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Revisiting Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ Listening Parties, one year later

Photo courtesy of Kevin Mazur, Getty Images/Universal Music Group

While it may be hard to believe, it’s been one full year since Donda officially released on all digital streaming platforms (Aug. 29, 2021). While the first listening party took place the ChurchLV church in Las Vegas a month earlier, it was just the start of Ye’s grandiose rollout for his 12th studio album.

The first arena listening event officially happened at the Mercedez-Benz stadium on July 22, 2021, as it proved to be a grand experimental experience — showing how Kanye West was working on the album and constantly updating and adding new visions to the project all in real-time. While the album was delayed by over a month, the events were crucial in bringing the fans into Kanye’s world and making Donda the most expansive project in Ye’s discography. While taking a look back, get ready to relive some of the most iconic, grand and laughable moments in not only Ye’s career but concerts in general.

Listening Party 1 – July 22, 2021

The first stadium event was held in Atlanta, and the listening party was thought to have been the only one. It was kicked off with the famous Apple Beats ad that featured Olympic runner Sha’Carri Richardson and a snippet of the eventual outro of the album, “No Child Left Behind” featuring Vory. The listening party was announced by Ye and Def Jam after the commercial, along with the official announcement that Donda would be coming out on July 23rd.

The listening event would be held at the Mercedes-Benz stadium and could be attended in person or an Apple Music livestream.

The concert proved to be a success, breaking the Apple Music global livestream record and became the years most anticipated project in just an hour. Even with that, it definitely still had its hiccups, as fans had to wait over two hours in order to see Kanye’s first official performance in over a year. Use the word performance lightly however, as Kanye remained silent throughout the event and paced the floor for most of the evening.

Along with that, the biggest grope of the night was that most of the tracks played were just obvious demos and snippets, with none of the work sounding close to finished. While the album, in true Kanye fashion, did not drop that night as it was promised earlier, the event proved that the album was in a great starting point and had signs of potential. The hype was indeed still there, as the first wave of features fans heard included Playboi Carti, JAY-Z, Pusha T, Travis Scott and more.

Kanye was also scheduled to take the stage at Rolling Loud Miami that weekend as well, but after the album failed to drop on time, he decided to cancel his performance.

Listening Party 2 – August 2nd, 2021

After Kanye’s disapproval of LP1, it was time to get back in the studio and prepare the album for a new listening party.

We use the term ‘studio’ very lightly.

That’s correct – Kanye and his team worked on the album between the listening parties in the stadiums locker room and never left the arena. The process was even streamed on Apple Music, showing what was going on in the room for a straight 24 hours.

The second listening party proved to be an improvement over the first, musically and theatrics wise. While the album definitely was improved in overall sound and quality, the thing most fans took from the concert was Kanye’s incredible stunts. Everyone working at the event had to wear all black, a theme he is still using to this day. He ended the event being pulled up to the ceiling of the stadium (ascending to Heaven) while “Come to Life” played through the stadium speakers.

Kanye’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian was also present at the concert along with his children. The album again failed to drop that night, but Kanye left the fans with more confidence that the album was nearing completion and had a clear direction it was going for.

Listening Party 3 – August 26, 2021

As the album was nearing completion, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Following the second listening party, Donda popped up on iTunes for pre-order with the track “Hurricane” featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby confirmed to be on the project. The album was expected to release on August 22nd which gave fans hope that the project dropping was still a possibility.

As the date started to get closer, rumors surrounding a third listening party rumor started circling the internet. Workers at the Soldier Field in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago started getting notified of a major concert coming up, and low and behold it was the third party.

It was confirmed shortly after that the event was happening, and photos started to leak that Kanye would be using his childhood home as the major set piece for the event.

The third event was easily the biggest event out of the three, bringing in over 25,000 fans and bringing out some of Kanye’s friends to help preform, including DaBaby, Don Toliver, Travis Scott, Marilyn Manson and more. The new event had a new tracklist and arrangement to go with it, with Kanye taking off fan favorite features for multiple tracks including JAY-Z on “Jail“, Kid Cudi on “Moon” and Pusha T who ended up not making the final cut. The other features removed from the last party were all re-added back on for the final product.

The event was the most theatrical of the three, including bible verses on the stadiums jumbotron, burning his childhood home, and meeting his ex-wife Kim Kardashian on the stage to signify they would be turning a new leaf. In this moment, Kanye also took off his mask for the first time in all of the events leading up to Donda.

While the album did not drop that night, Kanye’s manager Blu announced via Instagram stories the following day that the project was delivered to DSPs.

Donda would officially come out that Sunday, August 28th to beaming reviews from fans and critics alike, selling over 327,000 units and debuting at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Kanye would also eventually add 5 additional tracks as a deluxe in November and announce the sequel album Donda 2 in January.

It’s never fun to wait for an album to come out, and be delayed multiple times, but Kanye’s Donda rollout might be the exception. While the world waits for new updates on Donda 2, we can sit back and remember how just a year ago Kanye had the music world in the palm of his hands (and still does).

Listen to Kanye West’s Donda below!