Album rollouts are never straightforward when it comes to Kanye West. After all, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ went through very many iterations before and after its release. His forthcoming 10th album ‘DONDA’ – named after his late mother Dona West – appears to be no different. First teased in March 2020, later slated for a July 2020 release, it’s already undergone tracklist amends and even a change in title (from ‘God’s Country’). In mid-2021, the record still hasn’t surfaced. With Kanye back at work on the thought-to-be-lost record, here’s a timeline of everything we know about the album to date.
23 March 2020
It seems that Kanye’s new album, or at least an early iteration of it, features Pusha T, who revealed in March 2020: “We were just cooking not too long ago, before [COVID-19 hit]” Push added: “We were supposed to get together and finish work on his project but the flights and all that sort of stuff had slowed down by then. [March] 16th is when we were supposed to start.”
25 March 2020
In a March 2020 Wall Street Journal feature titled ‘The Creation and the Myth of Kanye West’, it was revealed that West was “preparing to record a new album in Mexico” that spring. It was noted that Kanye had flown directly from Paris for Fashion Week, which ran from late February to early March, to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico “to work on music”. However, he returned to his family home in mid-March as coronavirus engulfed the US.
16 April 2020
In a GQ cover feature, writer Will Welch detailed the two days he spent in Mexico with Kanye in March 2020. The rapper, he said, was “deep into recording the follow-up to ‘Jesus Is King’”, adding: “I heard a number of new songs at various stages of completion.”
During their chat, Kanye opened up about how he had considered quitting rap and said he was a recovering alcoholic. He explained: “I was thinking of not rapping again, because I rapped for the Devil so long that I didn’t even know how to rap for God. Then one of my pastors told me, ‘My son just said that he would want a rap album about Jesus from Kanye West.’ He didn’t say, ‘Kanye West, you should do this,’ or ‘you need to do this.’ He just told me something that a child said. And that one thing made the difference.
West also teased a lyric from his new album: “Have I ever not done anything I said I was going to do? ‘I made it back from addiction, I beat the predictions, brought real to the fictions’ – that’s off the new album.”
26 June 2020
26 June? It shall be known henceforth as the “West Day Ever” – according to Kanye, at least. On 26 June 2020, Yeezy took to Twitter to signal a flurry of exciting projects that were either going to be announced or surface on that day, plugging the hashtag #WESTDAYEVER.
YZY GAP BEGINS
MOWALOLA JOINS AS YZY GAP DESIGN DIRECTOR
KSG CARTOON MURAKAMI CUDI
JESUS IS KING FILM ON APPLE JAMES TURRELL
YZY SPLY DOC NICK KNIGHT
FOAM RUNNER RELEASE MADE IN USA
JESUS IS KING DR. DRE VERSION
WASH US IN THE BLOOD VIDEO ARTHUR JAFA#WESTDAYEVER
— ye (@kanyewest) June 26, 2020
The big announcement on the day was a collaboration between his Yeezy brand and GAP, but some of the projects promised included a Kids See Ghosts cartoon, a Dr Dre version of Kanye’s 2019 gospel-rap record ‘Jesus Is King’ and the video for new single ‘Wash Us In The Blood’.
30 June 2020
A few days later, we saw the release of ‘Wash Us In The Blood’, a politically and spiritually charged track that took Kanye’s sound back to the grimy electronics of his ‘Yeezus’ era.
13 July 2020
On what would have been his mother Donda West’s 71st birthday, Kanye released a new two-minute song via Twitter. The track opened with a recording of his mother reciting the lyrics from KRS-One’s 1993 single ‘Sound Of Da Police’. “In loving memory of my incredible mother on her birthday,” West tweeted before deleting the post. The track ended with a verse from Kanye that included the lines: “I’m doin’ this one for y’all / So we could end racism once and for all”.
18 July 2020
A week after releasing his song honouring his late mother, Kanye began to tease his new album titled ‘DONDA’. In a later-deleted tweet, Ye promised that the album would drop on 24 July, posting a track list to Twitter that featured ‘Wash Us In The Blood’, a previously-leaked song called ‘New Body’ and tracks titled ‘Skmrrr’ and ‘I Feel Terrific’.
21 July 2020
You know Kanye likes to tinker, and with ‘DONDA’ already teased, Kanye proceeded to tweet an entirely new tracklist just three days after its initial announcement. This new version was 12 songs and 39 minutes in length.
DONDA coming this Friday pic.twitter.com/HGibF3PHYf
— ye (@kanyewest) July 21, 2020
22 July 2020
When it comes to Yeezy collaborations, a purported team-up between Kanye and prog-rockers The Mars Volta seems pretty far-fetched. However, that seems to be what West was hinted at in July 2020 when he tweeted “The Mars Volta we need to finish the album”. along with a clip of a sports documentary soundtracked by the band’s 2005 track ‘The Widow’. The Mars Volta have been broken up since 2013, but if anyone’s going to bring them back together, maybe it’s Ye.
