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Two weeks after the first Donda experience, Kanye West doubled down on his time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the album release concert in Atlanta on Thursday (Aug. 5). The Donda rollout has been crafted over time as many things the star has been doing musically over the past couple years are finally coming to fruition. Some of these notable moments listed below were paramount in the process of creating this new album. First off was his social media exchange and eventual recording session with Lil Baby which took place in Wyoming. Lil Baby said he was genuinely inspired by Kanye after it was revealed that he was Kanye’s favorite new rapper. Second was photos from recording sessions with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Most fans thought this music would never see the light of day — until now, as this collaboration is featured in a new “Beats by Dre” commercial with the song titled “Glory.” Most influential in this creation process was Kanye’s “Sunday Service’’ performance tour, which fused together his iconic music production with gospel music complete with a live band and choir.
Stepping back a few years there is so much personally that influenced this experience outside of music. As a fashion maven, Kanye hit billionaire level success from his Yeezy/Adidas brand, his YZY collaboration with the Gap, and work with high level fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga. His past tour merchandise has also been highly coveted by fashion enthusiasts around the world. Outside of fashion, his personal life has also been under the microscope. Mostly for his high profile relationship with Kim Kardashian and also his affiliation with Former President Donald Trump. With all this going on in his life, it’s hard to imagine Kanye being focused on completing this new album, which leads us to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Donda album was set for release originally one year ago and then most likely delayed due to the pandemic. One year later, seemingly out of nowhere, Kanye announced a Donda event in Atlanta for July 23. The promotion for the event was a blitzkrieg and left fans wondering if Kanye would finally release his long awaited opus. Tickets promptly sold out and a livestream was announced for Apple TV. The event was a resounding success, but when the clock struck midnight, the album was not released. Another full day went by until Kanye’s newest associate Justin Laboy of REVOLT’s “Respectfully Justin” announced the album was still in progress and due for release on August 6.
To make things even more surreal, it came to light that Kanye and his team would not be leaving Atlanta and not even leaving the stadium. Moving in to cut out all of his personal distractions, the Donda team established recording studios, a gym, and brought in a personal chef to lock in and finish the album. The feedback from the first event was so positive, one can only imagine how much tighter those records are now and how they fit along with all the new music they must have cooked up. As leaks began to pop up on the internet, early fan favorites featured Vory, Pusha T, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Baby Keem, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, and Roddy Ricch. The album is clearly on its way to being a classic and just as the buzz from the first event winded down, the camera went on.
A 24-hour countdown popped up in one of the converted workspaces in the stadium giving fans a glimpse of the work still in progress. New merchandise including a Donda vest was previewed just as tickets for the event completely sold out. Also more collaborators started popping up, recording and vibing to the new music. Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper showed up representing Chicago. Fresh off their Verzuz appearance Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch of The LOX were seen turning up. Steve Lacy, Lil Yachty, and Fivio Foreign were seen recording with Dawson and overseen by Mike Dean. As doors to the show opened a pre-order link appeared online with 24 tracks listed, nine more than the version played a couple weeks ago.
Kanye has adapted a Louise Bourgeois gouache on paper work for the album cover of Donda. The album is an ode to his mother, who passed away a few years ago after elective surgery. He has been using this definitive life experience to turn his music into performance art with a grandiose experience. Using visuals, performance, art, and music he is pushing the boundaries of the hybrid livestream and concert experience.
The Mercedes-Benz stadium itself is an open-air work of art making it a perfect setting for an event of this magnitude. Atlanta as a city is the center of hip hop culture and the perfect place to host the elite of the music, fashion, and art worlds. Interesting to note that thousands of tickets were given to local college students. Also interesting was Pfizer vaccines being giving out with many people lined up through the early evening.
Spotlights lit up the center of the stadium showing Kanye’s bed and personal items. Around 10:30 pm.m., he walked out wearing the Donda vest standing still with a glorious intro playing under a speech from his mother Donda. The intro was followed by a standing ovation and strong crowd response from a diverse audience. Many people in attendance were also at the first event.
The album was sequenced masterfully, kicked off by “ThisIsTheGlory” with Kanye and Pusha T trading bars over a soulful piano and choir composition. The second song was powerful, melodic, and brooding reminiscent of the “Kids See Ghosts” project with Kid Cudi and also features Don Toliver. The sonic quality of the music was impeccable with clear bass and smooth high frequencies resonating through the stadium.
The third track also featured an intro with Donda into blazing verses from both Travis Scott and Baby Keem. The infusion of trap and gospel music is unlike anything heard before with Kanye doing pushups and riling up the crowd during the song. Next up was a throwback to the 808s and Heartbreaks album with upgraded flows and sharp rhymes. It featured Lil Yachty also with an upgraded sound, lyrical patterns, and flows.
