After five weeks, four official public listening sessions, and many words of speculation from the media, Kanye West finally released his “Donda” album to streaming services on Sunday morning. it’s unclear when the album was actually posted, but a handout from West’s label, Def Jam, received around 8:15 a.m. ET. The album’s time of arrival coincides thematically with West’s church-like “Sunday Service” performances from recent years.
The album, which is almost two hours long in its released version, changed dramatically over the course of the listening events — one in Las Vegas, two in Atlanta on July 23 and Transfiguration, and last Thursday in Chicago — with drastically different running orders and song selections and featured vocalists. Jay-Z, the Weeknd, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Pusha T, the late Pop Smoke, Baby Keem, Jay Electronica, Kid Cudi, The Lox, and lots of others appeared on its various incarnations. However, during the third and most up-to-date event, Jay-Z’s fiery verses on “Jail” were replaced by new verses by DaBaby — setting off a firestorm of shock online — and a number of other popular verses were dropped. However, the released version reinstates Jay-Z’s appearance and other popular, previously deleted ones by Kid Cudi and therefore the Lox.
The Weeknd’s verse also appears; frequent West collaborator Mike Dean is credited on several cuts; and veteran producers Swizz Beatz and Gesaffelstein also receive credits on the eight-minute “Jesus Lord,” one among the foremost memorable songs from the listening sessions. 88-Keys, BoogzdaBeast, and Jeff Bhasker receive production credits on other songs.
However, “Jail” also features a credit for Brian Warner, a.k.a. Marilyn Manson, who made a controversial appearance onstage during Thursday’s event. Between DaBaby, who was effectively proclaimed himself a homophobe together with his public comments, and accused convict Manson, West was widely accused of trolling the general public, among other things, after Thursday’s event.
Curiously, at the time of the album’s release, a “Jail Pt. 2” that apparently credits DaBaby by his real name, Jonathan Kirk, appeared on the Spotify tracklist but was blacked out and will not be played, which usually happens when the song has not been cleared legally for play by the streaming service thanks to a copyright conflict or some similar complication. However, the song became playable by 10 a.m. PT.
The album’s release also staves off a “release-date battle” with Drake that some had speculated might happen, given the recent social-media sparring between the 2 and therefore the apparently imminent release of the Canadian rapper’s long-awaited “Certified Lover Boy” album — a battle that West almost certainly would have lost, given the extensive “Donda” previews and his audience-polarizing behavior in recent years.
It is also possible that this officially released version of the album isn’t necessarily final: West continued to remix and re-record elements of his 2016 “Life of Pablo” album for weeks after it had been posted on streaming services.