" philosophy through its "gleaming, swooping grooves and several kitchen sinks worth of production"; he noted how the grooves "go off" similarly to monster trucks moving loudly around a stadium.[86] In contrast, Craig Jenkins of Vulture said that Donda's "unifying quality is a subtle minimalism", with prominent silence.[89] Fred Thomas of AllMusic similarly opined that the album is built on "minimal arrangements that linger while feeling eerily unfinished".[33] Jenkins also noticed West's diminished presence on the record, where he felt his "raps and hooks take up significantly less real estate" than any releases of his since Cruel Summer.[89] In The Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Dwyer wrote that the "gospel flourishes of organ and voices" on Donda are elevated by "passionate yearning".[92] It has a length of 1 hour and 48 minutes (1:48), which Green said contains "euphoric highs" with a lack of "connective tissue", observing "a data dump of songs searching for a higher calling".[88] Gigwise writer Charlie Brock depicted that the album "ebbs and flows", being "melancholic and subversive" at some points, and "outlandish and snarling" at others.[93]

Themes and lyrics[edit]

Donda was inspired by religion, being themed around West's faith across much of the material.[86][87] Some critics have described the album as sombre, with darker lyrical content than West's previous works.[94][95] For Exclaim!, Riley Wallace asserted that it is a lot less clumsy than Jesus Is King and also a "more accessible body of work".[94] References to addiction and mental instability are prominent,[78] as well as Kanye West's ego and his family, including the collapse of his marriage with Kardashian and thoughts about Donda.[79][81][86] Themes of hope, rebirth, and salvation are also present.[94] Jon Caramanica wrote for The New York Times that in Donda, West continues to trade off the lyrical focus on self-awareness and wordplay of his earlier material for a more "terse and immediate approach, one that complements his musical shifts toward the industrial and the spiritual", which he started to do in the 2010s.[96] In the same vein as Jesus Is King, Donda features no explicit language, with all expletives being edited out.[90][96]

The album's intro track, "Donda Chant", consists of Johnson chanting Donda West's forename repeatedly for nearly a minute.[78][92] "Jail" follows and is the first full track, featuring Kanye West and Jay-Z combining metaphors about crime with details of marriage and sin.[78][80] "God Breathed" offers redemption for West, seeing him reaffirm his trust in God, before a wordless choir performs the outro.[81][84][92] Within "Off the Grid", verses are contributed by West, Playboi Carti, and fellow rapper Fivio Foreign; Kornhaber labeled it a "crew anthem".[78][88][93] Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign attempt to find a balance between faith in themselves and faith in God, later being followed by West closing the song with a revealation of his religious mission statement and at one point, he dubs God "my bestie".[80][88][97] On "Hurricane", West touches on personal issues such as his break-up with Kardashian and his house, while the hook sees the Weeknd exude walk-on-water confidence and Lil Baby provides a mournful performance.[79][93][98] "Praise God" contains a vocal sample of Donda West proclaiming, "Even if you are not ready for the day, it cannot always be night."[95] Lyrically, the song features Baby Keem mixing worship with the dark satisfaction of a mosh pit and Kanye West connecting his issues to God's mysterious behaviour.[92][98] "Jonah" includes West rapping about his relationship with God, alongside fellow rappers Vory and Lil Durk opening up about their pain of losing friends and family members, respectively.[79][93][98]

Release and promotion[edit]

In late July 2021, a representative for West announced a release date of August 6 for Donda,[99][100] which was later confirmed via a Beats by Dre commercial and on West's Apple Music livestream.[101][102] On August 5, 2021, a pre-order for the album was launched on iTunes, revealing it to feature 24 songs, along with an August 27 release date, before the date was revised to six days later.[103][104] Conflictingly, Apple Music displayed the release date to be August 15, before one set for five days later appeared on the service.[103][105] On August 20, 2021, the service listed a release date of August 28, one day after Donda's third listening party; Thiam reaffirmed that the release would come after the event.[106] On August 25, 2021, West announced the Donda Stem Player via his website, a standalone music player that would allow users to remix the album's songs using their stems.[107][108][109] Users will also be able to control vocals, drums, bass, and samples, isolate parts, and add effects.[107][108][110] The player is set to be released by West's brand Yeezy Tech in collaboration with Kano Computing and sold for $200.[108][109][111] On August 27, 2021, Donda's release date experienced another pushback on Apple Music, setting it to coincide with the release of Drake's sixth studio album Certified Lover Boy on September 3.[112] It was speculated across social media that the delay was intentional to increase competition between the two artists.[112][113]