A circle of his collaborators then filled in the space around him followed by a large group of extras filling out the space around them. The group acted as a massive hype machine amping up the crowd participation throughout the rest of the performance.
The next song had a bounce so heavy the whole stadium was shaking with the bass. It had a feature from Playboi Carti that was so crazy the audience went nuts with some fans running into the crowd that had formed in the middle of the stage. This uptempo jam segued into the next track, which started with a melodic feature over another newly patented bounce. The production seamlessly mixed the drill sound of Chicago with the new melodic sound of Atlanta. The mix of Kanye’s sharp lyrics with melodic hooks is a contrast, but goes perfect with the overall production.
After that was an anthem dedicated to Chicago with a high-energy chant over the hook. This anthemic sound was admittedly inspired by his time living at the stadium in Atlanta. It ended with a viscous keyboard solo highlighting the production of long-time collaborator Mike Dean.
The next track is a strong candidate for a single with a mix of Atlanta bounce and Brooklyn drill. This song had a standout feature from Fivio Foreign going back and forth with Kanye in an amazing lyrical performance. It brought the crowd to its feet and also ends with an amazing synthesiser based outro.
This set the tone for “Remote,” which starts with an amazing melodic hook and is also a throwback to 808s and Heartbreaks. It had a standout feature from Young Thug who is clearly a student of the Kanye University. Kanye then donned an oversized cape flying around his space to the beat that has a whistling sound as the centerpiece making it very catchy and another strong candidate for a single.
The lights then dimmed as an eerie sample of the word Donda is transformed rhythmically into a jam with lots of people in the audience rapping and singing along, most likely memorized from the leaks of the first event. “New Again’’ is a perfect mix of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sounds infused with his gospel influence.
The next song kicks off with an amazing feature from Roddy Ricch chanting that he can’t sell his soul over an overly gospel production also featured at the first event. “The truth is only what you get away with, huh’’ is repeated by Kanye with soulful backing lyrics by Ricch. With a powerful chant “this southside and we outside,” Kanye soulfully ties together the sounds of Chicago and Los Angeles with a DJ Mustard style bounce and funky organs.
The next intro sounds spiritual and has an inspiring performance from Kaycyy with stark Griselda features from Westside Gunn and Conway over a Mobb Deep style production similar to tracks from The Life of Pablo.
Another interlude with teachings from Donda leads into a soulful guitar-laden instrumental with Kanye singing his heart out about family. “No matter what, don’t abandon your family” is repeated as a mantra serving as a life lesson.
“JesusLord” embodies the spirit of the album with unbelievable verses from both Nas and Jay Electronica skating all over the beat with lyrics that cut through the bass like a knife. If that wasn’t enough, Jadakiss jumps on with a raspy flow that brings out the true grit in the production. And if that wasn’t enough, Styles P joins in with clever wordplay summing up the track on behalf of all the collaborators. The song is completed with a monologue from Larry Hoover Jr., making it a historical piece of hip hop culture and shedding light on the plight of Chicago youth in regards to the perils of mass incarceration.
The nexts few tracks feature soundscapes new to Kanye’s palette such as Gregorian style chants, military style march rhythms, trembling pianos, rock and roll guitars, and haunting vocal effects. During this stretch, the crowd was brought to its feet again from a memorial feature by the late great Pop Smoke.
“Jail” brought the entire stadium to a frenzy in anticipation of an amazing verse from JAY-Z. The song ends with a powerful drum and percussion breakdown consisting of jail door sounds bringing the crowd to a standing ovation. With Hov reportedly in attendance, this reunion of Watch The Throne clearly served as one of the highlights of the show.
The next suite of tracks was a perfect blend of TLOP, 808s, and Jesus Is King with inspiring features from The Weeknd, Lil Baby, and the Sunday Service Choir. Their collaboration is one of the highlights of the whole album, and will likely be one of the most discussed tracks debuted this evening.
Kanye then gets in bed for rest as the giant beacons of light shine out of the stadium into the Atlanta sky making it into a holy and unforgettable performance of stadium ready gospel anthems. The performance ends with Kanye being lifted high into the sky over the viral miracles song. The crowd celebrates the finale with another standing ovation followed by a “Yeezy” chant. This was a concert worthy of praise and an unmatched musical performance and livestream.
The Donda album has an overall gospel “feel,” but it’s unabashedly hip hop in spirit. The music is unforgivingly artistic, experimental, and ultimately iconic. It has themes of love, loss, depression, triumph, and is filled with highs and lows. The lyrics contain statements as well as questions about faith and loyalty. Most of the songs have gripping autobiographical tales of Chicago mixed with descriptions of a billionaire couture lifestyle over impeccable production. Donda — whenever it gets released — will be Kanye’s magnum opus and an overall masterpiece from his illustrious discography. The performance and livestream experience is career-defining and now a piece of hip hop history.