After Kanye West’s 10th studio album Donda didn’t release on July 24 following his live listening event at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, many were left disappointed and wondering when the coveted project they heard would drop. Being the artist he is, Kanye decided to take a residency in the arena and lived there for the last two weeks as he refined and retooled the album.
He also announced that he would be having a second listening event, presumably to deliver the final draft to his faithful fans in the same arena. What happened in the interim could only be explained as bizarre. The day of Donda’s second listening event, Kanye launched a muted “Countdown to Donda” livestream that gave fans a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes workings of the album and the final touches that it was being given.
For the entire day it showed multiple small recording rooms where figures like The Lox, Fivio Foreign, Steve Lacey, Vice Mensa, and more appeared during the stream to work on the album.
At some points Ye was napping, in others he was doing push-ups with people in the room hyping him up. There were even moments where Kanye just stood there in his tiny brick room alone, staring at the camera. It was all very odd and abstract, but it acted as a perfect prelude for the spectacle that Mr. West was preparing to deliver.
Even though it was meant to be just an album listening session, Donda’s second event felt like a fusion between live theater and an electrifying hip-hop concert. A thick veil of smoke enveloped the arena as I and thousands of other spectators waited for Kanye to appear. While the artist made the restless full house at the Mercedes Benz Stadium wait an hour and a half before emerging from the shadows, the twin-sized cot that he was likely sleeping on while he finished the album was the only thing shining at the center of the arena. This bed would be the show’s focal point, with Kanye entering his inner-circle and staying confined to its borders for the entirety of the event.
In stark contrast with the first listening event, Ye was joined by a flash mob of people all dressed in black who circled him, raged with him, and prayed with him throughout the performance. There were also added lighting and graphics effects that weren’t used at the first session, showing how much time and effort Kanye had put into this show over the last two weeks. This all culminated in the crown jewel of the entire event, Kanye being lifted into the heavens as behind his song “No Child Left Behind.”
With his artistry on full display, Billboard compiled a list of the seven best moments from Kanye West Presents A Donda Listening Event part two. Check out our picks below.
The Energy in the Mercedes Benz Arena
No other artist in the world can pack an entire arena full of people just to listen to their new album for the first time, let alone do it twice. A nice bar or club, maybe, but not an arena. Kanye’s fans are some of the most loyal the music world has to offer, and they showed up and out to support him. Even after Ye had the crowd waiting for over an hour, spirits remained high between sporadic chants for “Yeezy,” to the entire arena spontaneously doing the wave to pass the time. The crowd’s energy made Ye’s arrival to center stage that much more special, and he fed off the crowd’s varied reactions to the new music.
Kanye’s Enthusiasm During Tracks
During Donda’s first listening event, Kanye remained predominantly docile aside from sporadic moments where he would begin running across his blank canvas of a stage and move to each song. Last night, Kanye was doing everything from push-ups in the middle of songs to draping himself in a thick black robe and running around like the phantom of the opera in his small circle of space. It was fun and an indicator that Kanye is still behind that mask. Despite not uttering a single word, Ye was animated throughout the show. There were moments where he presumably acted like he was getting into an argument on the phone mid-song, moments where he thrashed and jumped with the moving mosh pit that circled him, and times where he rested under a blanket while the crowd continued to churn. These movements were one of the reasons why the second listening event felt like a theatrical play as much as it did a concert.
Kanye Creating his own Blackhole
Midway through the show, a large group of people dressed in all black emerged from both sides of the arena and began circling Kanye and his cot. A casting call circulated on social media a few days before the event and said it was looking for able-bodied people ages 18 and over for a “mass movement performance.” The performance ended up being the flashmob Kanye created in the middle of the album, with the crowd raging, praying, and continuously orbiting around him like a man-made black hole. While a large mass of people circled him, a select few black specters remained still around the innermost part of Kanye’s circle. Known to love symmetry—as evident in much of his work in architecture—the mobs calculated movements played into the themes of whatever song was playing, and they stayed center stage for almost the entirety of the show.
Refined Songs and New Standout Features from Griselda, Jay Electronica, The Lox, and More
One of the most glaring differences between this version of Donda and the one fans heard two weeks ago is how crisp it sounds now. Even from listening to the livestream, the rough draft that Kanye played for the crowd during the first listening event sounded like the album was still in a rough draft stage. There were even rumors floating around that Kanye was still putting the finishing touches on things and recording new verses the day of the event. While Ye still might have added a few new things the day of this time, the album was much better sonically and felt closer to a final draft than before. Plus, new features from Jay Electronica, The Lox, Griselda, and more add an entirely new complexion to the album. Jay Electricity and Jadakiss on the same song sounded amazing, and the world finally got to hear the coveted Griselda x Kanye song that has been talked about for months now. Of course, Donda still hasn’t dropped as of the writing of this piece, but Kanye West is a perfectionist, and great things take time.
Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti Teaming Up on a New Song
On one of Donda’s new songs, rumored to be called “Off The Grid,” Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti team up and both deliver show-stopping performances. Carti appears several times on Donda, but Fivio expanding his lyrical palette and sliding on Kanye’s production proved that the New York drill rapper not only has style but range as well. “Off The Grid” had the entire stadium on its feet and was definitely a fan favorite song of the night.
The Rumors Being True About The Weeknd and Lil Baby Having a Song Together
Before the listening event began, social media influencer Justin Laboy tweeted, “Kanye really got The Weeknd & Lil Baby on the same record… DONT @ ME TONIGHT… DONDA ALBUM OF THE YEAR,” and he was telling the truth. The Weeknd replaced Ty Dolla $ign on a song believed to be called “Hurricane” and joined Lil Baby for the first time on the same track. “Hurricane” was initially called “80 Degrees” and was on Kanye’s unreleased album Yandhi, but with a few significant changes, it now sounds like a completely different song with the inclusion of The Weeknd and Baby.
The Many Skies of Donda
Kanye has always been known to have a way with set designs, and his layout for this second listening event didn’t disappoint. Ye went minimal for his set design during the first listening event, but the second was much more involved. Throughout the show, the upper rim of the Mercedes Benz arena morphed to mirror the energy and vibe of whatever sequence of songs were playing. It would depict the heavenly clouds on the more gospel-sounding tracks and harsh flames during the songs that sounded like they were meant to be raged to. These varying skies during the listening session added an extra layer of ambience to the show, and ultimately culminated in Ye ascending to the clouds and joining them.
Yeezus Ascends Once More
The most memorable moment of the entire Donda listening event was, without question, Kanye West being lifted hundreds of feet into the air as the halo lights below him shot into the heavens and his song “No Child Left Behind” bellowed into his colosseum. After the previous track ended and the stage went dark, many in the audience assumed the show to be over until the lights shine on Kanye ascending into the sky like he was being called back to heaven. It was one of the most jaw-dropping musical moments I’ve ever witnessed firsthand, and it left many in the audience awe-struck and in genuine shock. After the song concludes, the lights began to lower with Ye as he eventually floated back down to earth. It was a stunt that you’d expect to see at a festival or tour stop, not a listening event for a soon-to-be-finished album. Kanye’s ascension capped a night marked by his climb back to the good graces of rap Mt. Olympus and truly reflected how free he is.