Live concert review: Kanye Wests releases “Donda 2”
The elaborate reveal of Kanye West’s latest album, Wave 2, was streamed live online and in IMAX theaters last night, and listeners’ enjoyment seems to correlate directly to their proximity to LoanDepot Park in Miami, where the event took place. If the reactions online are to be believed, the sound issues that plagued the “Donda Experience Performance” left even the most ardent Yeezy acolytes feeling frustrated and disappointed.
But for those who were there in person, last night’s show offered more than enough spectacle that audio duds – if not Marilyn Manson’s appearance or questionable sample picks – could be forgiven.
2 is the latest in a long line of West albums to be released via a semi-live concert component before being properly released. It’s a ritual that dates back to 2016 when the hip-hop iconoclast invited audiences to Madison Square Garden and theaters to listen to an unfinished version of Pablo’s life. But where that gathering was decidedly minimal, a testament perhaps to Kanye’s long-standing aesthetic affinities, yesterday’s event unfolded with the pattern set by the multiple Donda listening parties of the past year. and offered images worthy of West’s greatness.
Once the doors opened at 8 p.m., the public was greeted in their seats with the sight of a burnt-out building set in a reflecting pool of water. The structure, a recreation of West’s childhood home, quickly became part of the artist’s visual canon, having featured prominently in Donda’s final viewing party and the first episode of the Jeen Yuhs documentary series on Netflix.
Over the course of two and a half hours, the stadium gradually filled with the sound of a bass-heavy heartbeat, accompanied by performers wearing motorcycle helmets and all-black outfits. Soon the lights were extinguished, an explosion of palpable heat erupted, and the show was on.
West emerged on stage as his fake house began to burn, flames and smoke billowing from its windows. It didn’t take long for the central theme of 2, the rapper’s estrangement from his wife Kim Kardashian, to be felt. Accompanied by a chorus sung by the late XXXTentacion, the show’s opener “True Love” saw West expound on his feelings about being estranged from his kids (“Wait, when will you see the kids? / I see you all tomorrow / Wait, when the sun goes down? I see you all tomorrow / Wait, when I get them back, I feel like they borrowed / When I gotta return them, scan them like a code bars”).
Based on everything that played last night – most of which was pre-recorded and mimed by West and his guests – 2 is explicitly an act of divorce. Its lyrics and production are a marked departure from last year’s Donda, with the wistful, negative space of its predecessor now filled with rage-filled rants and more aggressive drumming. 2 is outspoken, confrontational and has a vicious side.
“Security” – which could end up being the album’s opener according to a tracklist posted on Instagram by West – appears to be making not-so-veiled threats against Pete Davidson, while “Sci-Fi reuses a monologue from Kardashian’s Saturday Night Live (“I married the greatest rapper ever / Not only that, he’s the richest black man in America”) for his own purposes.
West’s airing of grievances had great star power behind it. Among others, he was joined on stage by Playboi Carti, The Game, Jack Harlow, Alicia Keys, Migos and Pusha T, the latter’s “Diet Coke” proving to be a highlight of the concert. As West and his team strutted around the reflecting pool, a striking image on its own, the scenery continually evolved around them. The ersatz house was cut in half mid-show to reveal blinding celestial light emanating from within, while a few of the motorcyclists eventually cycled through the area before handing the stage over to the Sunday Service Choir for a powerful interpretation of “Jesus Is King”. ”
The show’s most uncomfortable moment also heralded its biggest issues. After 16 songs drawn largely from Wave 2, the final leg of the evening was dipped into selections from its predecessor, including “Jail pt 2”. The song features controversial artists Da Baby and Marilyn Manson, who both joined West on stage. The entrance from the shock rocker – who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women – drew notable groans from an audience that had otherwise tolerated whatever West threw at them.
From there, several audio issues began to pile on top of each other: “Heaven and Hell” was abruptly cut off after its 20th Century Steel Band sampling intro, “Praise God”‘s bass reached deafening levels, and what should have been the triumphant appearances of the series’ final guests – Playboy Carti, Fivio Foreign and Alicia Keys – were instead marred by landmark issues.
With the scale of the show in full view, these snags ultimately proved less distracting to its Miami crowd than online viewers. But beyond the medium through which the “Donda Experience Performance” has been viewed, the final measure of its success ultimately rests on listeners’ tolerance for West two decades into his career – is the abrasiveness of 2 just the latest example of an artist speaking their individual truth, or an uncomfortably private issue being aired into a public sphere? Now that the album’s promised release date of 2/22/22 has passed with no records to show, the answer may have to wait until the next listening party.