Kanye West's Donda Listening Party Could've Only Happened In Atlanta

Kanye West's Donda Listening Party Could've Only Happened In Atlanta

By Neima Abdulahi

Kanye West’s choice to host the Donda album listening party in Atlanta, which he did in front of thousands at the city’s massive Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday, July 22, was spiritually symbolic in several ways. Because the artist unveiled his first album since 2019’s pair of gospel LPs, the incalculable story became clear: of Kanye and why the Black Mecca is piece of his identity, although his brand is synonymous with Chicago where he grew up.

The 44-year-old rapper and organization mogul was place on Earth in Atlanta, house of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And his late mother, Donda West, while in her most transformative years. The city is where she earned a master’s degree from Atlanta University, the historically Black college that was later renamed Clark Atlanta University in 1988. Donda launched her teaching career at Morris Brown College, a HBCU located in the heart of Atlanta in close proximity to the iconic Morehouse and Spelman colleges.

Her lifelong commitment was to increase literacy and reduce the dropout rates of Black youth in marginalized communities. It’s no surprise, then, that her son reserved thousands of tickets for HBCU students to attend the event for free. Kanye’s return to Atlanta is an intentional homecoming to pay homage to his mother’s legacy in the city where his life started.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a seating capacity of 71,000. The venue sold out in far less than a week for the listening party. It attracted a group reflective of hip-hop’s wide reach — fans from all diverse backgrounds and age groups who wanted to get a glimpse into his 10th studio album. While in the listening party, Donda’s relaxing voice — through the audio captured before her 2007 death — played between countless tracks, intricately woven into the album as a theme of her legacy.

Kanye, often overly extravagant in his artsy vision, left all gimmicks and special appearances out of the main stage, which was left bare and white as snow. He even covered his face while in the show. This was art in its simplest form, something that each person in the audience didn’t latch on to. Nevertheless the die-hard Yeezy fans embraced every track like a sermon. For 48 minutes, he had the stadium’s full attention.

As he played by way of the album’s runtime, Kanye roamed around the stage, lost in the music and submissive to the melodic tunes. This was about Donda. This was about the therapeutic capabilities of music. He got down on both knees and caressed the ground with his forehead numerous times while in the event. Perhaps he was connecting with something bigger than just the music. Perhaps that was his moment with Donda. If heaven had a landline, he would never hang up. And in the last few years, Kanye has launched the Sunday Service series, spiritually displaying how prayer is his greatest wireless plan to connect with his mother.

the opening track that played was titled “24.” (Song titles have however to be officially reported, nevertheless a widely circulated tracklist has.) The harmonic chant “we gon’ be OK” repeated over and over again, demanding entrance into the muscle memory of the audience. It was like every cell phone had the flashlight turned on, which put together a riveting firefly effect while in the stadium. An audio clip of Donda played immediately following the initial song. Her first sentence was, “It feels good to be home.” At this very moment, Atlanta made sense: her beloved residence where she tapped into her love for Black Excellence and helped mobilize with the civil rights movement. Donda went on to mention, “You know, I am my son’s mother.” This is her way of taking credit for Kanye’s outspoken voice. She raised him to be unapologetically himself and to fearlessly speak his mind with audacity.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Universal Music Group
In sort to truly understand what this album resembles, one must understand how the absence of Donda drastically impacted Kanye’s life, from mental health to his family member life. While in his music career, he rapped about his dear mother, mentioning her in every single album in some capacity:

“Hey mama, I wanna scream so loud for you / ‘Cause I’m so overjoyed of you.” (2005’s "Hey Mama")

“My mama couldn't get through to me” (2007’s "Can’t Tell Me Nothing")

“I told my mama I was on the come-up.” (2011’s "Made In America")

“My mama was raised in the era as soon as tidy water was only served to the fairer skin” (2013’s "New Slaves")
The Donda album is his way of paying tribute to her in an entire project, behind just several bars scattered while in his entire catalogue.

The song “Junya” featuring Playboi Carti transmitted an electrifying heavy bass into the stadium. The energy of this track was reminiscent of his innovative chapter soon following the Graduation album in ‘07-’08, whenever he began to experiment with different sounds that rebranded his creativity in back of the restrictions of what was traditionally believed hip-hop.

In the fourth verse to the song, Kanye rapped about his beloved birth home: “Born in Atlanta, not Montana. Excuse my manners. I got standards.” This was followed by a powerful reading of the iconic poem written by Chicago’s very own Gwendolyn Brooks, which commanded the audience’s full attention: “Say to the down-keepers, the sun-slappers, the self-soilers, harmony-hushers… ‘Even in the event you are not ready for the day. It cannot habitually be night.’"

Kanye blessed the Atlanta crowd with an anticipated Lil Baby feature throughout the show. The 26-year-old Atlanta rapper kicked off the reflective track rhyming about the scars he inherited from society: “Early morning. Brainstorming. Normally, I can’t sleep in. Some days I just aspire to restart, although it all deepens.” Lil Baby’s feature is the ultimate homage to Atlanta’s hip-hop community, a city that still feels like, as André 3000 said at the 1995 Source Awards, “The South got something to say.”

Kanye went on to play features with Lil Durk, Roddy Ricch, and the late Pop Smoke. The audience responded with back to back cheers of approval. The song “No Child Left Behind,” teased days before the listening party, sends a powerful message of resiliency. Kanye recruited elite track star Sha’Carri Richardson, who was recently disqualified from Olympic competition, for the song’s commercial throughout the NBA finals. Making her the front of the song shows the intersectionality between both of their personalized tribulations, as Richardson’s mother died a week before the Olympic trials.

the largest surprise of the night came at the very end of the show, any time Jay-Z hopped on the last track. Social media and the crowd blown up at this unexpected reunion. HOV addresses this in his verse, which his recording collaborator Young Guru tweeted was recorded just hours before: “This might be the return of The Throne,” a reference to their 2011 group effort album Watch The Throne. Could this mean a sequel? The moguls have not collaborated on a track since then, following multiple reports of a feud between them, something Jay generally seems to nod to as well, rapping, “I instructed him to stop all that red cap, we going home.”

In far less than 50 minutes, the show ended without grand indication that it was over. Kanye didn’t speak directly to the crowd while in the listening party. He didn’t bring out anyone to share the space with him. He didn’t hold a microphone to perform songs. Everything played by means of the speakers, like a normal listening party — except the venue was the hugest one in Atlanta.

If attendees came expecting the sort of generally extravagant Kanye show he’s known for, they could be sadly disappointed. If attendees came to witness his testimony, they would get a glimpse into Kanye’s vulnerability and journey of healing in real time.

“I told my mama I was on the come-up,” Kanye rapped on Watch the Throne’s “Made in America” back in 2011. Life immediately following the come-up hasn’t been easy for Kanye, especially right after losing his mother. Although with grief, you never truly move on. You just learn to move forward with the pain. Yeezy may be a world-renowned brand, although he only had one birth house — Atlanta. The Donda album is a step forward. It could’ve only been unveiled in the city where Donda herself brought him into the world.

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