Donda was eventually released on August 29, 2021, succeeding several delays during that month.[15] The song "Jail, Pt. 2" was originally absent, only showing up on the Spotify version of the album, where it appeared as an "unavailable" track due to DaBaby's manager not having cleared his verse at the time of release.[114][115][116][117] Five hours after the album's official release, West claimed that Universal Music Group had released Donda without his approval and blocked "Jail, Pt. 2" from appearing on the album.[28][118] Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal later added the song to Donda.[119][120] Universal Music Group denied that they had either released the album without West's approval or blocked the release of "Jail, Pt. 2", with an anonymous source at the company calling his claims "preposterous".[28][121][122]

In its first day of release, Donda earned the second-biggest global Spotify debut for album streams ever, with nearly 100 million streams, and broke the record for the biggest first day streams of 2021 on Spotify that was set by Olivia Rodrigo's Sour.[123][124] The album also set a new record by reaching number one on Apple Music's top albums chart in 152 countries in its first day, and earned the third-biggest first day debut streams for an album.[125] West and Donda broke the 2021 record for the most-streamed artist and album in one day on Apple Music, while 19 of the top-20 tracks on the service's Top 100 Global songs chart were from the album.[125] Donda amassed 60 million first day streams in the United States on Apple Music, setting a streaming record for 2021 in the country.[126] After eight days of streaming, it had reached around 423 million on-demand audio streams in the US.[127] 25 of the tracks debuted with the top-40 of Spotify's U.S. chart, with 10 of them occupying the top-10.[123] The album's 2021 record for first day Spotify streams was broken by Certified Lover Boy, which also surpassed its eight-day total of US on-demand audio streams within three days, amassing over 430 million streams.[127][128] West purchased many large billboards to advertise Donda in Drake's hometown of Toronto during September 2021, outnumbering the ones used for Certified Lover Boy on the day of its release.[129]

On September 3, 2021, "Hurricane" was playlisted by Swedish mainstream station Sveriges Radio P3.[130] The song was sent to American rhythmic contemporary radio stations by West's labels GOOD Music and Def Jam as the lead single from Donda on September 14, 2021.[131] "Hurricane" reached number 12 on the Swedish Singles Chart following the album's release, while it debuted five places higher on the UK Singles Chart.[132][133] The song entered the US Billboard Hot 100 at number six, giving West his 19th top-10 hit on the chart.[134] It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for amassing 500,000 certified units in the US on September 29, 2021.[135] "Jail" simultaneously debuted at number 10 on the Hot 100, with the two entries making West the 21st act to have 20 top-10s on the Hot 100.[134]

A music video for "Come to Life" was released on September 2, 2021.[136] The video features footage from the album's third listening event at Soldier Field, showing West setting on fire then reuniting with Kardashian.[136] A music video for "24" was released on September 16, 2021.[137] The video begins with footage from Donda's second Mercedes-Benz Stadium listening event of West ascending towards the sky, before he rises above the stadium and floats around among clouds.[137] A clip for "Donda Chant" was shared exclusively to Instagram by West on September 19, 2021.[138] The black-and-white visual incorporates aerial footage from the album's Soldier Field listening event that shows the replica of Kanye West's childhood home, on which flashes of old pictures of Donda are projected.[138] On October 16, 2021, West performed a four-song set at the wedding of Tiffany & Co. executive Alexandre Arnault and D'estree founder Geralde Guyot in Venice, Italy, which included "Come to Life" and "Believe What I Say".[139]

On September 28, 2021, West released an updated version of Donda separately from the original on streaming services.[140][141] The changes included the removal of KayCyy and Brown, along with the latter's writing credits, from "Keep My Spirit Alive" and "New Again", respectively.[141] West replaced KayCyy on the former, while him and the Sunday Service Choir appeared in place of Brown on "New Again".[140]

