We’ve heard a lot about Kanye this year, from his high profile split from Kim Kardashian to a new romance with Irina Shayk and Netflix reportedly paying $30 million for the rights to a documentary full of 21 years worth of unseen footage, but we haven’t heard from Kanye for quite some time. I’m guessing he intentionally took some time away after the failed presidential bid that further strained his already rocky relationship with the Black community. Regardless, he returned this week with new music, which he previewed at a listening party inside Mercedes Benz Stadium last night.
Our first sample of the new album came during Tuesday’s NBA championship game, when a snippet of Kanye’s new song “No Child Left Behind” appeared in a Beats by Dre ad staring Sha'Carri Richardson. Sha’Carri became a household name after earning the title of fastest woman in America last month. Shortly after she was disqualified from competing at the Tokyo Olympics after drug test found marijuana in her system. Because the news created a wave of support from Black Twitter (and people around the world), part of me thinks Kanye is aligning himself with someone who’s really favoured by the Black community right now to try and get back in their good graces, you know, after “slavery was a choice” and other offences. On the other hand, after Sha’Carri’s disqualification from the Olympics, she revealed she’d been using marijuana to help her cope with the sudden death of her biological mother — news that was delivered to her by a reporter a few days before US Olympic trials began. So it does make sense for Kanye, who’s been open about grappling with the loss of his own mother Donda (who the new album is named after), to see himself in Sha’Carri or at least want to collab with her.
Last night, Kanye traded in his recent creative home of Wyoming to descend on Atlanta, America’s Black Mecca, for a listening party livestream with thousands of fans where his MAGA hat was nowhere in sight, but his estranged wife was spotted. Kim Kardashian was in attendance along with their four children when Kanye fell to his knees while performing the track “Love Unconditionally” without a mic in the centre of the building. Kanye can reportedly be heard on the track repeating “I'm losing my family / I'm losing my family / I'm losing my family” through tears. The song also features audio of his late mother saying, “No matter what you never abandon your family”. Is that kind of performance in front of your children a little bit much or is he modelling healthy expression of emotions? E! News is reporting Kim “gave her input” for the track and Kanye is trying hard to keep the family unit together despite their divorce. Apparently, now that they’re moving into a friendship space and focused on coparenting, things are great between them and Kim’s feeling a lot less pressure.
Another reunion of sorts from the listening party was Ye and Jay-Z, who’s just as glad as we are that the MAGA hat is in the trash (hopefully). “Told him stop all of that red cap, we going home / Not be with all of that sin, cast the stone / This might be the return of The Throne”, Jay raps on a surprise verse on the album’s closing track, making a reference to their 2011 collaborative album Watch The Throne. The two have been estranged the past few years now, but this must be a sign they’ve made amends or at least that they’re finally starting to work through it? According to Jay-Z’s longtime engineer, who worked on Watch The Throne, Jay recorded this verse yesterday at 4PM, just a few hours before the world heard it.
Despite the livestreamed listening party the album has yet to appear on streaming services (as of this writing), but Kanye’s notorious for making last minute adjustments up to (and past) the last minute. I can relate. Big Gemini energy. But it’s refreshing to have a Kanye album rollout that doesn’t include him saying something offensive. Whether he believes these offensive things or he’s just doing them to bring attention to his music, the jury’s still out. But either way they’re damaging. Could Kanye’s new era be the return of him speaking primarily through his art and gaining back some respect as the musical genius he is. Maybe? Maybe…