Take Your Time, Kanye

Kanye West keeps missing release dates for 'Donda.' But he’s finally taking his time with an album again, and it’s getting better the longer he works on it.

Kanye West

Photo by Philey Sanneh. Courtesy of DONDA

Kanye West

Kanye West fans are stressed, to say the least.

It’s been 19 days since Kanye blew past the July 23 release date for his new album Donda, and five days since he missed the Aug. 6 make-up date. And if you count the first time he announced a Donda release date last summer, fans have now been waiting for over a year.

Morale is low, and fan pages are full of desperate comments. Stans are threatening to go on hunger strikes (as a joke, we hope), and Kanye collaborators like Malik Yusef even had to fend off information-hungry followers with a firm message: “Please stop with the demands. We are people working our ass off to help a homey with his product, Donda will release when he feels like it’s ready.”

Some of the frustration is understandable, especially when you remember all of the albums Kanye has announced but never actually released (Yandhi, TurboGrafx 16, and So Help Me God, to name a few). But lost in all the talk about delays is the most important part of this whole rollout: Kanye is finally taking his time with music again, and it appears he doesn’t want to rush out another unfinished album.

This hasn’t been the case with Kanye albums as of late. In 2018, he told The New York Times that he hadn’t written any of the lyrics for Ye until just eight days before its release. And when the album finally came out, it sounded noticeably unfinished—Kanye left some verses so raw that they ended up sounding like reference tracks. Ever since Yeezus, the prevailing narrative has been that Kanye is now too busy with other pursuits (like launching billion-dollar companies and building cities) to focus on music enough to make a great album again.

At first, it looked like Donda was going to be rushed, too. When Kanye played it at the initial listening session on July 22, it sounded incomplete. Some of the verses weren’t finished, the beats weren’t polished, and you could tell he was still figuring out how to sequence it. This time, though, Kanye didn’t rush to put it out the next day. He wisely pushed the release date back two weeks and literally moved into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to keep working on it.

If you complained about Ye being rushed, why would you also complain about Kanye taking the time he needs to properly finish an album now?

He had finally put himself in a position to fully concentrate on music again. We’ve heard stories of Kanye hiding away in places like Hawaii and Australia for weeks at a time while making albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne, and now he was doing it again in Atlanta (he even brought the studio rules back). It worked. When he played Donda again at the second Atlanta listening session, it was much better than it had been just 13 days before. The beats were fine-tuned, Kanye’s verses had been re-recorded and refined, new guest verses were added, and a handful of entirely new songs were tacked onto the tracklist. Even though it was longer than the version we’d heard before, the album sounded tighter and more polished. It was amazing to see how much he could accomplish in two weeks with minimal distractions. 

At this point, Donda’s release felt imminent. Kanye had put in two more weeks of work, and the album sounded much more finished than Ye ever did. 

Wrong. Kanye still wasn’t satisfied, so he went back to work.

That’s where we still stand today. Updates have been minimal since the Aug. 6 release date came and went, but collaborators like Yusef and KayCyy say Kanye needs a little more time to perfect the album, claiming greatness is on the way. Of course, this has done little to appease impatient fans, whose complaints grow louder by the day.

The release date complaints are shortsighted, though. If you complained about Ye being rushed, why would you also complain about Kanye taking the time he needs to properly finish an album now? The delays might actually be a sign of what many fans have been hoping for all along: a return to the “perfectionist” Kanye days, back when he meticulously constructed albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and labored over every detail until they were finished.

Kanye has said that his intention for MBDTF was to prove that he could make a “perfect” album, but after accomplishing that, he moved on to other goals. “I’m here to crack the pavement and make new grounds sonically and in society, culturally,” he said. In reality, that meant focusing his efforts on creating disruptive albums like Yeezus, and leaning into the imperfections of albums like TLOP and Ye. When I asked his cousin and close collaborator Tony Williams about the raw, unpolished feel of Ye, he told me it was the desired aesthetic.

“That was definitely intentional and by design,” he said. “The crudeness of it. It was definitely by design to take all the beautifulness of the production, then throw dirt and mud on it and scratch it up. It was definitely intentional.”

That sounds great in theory, but I always felt Ye would have sounded a lot better if Kanye had spent more time on it, and I know I’m not alone. So, now that it seems he might actually be willing to dedicate a proper amount of time to Donda, I’m willing to sit through additional delays. If it got that much better in two weeks (between the first Atlanta listening session and the second) I’ll happily wait a few more weeks, or however much time he needs. 

There’s a lot of talk about how “disposable” music is these days, and how artists rush to put out music that’s immediately forgotten. This seems like an opportunity to swing the opposite direction. Why not wait a little longer and be patient enough for an album to be made that will actually stand the test of time? (Just please don’t announce any more release dates, Kanye. That’s what’s causing a lot of these problems. People will be ready for it whenever it arrives at this point.)

Of course, it’s all a balancing act. If Kanye gives himself too much time, he could overthink things. Donda is a focus group album, getting played for stadiums full of people and undergoing rounds of adjustments based on feedback. And after the second listening session, his longtime audio engineer and producer Mike Dean logged onto a Kanye West fan Discord server and asked fans for their opinions on the album, polling them on their favorite version of “Hurricane.” Hours later, he checked back in about the poll results and “showed comments to Kanye” as they made last-minute decisions about the song. Public opinion has become an integral part of the creative process, and if Kanye goes too far down this feedback rabbit hole and rethinks his own decisions, the album could suffer.

For now, though, Donda is getting better the longer Kanye works on it, and everyone will be better off in the long run if he avoids the temptation to rush it because of impatient fans. He doesn’t risk much by waiting longer—the hype will survive, and people will listen whenever he decides to put it out. If he wants to put out another landmark, career-defining album that’ll help sway public opinion back in his favor, being patient with these finishing touches will be worth it. 

Take your time, Kanye.

Latest in Music