Listening events[edit]

To promote Donda prior to its release, West held a series of listening events. During the album's events, guest appearances from various artists were revealed, including Lil Baby, Playboi Carti, Pusha T, Jay-Z, Lil Yachty, Vory, KayCyy, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Jay Electronica, Pop Smoke, the Sunday Service Choir, DaBaby, singer Marilyn Manson, and the Weeknd.[142][143][144] West had updated Donda after each listening event like he did with his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo (2016), changing content such as the features on songs.[145] Speaking with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, Dean depicted the process as "interesting" and "gruelling", remembering "lots of hours" and changes, from which the album "came out great". He elaborated by explaining that "each listening party was like a test" of sorts, with West succeeding each one by taking all "the information he got from everyone, including online reviews [and] personal friends' reviews", then "digest[ing] it all" in a manner to "adjust" Donda "the way" he wanted.[146]

West held a private listening event for the album at ChurchLV in Las Vegas on July 18, 2021, which required registration and was invite-only.[147] It started at 6:30 p.m. and finished at 8:00 p.m.[147] Though no cell phones or large bags were permitted at the event, clips of the event surfaced online showing West hunched over his laptop, wearing gloves and a ski mask over his head that left only his eyes visible.[148][149] West played the music from his MacBook throughout, not speaking whatsoever.[150] During the event, West was joined by four pianists from a public music school of Kaufman Music Center, with whom he took a picture that was shared to the center's Instagram account.[151] Following the listening event, Revolt host Justin LaBoy posted a photo of himself with West and referred to Donda as album of the year.[149]

On July 19, 2021, it was announced that West would hold a public listening event for Donda, titled "Kanye West Presents: A Donda Listening Event", at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021.[152][153] It was set to start at 8 p.m. on the date, with tickets going on sale at the same time as the announcement for either $50 or $20.[152] The event was livestreamed via Apple Music and began nearly two hours behind schedule, commencing with the music playing as West emerged from a tunnel.[154][155] The rapper then walked to the center of the stadium, where he mainly stood still and was illuminated by a shape-shifting spotlight.[155][156] The spotlight focused on West throughout and he fell to his knees on occasions during the event, demonstrating a prayer-like posture.[155][157] West was completely silent throughout and paced the length of the stage at points, where he was unaccompanied.[154][156] The listening event sold out Mercedes-Benz Stadium's 2021 capacity of 42,000, alongside setting a record for the biggest Apple Music livestream globally, with over 3.3 million viewers.[154][156]

Invite to "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Release", the second listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Donda.

Live Nation Entertainment confirmed at the end of July 2021 that the album's second listening event in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, titled "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Release", was set to take place on August 5.[158][159] It was scheduled to start at 9 p.m. on the date, while tickets were made available two days after the confirmation for prices between $30 and $75.[159] An Apple Music livestream commenced from West's room inside the stadium on the morning of August 5, 2021, leading up to the event.[142][160][161] Livestreaming of the event later began at 9:30 p.m., with Demna Gvasalia handling the creative direction and Niklas Bildstein Zaar serving as the artistic director.[60][161] The event was a grander presentation than its predecessor and on the circular stage, West's room was re-created.[142][161] West was positioned in the center throughout, wearing an all-black outfit and a mask.[143] He appeared inside a square of light, being encircled by dozens of dancers that were also dressed in black clothing.[143][161] West paced around, danced, and prayed during the event, as well as performing push-ups at points.[143][161] The event ended with him being elevated to the ceiling of Mercedes-Benz Stadium by harness, in a manner reminiscent of ascending to heaven.[142][143]

The listening party had over 40,000 attendees, though only four of them took a shot of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that they were invited to receive there.[162] It surpassed West's own record for the most popular live stream on Apple Music, drawing in 5.4 million viewers.[162] Following the event, Kid Cudi was reported to be featuring on the tracks "Moon" and "Remote Control" alongside Don Toliver and Young Thug, respectively.[163][164] However, Kid Cudi was only included on the final version of "Moon" on Donda.[165]

