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Kanye West Donda listening
Courtesy of Yeezy

The resurrection of Yeezus: what went down at Kanye’s second Donda playback

Still with no clear release date, here’s everything you need to know from the rapper’s spiritual album listening party in Atlanta

For the past fortnight, Kanye West has been holed up in what looks like a spartan prison cell, deep in the bowels of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The rapper made the decision to set up camp in the arena – at a reported $1,00,000 a night – following a tense and emotional listening party for his upcoming, and tenth studio album, Donda. Since then, Kanye has been spotted wandering the vast grounds in head-to-toe Yeezy x Gap, with a gauzy Balenciaga mask yanked over his head. And although the record was initially scheduled to drop on July 26, its release was suddenly, though not unsurprisingly, postponed. That is, until today. Allegedly. 

In the early hours of last night, the rapper staged a second listening event, recruiting recent collaborator, Demna Gvasalia, as creative director. And while Kanye was uncharacteristically mute during the album’s first outing, yesterday’s event seemed to make a clangorous, although confusing, return to form – evoking all the theatre of the musician’s apocalyptic Yeezy concerts. As Donda boomed through the stadium, Kanye swaddled himself beneath a black cloak, took calls, and slept, all before levitating, on wires, through the heavens of the stadium. With Dazed’s editorial director, Lynette Nylander, sat front row, here’s everything you missed. 


Ahead of the show, Kanye West launched a livestream on Apple music, with glimpses of the rapper eating breakfast, working out, and presumably tweaking last minute details for the performance. Clad in a spiky rubber jacket from Balenciaga’s FW21 collection, Kanye was completely obscured by a balaclava – conjuring the image of Leigh Bowery’s fetishy face coverings. It was a theatricalisation of the self, provocative to the point of perverse. With the audio intentionally muted, Kanye was visited by Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Mike Dean, Steve Lacy, and Fivio Foreign


With Quavo, Offset, Chance the Rapper, Kim, and North, in the audience, thousands of dancers, draped in disciple-like, floor-skimming cloaks, thronged onto stage. It would be the first of many heavy handed references to religion and death. Centre stage was a remake of the rapper’s meagre, if not monastic, dwellings. And, not to instigate the ‘why don’t grown men own a bed frame’ discourse but Kanye’s scant set included a mattress slung on the floor, slippers, a candle, Balenciaga sneakers, and a pair of barbells – to which he would go back and forth, doing press-ups throughout the show. As it stands, though, Donda has still not been released. What is up for grabs, however, is Kanye’s pillar box red Yeezy x Gap jacket, which went on sale last night. 


After Kanye’s collaboration with Balenciaga on a series of commemorative DMX tees earlier this year, it would seem the rapper has found a kindred spirit in Demna Gvasalia. Just last month, Kanye sat front row at the designer’s debut couture show, and last night, eagle-eyed audience members will have noticed an overlap in the performance’s creative direction. The flame-strewn graphics which encircled the roof of the stadium were taken from Balenciaga’s AW20 runway – courtesy of creative director Niklas Bildstein Zaar, who works on Demna’s stores and set design. And if that did not feel fire-and-brimstone enough, the venue was also administering shots of Pfizer to those who had yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 


As was unveiled in its first outing, the album features a reunited Jay-Z on its final track, as well as Pusha-T, Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Baby Keem, Jeremih, Lil Durk, Roddy Riich, Pop Smoke, and more, plus spoken word interludes from Donda herself. This time around, we also heard collaborations from Kid Cudi and The Weeknd. Dr Dre and Snoop have also jumped on a track – “Glory” – as soundtracked in a Beats advert featuring Sha’Carri Richardson. Despite the multiplicity of voices on the album and an enormous, collective listening, Donda somehow felt more personal for it – resembling a ‘homegoing’ service of Christian, African-American tradition; a public occasion marked by rejoicing and singing as the deceased pass on to a better place.


Since Kanye did not technically “perform”, the album listening party was not billed as a concert, per se. The rapper did, however, sprint in circles beneath a black cape, take a nap, and make a series of phone calls as if life-became-performance-became-art. Yet, on the final track, Yeezus rose. Surrounded by 5,000 street cast kids, Kanye ascended through the roof of the Mercedes-Benz arena in a symbolic haze of fog and spotlights. With 24 tracks and the late Donda West’s own voice echoing, Kanye moved backwards through the memories of his mother. Distorted, looped vocals, and gothic organ chords felt like a psychic attempt to exorcise the musician’s loss, exalting his mother to heavenly stature.