When Ye – formally known as Kanye West – revealed that he would be releasing a sequel to last year’s ‘Donda’ on 2/22/22, a palindrome day that marked the US’ first Pluto return, it seemed possible that this album rollout would represent some kind of metamorphosis. But what could have been an opportunity to button up the discord on ‘Donda’ (named after his late mother) has just turned into a continuum of chaos.
On a clear-skied, breezy Tuesday night, fans filled the LoanDepot Park stadium in Miami, Florida, to experience what was advertised as a ‘Donda 2’ experience rather than another janky listening party. For almost three hours, we stared at a burnt rendering of his Chicago childhood home – which was also recreated for last year’s ‘Donda’ listening parties in Atlanta and Chicago – stilted on an-all black platform brimming with water. Billows of smoke made the scene look even more harrowing.
Still, fans conversed on their interpretation of the charred home and what would be different this time around. Some, coalescing around this show, assumed that Ye would surprise listeners with a divergent sound unlike anything that’s currently being heard. Most of this speculation emerged from the fact that the album was ensconced in mystery: Ye had announced he would only be releasing ‘Donda 2’ on the Stem Player, the device that he debuted around the first ‘Donda’. So far, he’s made over $2 million in sales on the device – although the album has yet to drop.
“This is history in the making,” yelled one concertgoer into the abyss of the stadium.
“I think this show is going to be amazing,” added Avry, 25, who was sitting next to me with a group of friends. “He’s the GOAT and his marketing strategy is ingenious.”
Whether or not the ‘Jeen-Yuhs’ producer would actually provide the type of music that would blow minds was still up for debate. I did not have high expectations, but caught in between devoted fans whose excitement, became more and more palpable throughout the night. I began to wonder: what if this album was different to – and more coherent than – its predecessor?
A rhythmic thudding soon began to reverberate throughout the arena. I hadn’t noticed the heartbeat sound until it began to swell the stadium with excitement and anticipation. Over two hours after the advertised 8PM start time, a visual of a heart symbol, which appeared on his Stem Player website and during a livestream of the show, signified that Ye was about to arrive.
Almost half-an-hour later, at 10:45, the stadium went black and Ye’s childhood home ignited into flames as the first song belted into the stadium. Blasting speakers drowned out most of the vocals on the track tentatively titled ‘True Love’, featuring late Florida artist XXXTentacion. The melodic hook was captivating and grounded the song, as Ye emerged dressed in his uniform of black Balenciaga croc boots, jeans and a shiny black puffer coat.
Stomping the water and dancing in front of the house as a simulation of Pluto burned as the backdrop, Ye stayed mostly in one spot throughout the night, pantomiming his songs like he was doing karaoke with friends instead of performing projects he had poured time and energy into. What Ye lacked in movement, his Sunday Service Choir made up for.
Donning Squid Games-like black costumes and masks, they flowed onto the scene, criss-crossing and marching the perimeter of the stage until they all lined up in rows in front of Ye and the burning house. They eased the erratic energy of the show when they sang the religious testament ‘Jesus Is Lord’ and the prayer ‘Requiem Aeternam’; their symphonic voices filled all directions of the arena with a sombre tone, as if the crowd had entered a funeral procession. It was a beautiful reckoning of death and life, burial and resurrection.
Besides the choir’s performances, Ye revealed a lineup of surprise guests – some new and some a re-collabs – like Jack Harlow on ‘Louie Bags’, a track paying homage to Ye’s late friend and Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Virgil Abloh (“I stopped buying Louis bags after Virgil passed”). He invited Pusha T to perform his latest Ye-produced single ‘Diet Coke’, while Migos and Future traded bars with Ye over trap and bass heavy tracks. DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, the two controversial figures (the latter has been accused of psychological and sexual abuse, which he denies) who appeared on the initial ‘Donda’ album and during the Chicago listening party, re-joined him for their performance of the first album’s ‘Jail pt 2’.
Future, an executive producer on the album, appeared on multiple songs, including ‘Pablo’ featuring Travis Scott – the first time the rapper put out new music since his deadly Astroworld concert – and ‘Do I Look Happy?’.
And of course there was more controversy to come. In the past few weeks, Ye and his former wife, Kim Kardashian, have been embroiled in a bitter online back-and-forth (things went too far when he took aim at comedian Pete Davidson, Kim’s current boyfriend). He sampled Kim’s words referring to him as “the greatest rapper of all time” and “richest black man in America” on ‘Sci Fi’ and kept the line “God saved me from that crash / Just so I can beat Pete Davidson’s ass on ‘Eazy’, his preciously released song with The Game.
As well as unveiling new material, he integrated songs from ‘Donda’ into the performance: the crowd roared along with instrumentals to ‘Hurricane’ featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby – which marked the transition between sets – and the TikTok-viral track ‘Praise God’,” which includes a sample of a speech from mother and features Baby Keem and Scott. These moments sent a jolt of energy into the stadium.
“Ye pantomimed his songs like he was doing karaoke”
Ye, Fivio Foreign and Alicia Keys proved an odd yet forceful trio on their performance of recentl single ‘City of Gods’; the song’s drill production is even more captivating in person. And then Ye closed out the show with yet another trio consisting of himself, Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, who performed ‘Donda’ track’ ‘Off the Grid’, a fast-paced banger steeped in Fivio’s drill influence.
Overall, this performance felt rushed and failed to distinguish ‘Donda 2’ from its predecessor. The songs seem like leftovers from the first studio sessions, instead of an actual sequel. The show ended abruptly after a blast of fire exploded into the sky, symbolizing the chaotic energy of the performance (motorcycles sped past Ye and the Sunday Choir further drowned out the sound).
After the show, some fans were also disappointed by what they witnessed at the Donda 2 experience.
“It was OK. The lighting and vocals should have been better,” said 30-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident Valerie B.. “There should have been a bigger screen. We couldn’t see any of the artists and only noticed them later on.”
“It sucked,” said 38-year-old Atlanta native Jay Dee. “He needs to be more interactive with his audience and stop acting like we don’t exist. All that darkness and he was just skipping in water. It wasn’t entertaining. It felt like a cult convention.”
Still, some fans made concessions for the manic show and thought he made progress since last year’s listening parties.
Brooke Russell, 33, flew to Miami from DC just to see how this show compared to one of the listening parties she attended in Atlanta last year: “This show was interesting. It had more moving parts and was theatrical.” When asked about her thoughts on purchasing the Stem Player to listen to ‘Donda 2’, she contemplated before replying: “I would strongly consider it.”