The elaborate reveal of Kanye West’s latest album, Donda 2, was live-streamed online and in IMAX theaters last night, and listeners’ enjoyment seems directly correlated with their proximity to LoanDepot Park in Miami, where the event took place. If online reactions are anything to go by, the sound issues that plagued the “Donda Experience Performance” left even the most ardent Yeezy acolytes with a sense of frustration and disappointment.
But for those who were there in person, last night’s show served up more than enough spectacle that said audio hiccups — if not the appearance by Marilyn Manson or questionable sample choices — could be forgiven.
Donda 2 is the latest in a long line of West albums to premiere through a semi-live concert component prior to being properly released. It’s a ritual dating back to 2016 when the hip-hop iconoclast invited audiences to Madison Square Garden and theaters to listen to an unfinished version of The Life of Pablo. But where that gathering was decidedly minimal, a testament perhaps to Kanye’s long-expressed aesthetic affinities, yesterday’s event ran with the template set by last year’s multiple Donda listening parties and offered imagery worthy of West’s grandiosity.
Once the doors opened at 8 p.m., audiences were welcomed to their seats with the sight of a burned building situated in a reflective pool of water. The structure, a re-creation of West’s childhood home, has quickly become a part of the artist’s visual canon, having featured prominently in the final listening party for Donda and the first installment of the Jeen-Yuhs documentary series on Netflix.
Over the course of two and a half hours, the stadium was gradually filled with the sound of a bass-heavy heartbeat along with performers donning motorcycle helmets and all-black outfits. Soon, the lights were shut off, a palpably hot explosion erupted, and the show was underway.
West emerged onto the stage as his faux home began to burn, flames and smoke billowing out from its windows. It didn’t take long for the central theme of Donda 2, the rapper’s estrangement from wife Kim Kardashian, to make itself apparent. Backed with a chorus sung by the late XXXTentacion, show opener “True Love” saw West lay his feelings about being separated from his kids bare (“Wait, when you see the kids?/I’ll see y’all tomorrow/Wait, when the sun set? I see y’all tomorrow/Wait, whеn I pick ’em up, I feel like they borrowed/When I gotta return them, scan ’em like a bar code”).
Based on everything played last night — most of which was prerecorded and pantomimed by West and guests — Donda 2 is explicitly a divorce record. Both its lyrics and production are a marked break from last year’s Donda, with its predecessor’s melancholy and negative space now filled with rage-filled rants and more aggressive drums. Donda 2 is upfront, confrontational, and carries a vicious streak.
“Security” — which may wind up being the album’s opening song per a track list posted on Instagram by West — seems to make not-so-veiled threats in Pete Davidson’s direction, while “Sci-Fi” repurposes a Saturday Night Live monologue by Kardashian (“I married the best rapper of all time/Not only that, he’s the richest Black man in America”) to its own ends.
West’s airing of grievances had ample star power behind it. Among others, he was joined onstage by Playboi Carti, the Game, Jack Harlow, Alicia Keys, Migos, and Pusha T, with the latter’s “Diet Coke” proving to be a highlight of the concert. As West and crew strutted around the reflecting pool, an arresting image all on its own, the set continually evolved around them. The ersatz home was bisected midway through the show to reveal a blinding heavenly light emanating from within, while a few of the motorcyclists eventually rode bikes around the area before ceding the stage to the Sunday Service Choir for a powerful rendition of “Jesus Is King.”
The most uncomfortable moment of the show also heralded its most significant issues. After 16 songs pulled largely from Donda 2, the final leg of the night dipped into selections from its predecessor, including “Jail Pt 2.” The song features controversial artists Da Baby and Marilyn Manson, both of whom joined West onstage. The entrance of the shock rocker — who’s been accused of sexual assault by multiple women — elicited noticeable groans from an audience that had otherwise tolerated everything West threw at them.
From there, multiple audio problems began to stack on top of one another: “Heaven and Hell” was abruptly cut short after its 20th Century Steel Band-sampling intro, the bass on “Praise God” reached deafening levels, and what should have been triumphant appearances by the show’s final guests — Playboy Carti, Fivio Foreign, and Alicia Keys — were instead spoiled by cue issues.
With the sheer scale of the show in full view, these snags ultimately proved less distracting for its Miami crowd than online viewers. But beyond the medium through which the Donda Experience Performance was watched, the final metric for its success ultimately rests with listeners’ tolerance for West two decades into his career — is the abrasiveness of Donda 2 just the latest instance of an artist speaking their individual truth, or an uncomfortably private problem being aired out in a public sphere? Now that the album’s promised release date of 02.22.22 has come and gone with nary a record to show for it, the answer might have to wait until the next listening party.
From Rolling Stone US