Donda is the tenth studio album by American rapper and producer Kanye West. It was released on August 29, 2021, by GOOD Music and Def Jam Recordings. The same day, West claimed that the album had been released without his approval, which Universal Music Group denied. The album was initially set for release on July 24, 2020, but was delayed multiple times. In July 2021, West set up a provisional recording studio at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where listening events were held on July 22 and August 5. A third listening event was held at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 26; after the events, West continued to make alterations to the tracklist.
Donda was met with mixed reviews. While more favorable appraisals deemed it superior to West's most recent work up to that point, many critics felt the album was overlong and lacking in coherence, with some lamenting the guest appearances of controversial artists such as DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Nonetheless, Donda debuted at number one on several charts, including the U.S. Billboard 200, where it became West's tenth consecutive number-one album. It also marked one of the biggest opening-day streaming tallies in the history of Spotify and Apple Music. "Hurricane" will be released as the album's lead single on September 14, 2021.
On November 18, 2019, West announced on Twitter that he was working with Dr. Dre on a project entitled Jesus Is King Part II. On November 27, 2019, American producer Ronny J, confirmed that he had recently been in Wyoming to work on the album. During a Sunday service performance in Lynwood, California in December 2019, West stated that he had always wished he could collaborate with Dr. Dre and added, "Who knew all I had to do was do an album for God and then Dr. Dre would start mixing my beats? Spend your time on God, and he'll handle the rest." That same month, rapper Consequence confirmed that he was in Wyoming when asked about recording for Jesus Is King Part II. In February 2020, American producer and Dr. Dre associate Dawaun Parker alluded to his involvement on the album.
On May 25, 2020, cinematographer Arthur Jafa revealed that he was working on video material with West for a single from a "forthcoming album" titled God's Country during a conversation with fashion designer Michèle Lamy in an Instagram Live stream. On June 26, 2020, following the announcement of a collaboration between West's fashion company Yeezy and clothing retailer Gap, West launched the #WestDayEver promotional campaign on Twitter to announce different projects throughout the day. One of the projects was a music video for "Wash Us in the Blood" with rapper Travis Scott, directed by Jafa, which was released four days later following a teaser on Twitter in which West officially announced the album, at that point still titled God's Country. The song was set to be included on Donda, but did not appear on the final track listing. On July 13, West shared a snippet on Twitter of a song from the album, titled "Donda", which featured a spoken word introduction by his late mother and was accompanied by a short video featuring assorted clips of West, among others.
Initial cover art, shared by West in July 2020, artist and year of creation unspecified
Second proposed cover, depicting an adaptation of a Louise Bourgeois drawing from her series Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges
On July 18, along with a preliminary track list, West announced the title had been changed to Donda in honor of his late mother, Donda West. West announced a July 24 release date, which he eventually missed. On July 25, 2020, West tweeted an image of the album cover, which was later replaced in favor of an adaptation of a red Louise Bourgeois drawing from her series Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges.
On July 28, West flew out Lil Baby to Wyoming to work with him on Donda, after stating "Lil baby my favorite rapper but won't do a song with me". Lil Baby ended up recording his verse for "Hurricane" after KayCyy suggested he should record on it. The original version of "Hurricane" was leaked online as an original song recorded in 2018 for the scrapped project Yandhi, with different verses from Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, Big Sean, 6ix9ine, KayCyy, and Ant Clemons; however, none of their verses made it to the final cut and were replaced by Lil Baby and the Weeknd. West sent out a series of tweets about his relationship with Universal Music Group in September 2020, mostly addressing his desire to buy his master recordings back from them. The rapper asserted that these efforts were obstructed by his signed contracts, suceeding this by tweeting multiple images that supposedly showed the contracts.
On September 26, West released a 39-second snippet of a track titled "Believe What I Say" on his Twitter account. On October 16, West released a song titled "Nah Nah Nah", calling it his presidential campaign's theme song. On November 13, West released a remix of "Nah Nah Nah" featuring rappers DaBaby and 2 Chainz. Both the original song and its remix feature various references to his presidential run. On November 23, Consequence expressed enthusiasm about the album, describing it as "fire".
