A tribute to Donda: Kanye’s 10th studio album

Well, “Donda” happened. Regardless if you’re a die-hard Kanye West fan or a skeptical hater, no one can deny Kanye makes everything an experience. 

“Donda” is Kanye’s 10th studio album and serves as a tribute to his late mother Donda C. West. Whether you went to the first listening party, the second, or the third, or even just tuned into all three from home, you didn’t get the listening party you expected. While you didn’t actually get to listen to the whole album as you hoped, you were undoubtedly given an unforgettably unique experience. 

Fans quickly grew tired of getting their hopes up, until unbeknownst to Kanye, the album dropped on Sunday, Aug. 29. Kanye came out quickly saying it was released without his permission by his record label, Universal. Universal has not commented on the issue, but many fans joked they also got tired of waiting.

The first listening party took place on July 2, in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium with Kanye showing up late as usual. Donning an all red outfit with a mask over his face, Kanye sat in the middle of the 42,000 in attendance. The album was played through, confirming collabs such as Jay-Z, Lil Durk, Playboi Carti, Pop Smoke and more. Throughout the listening party, Kanye never said a word, and after the album failed to drop following the listening party, fans were upset.

Next, Kanye announced his stay inside the Mercedes-Benz stadium until he finished “Donda.” He stayed in a bare and monotonous room with no windows that fans related to a prison cell, and didn’t come cheap, costing him $1 million per day to stay in the stadium. On Aug. 5, Kanye hosted his second live listening party from Mercedes-Benz, which was preceded by a pre-show livestream from inside of Kanye’s new living space. He featured artists going in and out, partook in a quick nap, a workout and finished off by staring into the camera for a while, all while wearing masks similar to the first show. 

The second show also confirmed a plethora of collabs such as Kid Cudi, Young Thug, The Weeknd and more. This listening party was more lively on Kanye’s end, finishing off with the most signature moment from the entire Donda experience. While “No Child Left Behind” played in the background, Kanye elevated from the ground on wires and began ascending toward the open roof of the stadium. Following his second listening party, “Donda” was still nowhere to be found on streaming services, leaving fans disappointed yet again.

The final listening party took place on Aug. 26, preluded with leaked photos of his childhood home being built in the center of Chicago’s Soldier Field. The show consisted of Kanye standing in front of his childhood home, with his questionable accomplices Da Baby and Marilyn Manson, both of whom just hopped out of their own controversies. One of the first shocks of the night was the announcement of Jay-Z’s verse on “Jail” being swapped out for Da Baby. The show continued with the three standing on the porch of Kanye’s home, not saying a word. Later on in the night, Kanye lit himself on fire from inside the home. After engulfing himself in flames, Kanye walked out of the house before it was extinguished. The last thing you could call the third listening party was boring. 

Before even hearing the album, Kanye left an extremely strong impression on anyone tuning into the events. Half of the songs had been heard in some capacity, with a majority undergoing heavy edits between each event. “Donda” follows the same trend as his latest albums: less methodical and more messy. With Kanye’s earlier albums, clear intent was put into the albums’ structures and design. However, “Donda” is a rollercoaster, a constant battle for the listener to decide whether they like it or not. The first half of the album offers a confusing spread of greatness and mediocrity.

Graphic by Aiden Dowling.

One of the first songs to stick out is “Jail.” As the first track in over five years featuring Kanye and Jay-Z together, it definitely makes a strong impression. The song focuses on Kanye’s downward spiral of divorce and increasingly tarnished public image. With lyrics like “You made a choice that’s your bad, single life ain’t so bad,” Kanye’s references to his current situation in life become obvious. On a melancholy album, “Jail” fits right in with strong bass and light vocals, notably quieter than the beat. 

Similar to the feel of “Jail,” “MOON” featuring Kid Cudi and Don Toliver. The song includes beautifully calm vocals and an etheric beat. The song underwent many controversial changes throughout the listening parties, stripping away Kanye and Kid Cudi’s parts during the third. Thankfully, the official release features all parts and the ultimate version of this song.

The album slowly gains speed throughout the first 15 songs, finishing off with “Donda,”  a direct tribute toward his deceased mother. The song begins with a strong piano beat, while Kanye and Stalone sing in a choir-like fashion. The song swaps between singing and old clips of Donda West, serving as an interlude to the album, similar to how “Donda Chant” serves as the prelude. 

The second half of the album shifts away from a sound similar to “The Life of Pablo” and older Kanye West songs, toward more choir-like singing seen on more recent Kanye albums like “JESUS IS KING.” On “Lord I Need You” featuring the Sunday Service Choir, Kanye reminisces on his relationship with Kim Kardashian, rapping “‘But you came here to show that you still in love with me; Startin’ to feel like you ain’t been happy for me lately, darlin.’” These lyrics likely suggest Kim Kardashian’s attendance of all three listening parties to support her estranged husband. 

“Donda” isn’t for everyone, and neither is Kanye. He’s an eccentric guy with an undeniable talent. Many songs throughout the “Donda” tracklist explore sensitive topics of Kanye’s personal life, making it one of his most vulnerable albums. Everything about “Donda” is messy, following Kanye’s trend with his latest album releases like “Life Of Pablo” and “ye”. However, “Donda” and Kanye alike are impossible to ignore, and the lows and highs of “Donda” work together to create a unique experience that could only be provided by Kanye. 

Aiden Dowling

Junior Aiden Dowling is the Layout and Design Director for BluePrints Magazine. Dowling won Honorable Mention in SIPA’s 2020 features package portion of their Best Visuals Contest, and he won third place in SIPA’s 2020 review portion of their Best Writing Contest. He would like to attend Georgia Tech for a computer science degree. Outside of school, Dowling enjoys being with his friends and volunteering around the Athens community. This year in journalism, he hopes to improve his photography skills. He enjoys the sense of community, the atmosphere of journalism, and how the staff gets work done when they put their minds to it.