We revisit some of Kanye's more convoluted album rollouts in anticipation of "DONDA."
In recent years, Kanye West has defied the conventional album rollout. Even when he's announced album release dates in the past, there wasn’t much certainty that an album would actually come out, and fans have since been conditioned to take anything he says about an upcoming album with a grain of salt.
Starting with albums like The Life of Pablo, Kanye would share tracklists on Twitter that would look nothing like the final song sequencing, with records placed in a different order. He would tweak the mixing and mastering issues on albums after they were released, leaving fans to wonder whether they were actually hearing the “final'' versions of his records. Suffice to say, building excitement for new Kanye music can be a slippery slope.
Fans are finding themselves in familiar territory once again with another album on the way at midnight, tonight. But this time, DONDA, his tenth studio album, is getting the red carpet rollout treatment – multiple listening parties, a Beats By Dre ad featuring Sha’Carri Richardson and a Def Jam press release. No falsely promised release dates, no social media controversy surrounding its release, just a uniform label rollout for the album.
So, with this recent shift in arrangement for the Chicago artist, let’s take a look at some of his more chaotically-planned, hecticly-executed album rollouts, to see how they upended what fans expect when it comes to Yeezy Season; and why it feels so shocking that DONDA is getting the traditional rollout treatment.
The Life of Pablo (2016)
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Kanye’s history of album rollout chaos began with The Life of Pablo. Undergoing several title changes from So Help Me God to Waves, West’s seventh studio album took on a very fluid existence as fans on now defunct forums like Kanye To The scrambled to post crumbs of information about the record leading up to its February release. At the time an active participant on Twitter, Kanye posted numerous updates regarding TLOP, from evolving tracklists to who would appear on the album as features.
And before fans even knew the release date, they got a solid idea of what the majority of the album sounded like when Ye premiered an early version of it at his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show on February 11th, 2016. Days later following his performances on Saturday Night Live, he urgently blurted out that the album was now available on streaming, which was semi-true as it was released exclusively on TIDAL at first. In the months following its February 14th release and TIDAL exclusivity, West continued to make additional changes to the record, updating an original version of “Wolves” to include rattling drums and features from Sia and Vic Mensa, along with general mixing and lyric changes throughout. The record’s most “final” form – mixing and mastering updates included – was released onto the other streaming services on April 1st, capping off an anarchy-laden rollout for West’s seventh album.
Turbo Grafx 16 (2016)
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Two weeks following the release of TLOP and the warm reception it received from both critics and fans, Kanye excitingly tweeted news of another album due for the summer of that year called Turbo Grafx 16, and left it at that.
"Just on some super nerd vibes… one of my favorite gaming systems when I was a kid…," West tweeted in a now-deleted series of tweets about the canned album.
Named after an old video game system that he loved to play during his childhood days, the record never materialized, although leaks from that era of recording for it exist on the Internet, as well as possible tracklists. Combined with TLOP’s messy rollout earlier in the year, the scrapped album further fueled fans’ distrust of Kanye’s Twitter promises for new records, and future teases only echoed his unreliability regarding the release of his own music.
Ye / Kids See Ghosts (2018)
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As part of a series of albums recorded during the “Wyoming Sessions,” Ye and Kids See Ghosts saw fairly normal rollouts compared to the hysteria surrounding TLOP two years prior. West announced in early 2018 that a string of GOOD Music albums were on the way and the plan was pretty much carried out – Pusha T’s Daytona released first in late May, then Ye, his eighth studio album, and KSG, his collaboration project with Kid Cudi, came in back-to-back weeks in early June. The “Wyoming Sessions” releases were capped off with Nas’ NASIR and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E., all executive produced by Kanye.
Listening parties for these albums went viral before the albums dropped, giving fans a taste of what they’d be getting. Although, because all of the albums included in this string of releases had the uniform theme of a seven-song tracklist, therefore having shorter runtimes, singles did not precede either Ye or Kids See Ghosts. Fans heard both records for the first time either through the livestream listening parties, or once they dropped on streaming services. Both recordshad slightly rocky releases onto streaming platforms however, coming a few hours after the typical midnight release time for Friday drops, but they were minor issues compared to TLOP’s rollout.
Jesus Is King / Yandhi (2018-19)
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Fans were expecting Yandhi for the longest time following the successful releases of the “Wyoming Sessions” albums in 2018. West announced the album in the fall of 2018 and visited publications like The Fader to preview the new music, which included vocals from artists like Ty Dolla $ign and XXXtentacion. Appearing on Saturday Night Live in September of that year, West donned a “Make America Great Again” hat the entire time in support of then President Donald Trump, much to the dismay of the SNL cast and production crew and causing external controversy for his choices. Both Kanye and Kim Kardashian West announced different release dates for Yandhi following SNL, but the album never actually materialized. A couple months later in November following a Kids See Ghosts performance with Cudi at Camp Flog Gnaw, Kanye tweeted that a release date would be announced when the album is finished – but that never came either.
Coming down from the heightened controversy and media attention on West throughout late 2018 and most of 2019, he debuted the Sunday Service Choir on January 6, 2019, a gospel group that he would perform with every Sunday throughout the year, doing renditions of songs throughout his discography. In late August, Kim posted on Instagram that Jesus Is King, Kanye’s ninth studio album, would release in September 2019. The album, a heavily Christian-focused hip-hop gospel album, missed that release date with no explanation from Kim or Kanye, and was previewed at listening parties across the country throughout October, before finally releasing onto streaming services at 4:30am on October 25th, capping off another unconventional album rollout for Ye.
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Initially announced last summer during a barrage of tweets, Kanye shared as much as a tracklist, a release date and the initial album cover for a project titled DONDA. Knowing full well that he has come up short on album promises in the past, fans learned their lesson and didn’t necessarily expect an album to drop. According to Kanye’s initial announcement – which is now officially one year old – the record’s release date would’ve been July 24, 2020. That day came and went with no album, and fans were left waiting once again.
Fast forward a year, and the hype for DONDA seems to have come out of nowhere, starting with a private listening party that took place this past weekend in Las Vegas. Personal accounts from the event confirmed that an album’s worth of new material was played, and celebrities like NBA star Kevin Durant heard the record personally from Kanye himself. Attendees of the first DONDA listening party in Las Vegas said he was masked and did not speak the entire time. He’s been equally silent on social media regarding the album, outside of a couple captionless posts on Instagram.
With the Friday release date imminent, it seems Mr. West is content with letting DONDA speak for itself. Def Jam tweeted a press statement confirming the album’s existence and release date to assure fans that it’s actually coming, while a Sha’Carri Richardson Beats By Dre advertisement previewed a new song, “No Child Left Behind,” which is expected to appear on the album, all with very little to no publicly-facing involvement from Kanye.
Here’s hoping that, after years of false promises on albums and release dates, Kanye will be able to deliver us DONDA tonight. Are you excited for DONDA? What are your expectations for the album? Let us know in the comments.