On March 7, 2021, Cyhi the Prynce stated in an interview with VladTV that West had once again begun working on the album amid his divorce from Kim Kardashian. On May 30, West was in the studio with Playboi Carti. On June 14, court filings revealed that West was recording an album in Honolulu, Hawaii, after reportedly "freaking out" during his deposition in an on going lawsuit with tech company MyChannel. On July 15, Syleena Johnson recorded music with West in San Francisco. On Cocktails with Queens on Fox Soul, Johnson said she recorded "Donda Chant" as well as vocals for another song that didn't make it onto the album in that session.
On July 17, Consequence posted a video of West in the studio with Tyler, the Creator on Instagram. The caption of the post suggested a late 2021 album release. On July 19, American rapper and friend of West Pusha T announced on Instagram that West would be holding a listening event for the album on July 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.Beats Electronics then premiered a commercial during game six of the 2021 NBA Finals with athlete Sha'Carri Richardson, edited and scored by West using the track "No Child Left Behind". French producer Gesaffelstein later stated that he produced the song, which featured Cory Henry playing the organ. Immediately following the commercial's debut, Def Jam Recordings confirmed the album's July 23 release date and revealed that the listening event in Atlanta would be globally livestreamed on Apple Music.
On July 22, West held a listening event at Mercedes Benz Stadium for the album. Following the listening event, West had taken up temporary residence in one of the stadium's locker rooms, converting it into a recording studio to finish the recording and mixing with Mike Dean. Videos and photos posted to social media also showed featured artists Playboi Carti and 2 Chainz recording vocals in the locker room a day before the listening event.Jay-Z allegedly recorded his verse mere hours before the listening event began. After failing to meet its promised release date of July 23, West continued recording sessions and was living in the stadium up until the second listening party held at Mercedes Benz Stadium on August 6. 24 hours before the second listening event, West put up a pre-show Apple Music livestream of him recording music, lifting weights, and sleeping in the stadium locker room he had posted to his Instagram weeks prior.
The song "New Again" featuring R&B singer Chris Brown originally included another verse performed by the singer, which was later leaked by Brown himself, after publicly calling West a "whole hoe". Rapper Soulja Boy originally recorded a verse for the track "Remote Control" featuring Young Thug, although he was ultimately not included on the final version of the song. Following the album's release, Soulja Boy shared a snippet of his verse on Instagram, with the caption of the post saying "Fuck Kanye". Fellow rapper André 3000 also recorded a verse for an unreleased track entitled "Life of the Party", which had been previewed at a listening event for Donda in Las Vegas. Amidst a feud between Canadian musician Drake and West, the song was leaked by Drake, whom West disses in the song, which André 3000 lamented. On September 7, 2021, DJ Akademiks shared a screenshot of a conversation between West and an unnamed engineer that worked on the album, showing West firing the engineer after no response to his morning message to start work. The engineer texted back that he was sorry and had no excuse for having not awoken on time, to which West replied: "Stop texting. Go find God."
Release and promotion
In late July 2021, West's representatives announced an August 6 release date, which was later confirmed via a Beats by Dre commercial and on West's Apple Music livestream. On August 5, 2021, a pre-order for the album was launched on iTunes, revealing it to feature 24 songs, along with an August 7 release date, which was later revised to August 13. Conflictingly, Apple Music displayed the release date to be August 15, before one set for five days later appeared on the service. On August 25, 2021, West announced the Donda Stem Player, a standalone music player that would allow users to remix the album's songs using their stems. The player is to be produced in collaboration with Kano Computing. On August 27, 2021, Donda's release date experienced another pushback on Apple Music, setting it to coincide with the release of Drake's sixth studio album Certified Lover Boy on September 3. It was speculated on social media that the delay was intentional to increase competition between the two artists.
