When it comes to epic album roll-out campaigns, Kanye West is only competing with himself.
The rapper and producer, who has legally changed his name to Ye, is notorious for keeping fans and the music industry on their toes when it comes to the manner in which he releases his albums.
Whether it’s instigating a feud with 50 Cent for 2007’s Graduation to renting out entire stadiums for listening parties such as last year’s Donda and 2018’s Ye, the Grammy Award winner rarely takes the traditional route.
Such is the case with Donda 2, which was supposed to arrive on Tuesday and be released exclusively on the music platform Stem Player.
While the full album is yet to materialise on Stem Player’s online portal (a selection of tracks are available instead), fans have had the chance to hear a number of Donda 2 tracks in a star-studded listening party and performance called Donda Experience at Miami’s LoanDepot Park on Tuesday night.
Here are the three key takeaways from the event.
1. The Donda Experience was messy
True to form, the Donda Experience was both chaotic and impressive.
The drama began earlier in the week when the show was announced partly in a bid to calm fans who were disappointed that they had to shell out $200 to buy West’s Stem Player to access the album.
Those who did invest in Stem Player are also feeling short-changed with Donda 2 not arriving overnight as announced.
Ye has yet to comment on the album’s new release date.
Ironically, after championing the fact his music could only be played on his own platform, West turned to social media giants such as YouTube, Twitch and Instagram to stream the event after previously limiting its screening to select IMAX theatres across the US.
That sudden shift would have surely affected the harried technical crew, with the show beginning two hours late and the sound quality lambasted online for its murkiness and lack of clarity.
West acknowledged this midway during the show when rapping out of time to new track Hurricane —indicating his in-ear monitors were out of synch — and slammed the microphone down in disgust.
The sound was relatively rectified throughout the rest of the show, but it felt too late by that point.
2. It is a divorce album
He may have named the album after his mother Donda West, but there is another significant woman hovering over the album.
Donda 2 is a sequel to last year's Donda in name only with the emotionally fraught nature of the lyricism, based on the selection of tracks heard, a far cry from the spiritually laced subject matter of its predecessor.
In fact, Donda 2 is more lyrically similar to the 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak.
Where that release had Ye sifting through the trauma of his mother’s death the previous year, Donda 2 finds him dealing with his separation from Kim Kardashian.
Judging by some of the barbs thrown at her new beau Pete Davidson, Ye still has some work to do. The Saturday Night Live actor and comic is referenced in a couple of the new songs.
In the thrillingly abrasive Security, he warns Davidson to bolster his protection detail: "Never take the family picture off the fridge/ Never stand between a man and his kids/ Y’all ain’t got enough security for this/ I put your security at risk/ I make your security all quit, like ‘we ain’t getting paid enough for this.”
Even Ye's four children get it in Eazy, where he laments their spoilt upbringing: "When you give 'em everything, they only want more/ Boujee and unruly, y'all need to do some chores."
While Kardashian is not directly addressed, a section of her Saturday Night Live opening monologue appears on Sci-Fi, where she praises Ye’s virtues: “I mean, I married the best rapper of all time. Not only that, he’s the richest black man in America.”
The snippet ends just before Kardashian states she divorced Ye “because of his personality.”
3. No major surprises from Ye
Even all that psychodrama doesn’t diminish Ye’s undeniable gift as a first-class producer.
While both Donda albums don't exhibit the thrilling sonic leaps taken by previous releases, they've shown that he remains in command of his sound.
I'm Finna Love Me benefits from a throbbing bassline and Ye’s sweet and autotuned falsetto, while the piano-driven Flowers harkens back to the soulful sound of earlier albums.
The standout track is City of Gods, featuring a striking performance by Alicia Keys.
The RnB star was one of many guest performers on site, including Migos, Pusha T and Playboi Carti, and delivered in an epic track hailed by fans as an unofficial sequel to her 2009 song Empire State of Mind, a joint hit with Jay-Z.
While we only heard a limited selection of Donda 2, it is safe to predict it won’t mark a new chapter for Ye.
Considering how turbulent his personal life has become over the years, it is probably the best we can hope from one of hip-hop’s most innovative and frustrating characters.
'Donda 2' full tracklist
- Lift Me Up" (featuring Vory)
- Get Lost
- Pablo (featuring Travis Scott and Future)
- True Love" (featuring XXXTentacion)
- Keep It Burnin'
- Broken Road (featuring Don Toliver)
- I’m Finna Love Me
- Closed For Business
- We Did It Kid (featuring Baby Keem and Migos)
- Mr. Miyagi (featuring Future and Playboi Carti)
- Selfish featuring (XXXTentacion)
- First Time in a Long Time (featuring Soulja Boy)
- Louie Bags featuring Jack Harlow)
- Sci-Fi (featuring Sean Leon)
- Do I Look Happy? (featuring Future)
- Things Change
- City of Gods (with Fivio Foreign and Alicia Keys)