The Mars Volta we need to finish the album pic.twitter.com/oA5cc7pyhb
— ye (@kanyewest) July 22, 2020
25 July 2020
Revealing your album’s artwork a day after it was meant to be released? It’s what we’ve come to expect as Kanye stans. Depicting what looks like a scene of transcendence, here’s the ultra vivid artwork that looks likely to adorn ‘DONDA’’s front sleeve:
DONDA ALBM CVR pic.twitter.com/Wb9Ql1mSri
— ye (@kanyewest) July 25, 2020
28 July 2020
With ‘DONDA’ still not released, it looked like West was still hard at work on the record in late July when Lil Baby posted a video of himself landing in Wyoming at West’s ranch-turned-creative hub. The pair had originally clashed after Kanye claimed that Baby “won’t do a song [with] me” on Twitter. However, Baby tweeted back: “Nobody told me ye was trying to get me on a song that’s fucced up.”
— TeamKanyeDaily (@TeamKanyeDaily) July 28, 2020
Speaking to NME months later later, Lil Baby confirmed that the pair worked on new music in Wyoming, saying that West “had some songs that I started to lead on”.
19 August 2020
The Mars Volta and Lil Baby may just be on Kanye’s new album, but you know who’s definitely not going to be? Nick Cave. Yes, there was a bizarre rumour that the Bad Seeds man was the reason behind the delay of ‘DONDA’, and Cave was quick to shut it down.
A Belgian fan by the name of Vassilis asked Cave this question on the music icon’s blog The Red Hand Files: “Is it true that Kanye’s new album is delayed because you both took the last minute decision to include a track you have been working on together?” And Cave’s reply couldn’t have made it clearer: “Dear Vassilis, No. Love, Nick.” Well, that’s that then.
26 September 2020
In late September, Kanye released a snippet of an upbeat banger called ‘Believe What I Say’. The track sampled Lauryn Hill’s classic ‘Doo-Wop (That Thing)’, interestingly also famously sampled by Drake in ‘Nice For What’. “You ask him to feel protected / And still feel protected,” West raps in the 39-second snippet. “Just one time for the record / Just one time for the record / Don’t agree with the message / Don’t agree with the methods.”
BELIEVE WHAT I SAY (snippet) pic.twitter.com/U7Y2KQJ5UC
— ye (@kanyewest) September 26, 2020
9 March 2021
After many assumed that ‘DONDA’ had been permanently shelved – in this time the rapper had tweeted “KANYE 2024”, suggesting he’d re-run for the Presidency after his botched 2020 run – his co-writer and collaborator CyHi The Prynce confirmed in an interview that West had returned to working on the release.
Speaking to VladTV, CyHi said that West returned to work on ‘Donda’ “late last year” and that they were now “back working” on the record. “Once November, December, January comes around, [West] kind of takes a hiatus, a little vacation break, get with the family,” CyHi explained. “We’re back working, that’s why I’m out here, too.”
18 July 2021
Kanye hosted a surprise listening party for a new record in Las Vegas, with record label Def Jam tweeting simply: “YZY SZN.” Internet personality Justin LaBoy, who attended the party, wrote on Twitter: “The production is light years ahead of it’s [sic] time, and the bars sound like he’s broke & hungry trying to get signed again. Any artist who plan on dropping soon should just push it back.” Footage also emerged of Tyler, The Creator in the studio with West. A stream of the event will then reportedly be available via Apple Music.
19 July 2021
It was announced that there is to be a second listening party, this time in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium, on July 22. The event will be hosted by Pusha T, who posted an advert on Instagram that billed it as “Kanye West Presents Donda”.
21 July 2021
Def Jam has confirmed that ‘DONDA’ will arrive on Friday July 23, 2021, while Kanye himself later ‘grammed a studio snap that revealed a partial tracklist. Yeezy season approaching?
Kanye West will be releasing his album DONDA 7/23 pic.twitter.com/KPVSzQVwwz
— Def Jam Recordings (@defjam) July 21, 2021
22 July 21
West hosted the Atlanta playback to a sold-out 42-000 reduced capacity stadium, with estranged wife Kim Kardashian reportedly in the audience.
NME’s writer on the scene reported: “‘DONDA’ draws heavily from religious texts, concepts and ideologies, with West turning them into similes and metaphors across the lyrical spread of the album – not for nothing is one song called ‘I Know God Breathed On This’. It’s impressive that it never feels preachy, over-the-top or theatrical. Maybe it’s the power of the bass in this massive space or the encouragement from the equally massive crowd, but the religious side of ‘DONDA’ feels cathartic tonight.”
5 August 2021
Ye livestreamed from his breezeblock bunker deep in the heart of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium – where the rapper has been living since his listening party – on Apple Music. There was no audio on the stream, but it appeared that he was finishing up ‘DONDA’ as the world watched. Guests continued to drop by, including frequent collaborator Mike Dean, Steve Lacy, Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa – will they feature on the record?
Kanye also hosted yet another event at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, revealing new features from Kid Cudi and The Weeknd. At the time of writing, a clock on the wall is counting down to 5:30am BST. Could we soon be hearing ‘DONDA’?
9 August 2021
Guess what! The album didn’t drop at 5.30am August after all. Instead, iTunes is listing the release date as August 13, and on Apple Music it’s slated for August 15. Meanwhile, Kanye has changed his main image on streaming services to a blank back backdrop.
The last six entries in this timeline were added by an NME staffer.