On August 18, 2021, West announced a third listening event for the album entitled "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Experience", which was scheduled to be hosted at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 26; the stadium's Twitter account simultaneously gave confirmation.[166][167] The event was slated to begin at 9 p.m., while tickets went on sales two days after the announcement at prices ranging from $150 to $300.[166][168] On August 24, 2021, Chopper 7HD flew over Soldier Field, capturing the construction of a replica of West's childhood home at the stadium's center.[169] The event was livestreamed on Apple Music and started nearly two hours behind schedule, beginning at 10:49 p.m.[144][170] Kanye West appeared by coming out from the replica home while wearing an all-black outfit, accompanied by footage and photo collages of Donda.[171][172] West was joined on the porch of the home by Marilyn Manson and DaBaby; they were surrounded by backup dancers that wore bulletproof vests with the name Donda on.[171][173][174] Shortly after the beginning of the event, West's setting devolved into a crime scene.[144] For the conclusion, West came out of the home wearing a stunt suit after having been set on fire inside earlier and was quickly extinguished, unmasking himself to reunite with Kardashian.[144][174][175]

Soldier Field was limited from its standard capacity of 63,000 due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the listening event having an attendance of around 38,000.[176] On August 31, 2021, it was reported by the Chicago Sun-Times that the replica was used because Chicago's Buildings Department did not allow West to move his home from the street address, as originally intended. The department explained how moving a home in the city "is a very technical process that requires structural engineer reports and multiple city permits", revealing the denial of West's request was due to "no permit application ha[ving] been received to excavate and move the vacant property" while it was also in Demolition Court.[177]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?5.4/10[178]
Metacritic53/100[179]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3/5 stars[33]
The A.V. ClubC−[180]
The Daily Telegraph3/5 stars[86]
Exclaim!7/10[94]
The Guardian2/5 stars[98]
The Independent0/5 stars[91]
NME3/5 stars[80]
Pitchfork6.0/10[88]
Rolling Stone2/5 stars[181]
Slant Magazine4/5 stars[95]

Donda was met with mixed reviews from music critics.[182] At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 53, based on 19 reviews.[179] Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave the album a 5.4 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.[178]

Charles Lyons-Burt of Slant Magazine felt impressed with Donda, believing it to feature West at "arguably the most vulnerable and broken that [he] has allowed himself to appear on record".[95] Lyons-Burt also praised the themes and production, and concluded by labeling the album West's "most unforgiving self-portrait yet".[95] Chris Willman from Variety saw its music as "close to unassailable" and praised the pacing, besides "those last four completely superfluous remixes", while he prefered the structure of the gospel elements to those on Jesus Is King.[90] Wallace regarded the album as "[West's] best body of work in recent memory" and appreciated the narrative behind it, though was mixed about the features and criticized the length.[94] Marcus Shorter hailed Donda as the rapper's best album since Yeezus at Consequence, describing it as "ambitious, raw, indulgent, and, after several revisions, a cohesive vision".[81] Rhian Daly of NME felt although the album "certainly isn't a rushed job", it could have been improved by West wasting less time and "learning when to let things go", finding there to be a large amount of filler alongside "enough gems" to make the album worthwhile.[80]

Wood asserted that Donda registers more as a way "of maintaining Kanye's powerful social standing" than "an organized aesthetic experience", characterizing it as feeling "slapdash" due to the disorganized themes.[79] He went on to praise how the album takes from West's various eras of the past, such as Yeezus, Jesus Is King, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and 808s & Heartbreak.[79] Paul Thompson of Rolling Stone saw that the album is "more considered and musically coherent than anything West has made in the past half-decade", though considered it to be uneven and overlong, with a "radically superior second half".[181] Kornhaber gave the album a negative review, depicting that "supposed transcendence comes to feel suspiciously like regression" while surrender feels like "self-exculpation".[78] He complained how the album "aches" for "a miracle to unfold" of similarity to the accompanying listening events and harshly asserted that it seems like "a career's worth of B-sides", though credited the highlights as being "pretty good".[78] Jonny Coleman, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, called Donda a "slog", feeling confused as to what the album "is supposed to be the soundtrack for", admitting it is neither a "party record" nor inviting of introspection. Coleman also believed the album lacks spirituality "outside of literal references", saying it is "not really a radio record", and is "disposable and forgettable, like so much of culture spat down to us during COVID".[183] In particular, Coleman felt the album lacked thematic coherence and reverence for Donda West, viewing it as self-indulgent.[183] Roisin O'Connor from The Independent granted the album zero stars for Marilyn Manson's "inexcusable presence", complaining how it leaves "a sour taste" that no amount of "good beats, gospel choirs or church organs will cleanse".[91]