Donda was eventually released on August 29, 2021, succeeding several delays during that month. The song "Jail, Pt. 2" was originally absent, only appearing on the Spotify version of the album, though as an "unavailable" track due to DaBaby's manager not having cleared his verse at the time of release. Five hours after the album's official release, West claimed that Universal Music Group had released Donda without his approval and blocked "Jail, Pt. 2" from appearing on the album. Apple Music and Spotify later replaced the original release with a version that included the song. Universal Music Group denied that they had either released the album without West's approval or blocked the release of "Jail, Pt. 2", with an anonymous source at the company calling his claims "preposterous".
In its first day of release, Donda earned the second-biggest global Spotify debut for album streams ever, with approximately 100 million streams, and broke the record for biggest first day streams of 2021 on Spotify, surpassing Olivia Rodrigo's Sour. The album also set a new record by reaching number one on Apple Music's top albums chart in 152 countries in its first day, and earned the third-biggest first day debut streams for an album. West and Donda broke the 2021 record for the most-streamed artist and album in one day on Apple Music, while 19 of the top-20 tracks on the service's Top 100 Global songs chart were from the album.Donda amassed 60 million first day streams in the US on Apple Music, setting a streaming record for 2021 in the country. After eight days of streaming, it had reached around 423 million on-demand audio streams in the US. 25 of the tracks debuted with the top-40 of Spotify's U.S. chart, with 10 of them occupying the top-10. The album's 2021 record for first day Spotify streams was broken by Certified Lover Boy, which also suprassed its eight day total of US on-demand audio streams within three days, amassing over 430 million streams.
A music video for "Come to Life" was released on September 2, 2021. The video features footage from the album's August 26 listening party, showing West setting on fire then reuniting with Kardashian. On September 3, 2021, "Hurricane" was playlisted by Swedish mainstream station Sveriges Radio P3. The song is set to be sent to American rhythmic contemporary radio stations by GOOD Music and Def Jam as the lead single from Donda on September 14, 2021. "Hurricane" reached number 12 on the Swedish Singles Chart following the album's release, while it debuted five places higher on the UK Singles Chart. The song entered the US Billboard Hot 100 at number six, giving West his 19th top-10 hit on the chart. "Jail" simultaneously debuted at number 10 on the Hot 100, with the two entries making West the 21st act to have 20 top-10s on the Hot 100. West purchased many large billboards to advertise Donda in Drake's hometown of Toronto during September 2021, outnumbering the ones used for Certified Lover Boy on the day of its release.
Invite to "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Release", the second event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
On July 19, 2021, it was announced that West would hold a listening event for Donda, titled "Kanye West Presents: A Donda Listening Event", at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021.
A second listening event for the album at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, titled "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Release", took place on August 5, 2021. Following the August 5 listening event, Kid Cudi was reported to be featuring on two tracks: "Moon" and "Remote Control", alongside Don Toliver and Young Thug respectively. However, Kid Cudi was only included on the final version of "Moon" on the album. On August 18, 2021, West announced a third listening event for the album scheduled for August 26, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, titled "Kanye West Presents: The Donda Album Experience". It was subsequently announced by West's manager that the album would be released the day after the listening event on August 27. The performance included a replica of West's childhood home, appearances by Marilyn Manson, Don Toliver, Shenseea, Travis Scott, DaBaby, and the son of Black Gangster Disciple Nation founder Larry Hoover Sr., and West setting himself on fire, then later remarrying Kim Kardashian. On August 31, 2021, it was reported by the Chicago Sun-Times that the replica was used because Chicago's Buildings Department did not allow West to move the home from its street address, as originally intended. The department explained how moving a home in the city "is a very technical process that requires structural engineer reports and multiple city permits", revealing the denial of West's request was due to "no permit application ha[ving] been received to excavate and move the vacant property" while it was also in Demolition Court.
