Donda Is a Portal Into Kanye West’s Exquisite Mania
Over the last five years, Kanye West has met Donald Trump, flirted with MAGA-ism, gotten divorced from Kim Kardashian West, re-devoted his life to Christianity, produced an award-winning gospel album, and run for president (receiving roughly 60,000 votes). Though West has taken off the red cap, he’s still finding new ways to press people’s buttons, daring fans to keep liking his music, no matter how he presents himself.
West began his public life as an innovative music producer and rapper, but has since morphed into something grander and weirder—part pop star, part fashion mogul, part social media maniac, part eternal thinkpiece subject. No other contemporary pop star courts controversy quite like Kanye West. Whether by design or by accident, something is always going on with West, and whatever it is, it’s usually too much. It’s also almost always fascinating.
At times, real-life antics have threatened to overtake the music, but for the last year, the antics and the music have become conjoined. At the end of July, West finally set a release date for Donda, an album he’d been teasing for more than a year.
After a scattered period that included Ye, a brief album that debuted to decidedly mixed reviews, the title alone seemed to promise a return to West’s musical roots: It was named after his mother, Donda C. West, who died in 2007. West rose to fame on the strength of both his behind-the-beats production savvy and his heart-on-the-sleeve intimacy; Donda looked like an opportunity to revisit both.
Before the album’s official release, however, he planned a show—a livestreamed event in which he simply played the album for a crowd. The resulting performance, in which Kanye wore netting to obscure his face and strolled around a blank, starkly lit Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Georgia, was one of the strangest and most striking mass-audience musical events in recent memory.
Even stranger, in some ways, was that the promised album did not materialize the next day, on its scheduled release date. Instead, West announced another show, and another release date. The version of Donda he’d played had its moments but sounded decidedly unfinished. West indicated he was still working on it, supposedly from his cell-like quarters inside the stadium itself.
For West, this was par for the course; he’s delayed or failed to produce albums before. When it comes to records, he’s a famous procrastinator, always tweaking and revising right up to the last minute, and sometimes even making post-release changes, as on his 2016 album The Life of Pablo, which West edited on streami
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