Hip-Hop

Five Takeaways From Kanye West's 'Donda' Listening Event at Chicago's Soldier Field

Kanye West
Jesse Lirola/BFA/Courtesy of DONDA*

Donda Listening Event on Aug.26, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The city of Chicago always transforms into a different place whenever Kanye West, now asking to be legally known as Ye, unveils his latest offerings to the droves of his most loyal supporters. This past Thursday (Aug. 26) was no different, as Yeezy and his colorful ensemble of artists performed the newest draft of his highly anticipated (and frequently delayed) album, DONDA, at Soldier Field

The third installment of his listening events -- which, like the others, was also livestreamed on Apple Music -- was a gloomier, gothic, and more elaborately detailed show. A replica of his childhood home on Southeast Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive was set on a big plot of dirt in the middle of the stadium, and served as was one of the major focal points of a vivid yet open-to-interpretation narrative. 

At first, walking into Soldier Field and witnessing the house in person while it was shrouded in darkness was a creepy experience. Still, it changed as Kanye, draped in all-black attire, delivered possibly the most energetic performance of the three listening sessions.

Like in Atlanta, Kanye performed the new version of the DONDA without saying a single word outside of his lyrics (which at times were barely audible over the amplified bass). However, Chicago received an eerier version with Kanye. His celebrity cohorts Marilyn Manson, Travis Scott, DaBaby, Don Toliver, Westside Gunn, and rising dancehall artist Shenseea sat on the porch of his late mother Donda West's old home.

Behind him on the large screen appeared to be a news channel that played the show's footage behind a border that showed various Bible verses throughout. While the show started about 45 minutes later than the announced 10 p.m. time, Yeezy did not waste a second, as he took fans on a rollercoaster of emotions between somber and celebratory with every song. 

The whole show felt like a ceremony of epic proportions that came off as either a dramatic funeral, a symbolistic rebirth, and possibly one of the most unorthodox renewals of vows that over 30,000 people witnessed at the stadium. 

Here are five standout moments from the third DONDA listening session.

1. The album has been drastically changed

Though fans expected a series of changes on the album, many fans were surprised by the latest updates. The verses from Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Jay Electronica, and The Lox did not appear on the new version of DONDA, while DaBaby served as a new addition. There were also times where the audio was rough, and the bass overpowered the lyrics, making parts of Kanye's words inaudible depending on where you were in the stadium. Most of the album comes off a much more somber, gloomier version of the Grammy-winning album Jesus Is King, as he's singing most of the time. And with the help of the gaudy visual effects, fans were captivated at this more extensive narrative -- but disappointed at the removal of Hov's verse.

2. Kanye's usage of Bible verses and other elements of Christianity

Atop, the replica of Kanye's childhood home bore a large cross in front of the massive audience that set the tone for the religious elements behind DONDA. Almost every song included the title of several Bible verses that alluded to God's strength, love, and light, such as Isaiah 41:10, James 2:14-26, and Romans 8:13. As mentioned earlier, the tone, production, and hooks are highly reminiscent of Jesus Is King, but with more hip-hop elements. The show also alluded to heaven, with a stuntman being lifted above Soldier Field, portraying Kanye's ascension into a CGI-rendered afterlife. 

3. Chicago Artist Rooga Performs "GD Anthem"

Kanye has been continuing the "Free Larry Hoover" campaign throughout the album cycle, but in Chicago, the birthplace of the Gangster Disciples, he went above and beyond. Midway through the performance, as the black brigade of people and vehicles circled the house, rising Chicago artist Rooga was brought out as a surprise guest to perform his celebratory hit "GD Anthem" in front of the packed-out stadium. Draped in all black, the blood cousin of the late FBG Duck performed the song amid a crew of the performers dressed in black, who bore the star of David -- the symbol of the notorious GDs -- on their vests.

4. Kanye Is Either Nearing the End or Being Reborn in Fire

As DONDA was nearing its conclusion and the large home remained enveloped in a white haze, a man tied up to a chair appeared on the screen. As one of the songs played, the fire began to cover the inside of the house. The man would be burned alive in the chair with a combination of flames, flares, and lights covering the home. Kanye would then come out of the house, burning alive in a fireproof suit with a crew putting him right out. Considering the black trucks and hearses circling the home, it could be possible that the burning of the house and Kanye himself may symbolize the end of something. Or possibly, the beginning of something or someone reborn.

5. Kim Kardashian-West and 'Ye reunite

One of the biggest surprises of the evening was the arrival of the recently divorced Kim Kardashian-West, who appeared on stage in a white wedding dress with a translucent veil covering her whole face. As the two approached each other, they kindly embraced each other and walked away together with the Black ensemble. Could this mean that the two have renewed their vows? Either way, it was one of the most heartwarming moments of the show.