According to Ed Power of The Daily Telegraph, the album is a maximalisthip hop record that follows a "more is more" philosophy through its "gleaming, swooping grooves and several kitchen sinks worth of production". In contrast, Craig Jenkins of Vulture said that Donda's "unifying quality is a subtle minimalism", with prominent silence. Fred Thomas of AllMusic similarly opined that the album is built on "minimal arrangements that linger while feeling eerily unfinished". Jenkins also noticed West's diminshed presence on the record, whose "raps and hooks take up significantly less real estate here than on any album with his name attached to it since G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer". In The Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Dwyer wrote that the "gospel flourishes of organ and voices" on Donda are elevated by "passionate yearning".Gigwise writer Charlie Brock depicted that the album "ebbs and flows", being "melancholic and subversive" at some points, and "outlandish and snarling" at others.
Donda was inspired by religion, with many of the tracks being themed around it. Some critics have described the album as sombre, with a darker lyrical content than West's previous works and frequent references to addiction and mental instability, as well as West's ego and family, including his mother Donda West and the collapse of his marriage with Kim Kardashian.Jon Caramanica wrote for The New York Times that in Donda, West continues to trade off the lyrical focus on self-awareness and wordplay of his earlier material for a more "terse and immediate approach, one that complements his musical shifts toward the industrial and the spiritual", which he started to do in the 2010s. Like his previous album Jesus Is King, Donda has no curse words, with all expletives being edited out.
Donda was met with mixed reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 53, based on 19 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave the album a 5.4 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.
Charles Lyons-Burt of Slant Magazine praised the album, considering it to be "arguably the most vulnerable and broken that West has allowed himself to appear on record" and "his most unforgiving self-portrait yet." Chris Willman of Variety claimed that its music was "close to unassailable" and praised its pacing besides "those last four completely superfluous remixes". Riley Wallace, writing for Exclaim! considered the album to be "[West's] best body of work in recent memory", while criticizing the album's length. Marcus Shorter hailed it as the rapper's best album since his sixth studio album Yeezus (2013) in his review for Consequence, describing it as "ambitious, raw, indulgent, and, after several revisions, a cohesive vision". Rhian Daly of NME felt that although Donda "certainly isn't a rushed job", the record could have improved by "West spending a little less time on it and learning when to let things go", finding there to be a large amount of filler alongside "enough gems" to make the album worthwhile. Reviewing the album for The Daily Telegraph, Ed Power said it "perfectly encapsulates the man himself: ego-driven, brilliant, and utterly exhausting", giving it three out of five stars and writing: "Full of sound and fury it may be – but West's latest ultimately lacks direction."
Jonny Coleman, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, gave the album a negative review, calling it a "slog". He elaborated: "It's hard to imagine what this record is supposed to be the soundtrack for. It's not a party record. It doesn't invite introspection. It's not spiritual outside of literal references. It's not really a radio record ... It's disposable and forgettable, like so much of culture spat down to us during COVID." In particular, Coleman felt the album lacked thematic coherence and reverence for West's mother Donda, viewing the album as self-indulgent. Paul Thompson of Rolling Stone, while commenting that Donda is "more considered and musically coherent than anything West has made in the past half-decade", considered the album to be uneven and overlong, with a "radically superior second half".
The selection of guest artists was also a point of criticism for some reviewers. Tirhakah Love of The Daily Beast called the album a "tribute to [West's] mom full of people who hate women" as well as an "overinflated mess". Roisin O'Connor, writing for The Independent, granted Donda zero stars for Marilyn Manson's "inexcusable presence" on "Jail, Pt. 2" following multiple sexual assault lawsuits made against him, saying it "speaks volumes of society's apathy towards rape survivors" and that it left "a sour taste that no number of good beats, gospel choirs or church organs will cleanse." O'Connor also criticized the DaBaby feature due to controversial comments he made earlier in the year about HIV-infected individuals.