Commercial performance[edit]

Donda debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 after a five-day period of tracking, with 309,000 album-equivalent units that consisted of 272,000 streaming-equivalent album units, 37,000 pure album sales, and less than 1,000 track-equivalent units.[184][185] The album-equivalent units set a record for the highest amount of 2021, exceeding the 295,000 units amassed by Olivia Rodrigo's Sour.[184] Kanye West scored his 10th chart-topper on the Billboard 200 with the album, making him one of seven artists to have gathered this amount of number-ones on the chart. It also marked West's 10th consecutive album to debut at the summit, tying him with Eminem's record.[184] Donda ranked as the longest number-one album of the 2020s decade, spanning nearly 109 minutes.[186] It reached the summit of the US Top Christian Albums and Top Gospel Albums charts too, becoming West's second album to top the two charts and achieving the biggest unit week for both.[187] The album entered atop the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, on which it was the rapper's 10th chart-topper.[188] 23 of Donda's tracks debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, leading to West joining Drake as one of the two artists to have 23 or more songs chart simultaneously.[134] This also increased West's Hot 100 entries to 133, the fifth most of any act, a ranking he attained for top-40 hits as well by having scored 68. "Hurricane" was the highest charting track, reaching number six and becoming West's 19th top-20 hit.[134] The 23 tracks took up the top-23 spots on both the US Christian Songs and Gospel Songs charts, exceeding West's record of all top-10 positions on the former chart and the top-11 on the latter.[187] As a result of the album and its tracks, West went up from number 67 to the top position on the Billboard Artist 100, giving him his third week atop the chart.[189] By September 15, 2021, Donda had pushed 500,000 album-equivalent units in the US, making the album eligible to be certified gold by the RIAA; the organization awarded it with this certification 12 days later.[190][191]

In Canada, Donda topped the Canadian Albums Chart.[192] Elsewhere, the album entered atop the ARIA Albums chart in Australia, standing as West's fourth number-one release on the chart. This led to him joining 5 Seconds of Summer, Justin Bieber, Keith Urban, Kings of Leon, and Lady Gaga as one of the acts to achieve their fourth number-one album in the 2020s decade.[193] The debut increased West's number of chart-topping weeks to five, alongside giving the rapper his ninth top-10 release on the ARIA Albums chart. 19 of Donda's tracks debuted within the top-50 of the ARIA Singles chart; "Hurricane" charted the highest at number four.[193] The entries surpassed Taylor Swift's milestone of 16 debuts in the top-50, as well as the record held by both Post Malone and Michael Jackson for 17 tracks present within this ranking. The album also topped the New Zealand Albums chart.[193] By October 4, 2021, it had been certified gold by the Recorded Music NZ (RMNZ) for shipments of 7,500 units in New Zealand.[194]

Donda ranked at number one on the midweek album sales chart in the United Kingdom, before debuting at the same position on the UK Albums Chart.[195][196] It gave West his third chart-topper in the UK and stood as his first since Yeezus in 2013.[196] The album pushed 19,617 chart sales, 91 percent of which came from 17,921 streaming-equivalent units, while the other nine percent consisted of 1,696 paid downloads.[196][197] In total, Donda accumulated 33.4 million streams in the UK across its 27 tracks.[196] Three of the tracks debuted on the UK Singles Chart, with "Hurricane" attaining the highest position of number seven.[133] The album entered atop the Irish Albums Chart, standing as West's second number-one album in Ireland and his ninth to reach the top-10.[198] West had the three highest new entries on the Irish Singles Chart with the tracks that debuted; "Hurricane" was the most successful, reaching number seven.[199] Donda opened at the summit of the French Albums chart, becoming West's first number-one album in France and selling 9,476 copies over a five-day tracking period.[200] The album also topped the charts in Austria,[201] Belgium's Flanders and Wallonia regions,[202][203] the Czech Republic,[204] Denmark,[205] Finland,[206] Iceland,[207] Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.[193] It further peaked within the top five in Germany,[208] Slovakia,[209] Spain,[210] and Switzerland.[211]

Controversy[edit]

DaBaby performing into a mic
Marilyn Manson raising his hand
The inclusion of American rapper DaBaby (left) and industrial singer Marilyn Manson (right) as guest artists on Donda led to negative responses from audiences.

The revelation of DaBaby and Marilyn Manson as guest artists during Donda's August 26 listening event was met with intense disapproval from audiences due to the respective allegations of homophobia and sexual abuse against them.[120][212] According to Jem Aswad of Variety, "West was widely accused of trolling the public, among other things, after [the] event."[114] In response, as Ellen Durney of BuzzFeed News wrote, "some fans" suggested that the inclusion of DaBaby and Manson might have been West's "attempt at commentary on 'cancel culture'",[213] and Consequence writer Alex Young provided a similar presumption.[214] West defended DaBaby's presence, recalling him being "the only person who said he would vote for me in public".[120] An unspecified source told People about West's decision to work with the rapper and Marilyn Manson: "He knows that having controversial figures around will be provocative and will get people to [sic] talking." The source continued by opening up that West knows "people are going to be upset" and he will experience "backlash", and is also aware "people are talking about it today when they wouldn't have been otherwise".[120][215][216]

Marilyn Manson's former partner Evan Rachel Wood, who had accused him of sexual assault, "seem[ed] to respond" to his inclusion on Donda a few hours after its release, according to NME's Daly.[217] She did this by posting a video of her covering New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" to Instagram, quoting its title and encouraging recent alleged fellow survivors "who got slapped in the face" to not give up.[217] In a review headlined "Kanye West's 'Donda' Is a Tribute to Mom Full of People Who Hate Women", Tirhakah Love of The Daily Beast described Brown's lyrics of repentance on "New Again" as "so magnificently disrespectful" due to alleged perpetual abuse, while going on to say he was more offended by DaBaby's complaint of struggling to feed his daughter. Love felt the same way about Marilyn Manson's appearance, accusing him of "perversely" screaming "in the midst of a criminal investigation" from multiple women.[218] O'Connor at The Independent criticized the presence of DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, whom she describes as "two of music's most despised figures", finding their inclusion inexcusable. She condemned Universal Music Group for approving the album's release, noting that the singer's appearance "speaks volumes of society's apathy towards rape survivors".[91]

Track listing[edit]

Track listing adapted from Tidal.[219]