Donda debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 after a five-day period of tracking, with 309,000 album-equivalent units that consisted of 272,000 streaming-equivalent album units, 37,000 pure album sales, and less than 1,000 track-equivalent units. The album-equivalent units set a record for the highest amount of 2021, exceeding the 295,000 units amassed by Olivia Rodrigo's Sour. West scored his 10th chart-topper on the Billboard 200 with the album, making him one of seven artists to have gathered this amount of number-ones on the chart. It also marked West's 10th consecutive album to debut at the summit, tying him with Eminem's record.Donda ranked as the longest number-one album of the 2020s decade, spanning nearly 109 minutes. It reached the summit of the US Top Christian Albums and Top Gospel Albums charts too, becoming West's second album to top the two charts and achieving the biggest unit week for both. The album entered atop the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, on which it was the rapper's 10th chart-topper. 23 of Donda's tracks debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, leading to West joining Drake as one of the two artists to have 23 or more songs chart simultaneously. This also increased West's Hot 100 entries to 133, the fifth most of any act, a ranking he attained for top-40 hits as well by having scored 68. "Hurricane" was the highest charting track, reaching number six and becoming West's 19th top-20 hit. The 23 tracks took up the top-23 spots on both the US Christian Songs and Gospel Songs charts, exceeding West's record of all top-10 positions on the former chart and the top-11 on the latter. As a result of the album and its tracks, West went up from number 67 to the top position on the BillboardArtist 100, giving him his third week atop the chart.
In Canada, Donda topped the Canadian Albums Chart. Elsewhere, the album entered atop the ARIA Albums chart in Australia, standing as West's fourth number-one release on the chart. This led to him joining 5 Seconds of Summer, Justin Bieber, Keith Urban, Kings of Leon, and Lady Gaga as one of the acts to achieve their fourth number-one album in the 2020s decade. The debut increased West's number of chart-topping weeks to five, alongside giving the rapper his ninth top-10 release on the ARIA Albums chart. 19 of Donda's tracks debuted within the top-50 of the ARIA Singles chart; "Hurricane" charted the highest at number four. The entries surpassed Taylor Swift's milestone of 16 debuts in the top-50, as well as the record held by both Post Malone and Michael Jackson for 17 tracks present within this ranking. The album also topped the New Zealand Albums chart.
Donda ranked at number one on the midweek album sales chart in the United Kingdom, before debuting at the same position on the UK Albums Chart. It gave West his third chart-topper in the UK and stood as his first since Yeezus in 2013. The album pushed 19,617 chart sales, 91 percent of which came from 17,921 streaming-equivalent units, while the other nine percent consisted of 1,696 paid downloads. In total, Donda accumulated 33.4 million streams in the UK across its 27 tracks. Three of the tracks debuted on the UK Singles Chart, with "Hurricane" attaining the highest position of number seven. The album entered atop the Irish Albums Chart, standing as West's second number-one album in Ireland and his ninth to reach the top-10. West had the three highest new entries on the Irish Singles Chart with the tracks that charted; "Hurricane" was the most successful, reaching number seven.Donda opened at the summit of the French Albums chart, becoming West's first number-one album in France and selling 9,476 copies over a five-day tracking period. The album also topped the charts in Austria, Belgium's Flanders and Wallonia regions, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. It further peaked within the top five in Germany, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland.
^"Syleena on Instagram". Instagram. Retrieved September 9, 2021. Took my heart and voice to San Fransisco right quick to work on something OUT OF THIS WORLD. ♥️ went vintage @kanyewest on the outfit today with the College dropout original hoodie I got from him in 2004. Then Ofcourse the good Zebra yeezys
^ ab"Czech Albums – Top 100". ČNS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 202135 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved September 6, 2021.
^ ab"Slovak Albums – Top 100". ČNS IFPI. Archived from the original on May 6, 2019. Retrieved September 6, 2021. Note: On the chart page, select SK - Albums - Top 100 under the left field and "202135" on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data.