Donda track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Donda Chant"Kanye West0:52
2."Jail"4:57
3."God Breathed"
5:33
4."Off the Grid"
5:39
5."Hurricane"
4:03
6."Praise God"
3:46
7."Jonah"
3:15
8."Ok Ok"
3:24
9."Junya"
2:27
10."Believe What I Say"
4:02
11."24"
  • West
  • Mbogo
  • Miller
  • M. Williams
  • Cubina
  • Campbell
3:17
12."Remote Control"
3:18
13."Moon"
  • West
  • E.Vax
  • BoogzDaBeast[a]
  • DJ Khalil[a]
2:36
14."Heaven and Hell"
  • West
  • Njapa
  • Gwin
  • M. Williams
  • Cubina
  • Nima Jahanbin
  • Max Al Zubaidi
  • Paimon Jahanbin
  • Edgar Panford
  • West
  • 88-Keys
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • Ojivolta[a]
  • Wallis Lane[a]
  • Nabeyin[a]
2:25
15."Donda"
  • West
  • Gwin
  • Mulé
  • De Boni
  • M. Williams
  • Cubina
  • West
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • FnZ[a]
  • Ojivolta[a]
2:08
16."Keep My Spirit Alive"
  • West
  • Mbogo
  • Gwin
  • Mulé
  • De Boni
  • M. Williams
  • Cubina
  • Abernathy
  • Darius Woodley
  • Rico Nichols
  • Lawrence Parker
  • West
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • FnZ
  • Ojivolta
  • Dem Jointz[b]
  • Darius Woodley[b]
  • Rico Nichols[b]
3:41
17."Jesus Lord"8:58
18."New Again"
  • West
  • Christopher Brown
  • Gwin
  • Abernathy
  • M. Williams
  • Cubina
  • N. Jahanbin
  • P. Jahanbin
  • Laraya Robinson
  • Njapa
  • West
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • Dem Jointz[a]
  • Ojivolta[a]
  • Wallis Lane[a]
  • Mia Wallis[a]
  • 88-Keys[b]
3:03
19."Tell the Vision"
  • West
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • FnZ[a]
  • Ojivolta[a]
1:44
20."Lord I Need You"
2:42
21."Pure Souls"
5:58
22."Come to Life"
  • West
  • Bhasker
  • Ojivolta
  • Campbell
  • Dean[a]
5:10
23."No Child Left Behind"
  • West
  • Hollins
  • Gwin
  • Lévy
  • Jahshua Brown
  • West
  • BoogzDaBeast
  • Gesaffelstein
  • Cashmere Brown[b]
2:58
24."Jail, Pt. 2"
  • West
  • 88-Keys
  • Dean
  • Ojivolta
  • Dem Jointz[a]
  • E.Vax[a]
  • Solymar[b]
4:57
25."Ok Ok, Pt. 2"
  • West
  • Charles
  • Chinsea Lee
  • Ryles
  • East
  • Thompson
  • Plummer
  • Flores
  • Samuels
  • Bell
  • West
  • Boi-1da
  • Bell[a]
3:24
26."Junya, Pt. 2"
3:02
27."Jesus Lord, Pt. 2"
  • West
  • Swizz Beatz
  • Gesaffelstein[a]
  • Dean[a]
11:30
Total length:108:49
  • ^[a] signifies a co-producer
  • ^[b] signifies an additional producer

Uncredited features[edit]

  • "Jail" features uncredited vocals by Jay-Z.
  • "God Breathed" features uncredited vocals by Vory.
  • "Off the Grid" features uncredited vocals by Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign.
  • "Hurricane" features uncredited vocals by Lil Baby and the Weeknd.
  • "Praise God" features uncredited vocals by Baby Keem and Travis Scott.
  • "Jonah" features uncredited vocals by Lil Durk and Vory.
  • "Ok Ok" features uncredited vocals by Lil Yachty and Rooga.
  • "Junya" features uncredited vocals by Playboi Carti.
  • "Remote Control" features uncredited vocals by Young Thug.
  • "Moon" features uncredited vocals by Don Toliver and Kid Cudi.
  • "Keep My Spirit Alive" features uncredited vocals by Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine.
  • "Jesus Lord" features uncredited vocals by Jay Electronica.
  • "Tell the Vision" features uncredited vocals by Pop Smoke.
  • "Pure Souls" features uncredited vocals by Roddy Ricch and Shenseea.
  • "No Child Left Behind" features uncredited vocals by Vory.
  • "Jail, Pt. 2" features uncredited vocals by DaBaby and Marilyn Manson.
  • "Ok Ok, Pt. 2" features uncredited vocals by Rooga and Shenseea.
  • "Junya, Pt. 2" features uncredited vocals by Playboi Carti and Ty Dolla Sign.
  • "Jesus Lord, Pt. 2" features uncredited vocals by Jay Electronica and The Lox.

Uncredited samples[edit]

  • "God Breathed" contains an uncredited sample of "Bell Head", as written and performed by Liquid Liquid.[220]
  • "Believe What I Say" contains an uncredited sample of "Doo Wop (That Thing)", as written and performed by Lauryn Hill for her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998).[221]
  • "Remote Control" contains an uncredited extract from the 2012 animated short film Strawinsky and the Mysterious House.[222][223]
  • "Heaven and Hell" contains an uncredited sample of "Heaven and Hell Is on Earth", by 20th Century Steel Band.[78]
  • "Lord I Need You" contains an uncredited sample of "Make Me Over", written by B.Slade, as performed by Briana Babineaux.[224]

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[219]

Musicians

Technical

  • Maurizio "Irko" Sera – mix engineering, master engineering (all tracks)
  • Alejandro Rodriguez-Dawsøn – record engineering (1–9, 11–18, 20–22, 24–27)
  • Enzo Rarri – record engineering (1, 3, 23, 27)
  • Will Chason – record engineering (1, 4, 6–9, 15, 20, 23, 25–26), assistant record engineering (12–13)
  • Ronald Lark III – record engineering (2)
  • Gimel Keaton – record engineering (2, 24)
  • Josh Berg – record engineering (2–27)
  • Mikalai Skrobat – record engineering (2–18, 20–22, 24–27)
  • Roark Bailey – record engineering (3–9, 12–13, 21, 26)
  • Dem Jointz – record engineering (10, 15)
  • Drrique Rendeer – record engineering (4, 13, 17, 27)
  • James Kelso – record engineering (4, 13, 17, 27)
  • Jonathan Pfarr – record engineering (12, 15, 20, 24)
  • Randy Urbanski – record engineering (3, 20)
  • Lorenzo Wolff – record engineering (4)
  • Shin Kamiyama – record engineering (5)
  • Zack Djurich – record engineering (5)
  • Jesse Ray Ernster – record engineering (5)
  • Devon Wilson – record engineering (5, 6, 10), mix assistance (6)
  • Wilson "Zaigo" Mejia – record engineering (7)
  • Gentuar Memishi – record engineering (8)
  • Henry Russell Walter – record engineering (14, 22), vocal editing (9, 26), vocal production (12)
  • Preston Reid – record engineering (10)
  • Angad Bains – record engineering (12)
  • Federico Vindver – record engineering (15), vocal production (15)
  • Nagaris Johnson – record engineering (15)
  • Todd Bergman – record engineering (15, 20)
  • Kalam Ali Muttalib – record engineering (16)
  • Rashade Benani Bevel – record engineering (16)
  • Jess Jackson – record engineering (19)
  • Scott McDowell – record engineering (23)
  • Rafael Fai Baautista – record engineering (26), mix assistance (26)
  • Louis Bell – vocal editing (2–8, 10–12, 14, 16–18, 20–22, 24–25, 27)
  • Patrick Hundley – vocal editing (3–5, 9–11, 13–14, 16, 21, 24, 26–27)
  • Stef Moro – mix assistance (3, 22)

Charts[edit]

Chart performance for Donda
Chart (2021) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[225] 1
Australian Urban Albums (ARIA)[226] 1
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[201] 1
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[202] 1
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[203] 1
Canadian Albums (Billboard)[227] 1
Czech Albums (ČNS IFPI)[204] 1
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[228] 1
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[229] 1
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[206] 1
French Albums (SNEP)[230] 1
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[208] 4
German Albums (Top 20 Hip Hop)[231] 1
Icelandic Albums (Plötutíóindi)[207] 1
Irish Albums (OCC)[232] 1
Italian Albums (FIMI)[233] 1
Japan Hot Albums (Billboard Japan)[234] 21
Japanese Albums (Oricon)[235] 38
Lithuanian Albums (AGATA)[236] 1
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[237] 1
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[238] 1
Portuguese Albums (AFP)[239] 28
Slovak Albums (ČNS IFPI)[209] 2
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[210] 5
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[240] 1
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[211] 2
UK Albums (OCC)[241] 1
UK Christian & Gospel Albums (OCC)[242] 1
UK R&B Albums (OCC)[243] 1
US Billboard 200[244] 1
US Christian Albums (Billboard)[245] 1
US Top Gospel Albums (Billboard)[246] 1
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[247] 1

Certifications[edit]

Certifications and sales for Donda
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[248] Gold 10,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[194] Gold 7,500double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[191] Gold 500,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]