When a newly divorced Donda West purchased a 1,600-square-foot home on South Shore Drive for $40,000 in 1981, the Chicago State University English professor did so out of sheer necessity. While raising a young Kanye West in a small apartment in the Roseland area of Chicago, she embarked on a nine week research-trip in India and let her boyfriend, Ulysses “Bucky” Blakeley, stay at her apartment. According to an interview with Bucky for the Chicago Tribune, when a strict landlord caught wind of an unknown tenant, he terminated her lease, forcing Donda and Kanye to move into Bucky’s small two-bedroom apartment in Evanston, Illinois. Donda had eyed the light blue house on South Shore Drive for some time but could not afford it by herself and did not want to put her new boyfriend in an uncomfortable financial position. However, Bucky was in love and he decided to purchase the home with Donda. 

Originally built in 1905, Donda renovated the home herself by replacing the windows, installing a new set of stairs, adding insulation, and more. For eight years, it was a safe haven for a young Kanye, who romantically remembers his crafty dog Genius, who routinely escaped from the backyard but always returned. He also reminisced on days spent biking straight from his backyard to Rainbow Beach Park nearby. After a group of kids slashed the tires on Kanye’s bike and attempted to steal it, Donda decided to move out of South Shore Drive for her son’s safety. Despite leaving, Donda writes in her memoir that she held onto the property because she was taught that owning a home was something she had to do. Although she sold it for $121,000 in 2003, the memories she made there laid in the foundation. 

“I didn’t know it, but South Shore, and especially South Shore Drive, where we lived, was considered ‘the shit,’ a prestigious area in a coveted part of town,” Donda wrote in her book Raising Kanye. “We were within walking distance of Lake Michigan and our backyard backed up to Rainbow Park. When Kanye talks about kneeling on the kitchen floor and says ‘‘Mama, I’m gonna love you ‘til you don’t hurt no more,’” he was referring to that house.”

Kanye West Chicago 'Donda' Listening Party Review
Image via Jesse Lirola/BFA courtesy of DONDA

In the middle of Soldier Field, a stadium on the Southside of Chicago where the Chicago Bears play, Kanye’s team recreated the house that Donda built on a mound of dirt and transformed it into a church outfitted with a cross on the roof. Burning candles surrounded the home, and once the flames went out, Kanye began his third listening party for Donda on Thursday night. The event started with images of Donda West flashing in a percussive rhythm on two gigantic stadium screens overhead. Candid photos of Donda next to Kanye at the Grammys, an image of Donda at a school graduation, a picture of her in front of the same house recreated on the field, and a portrait of her as a child. “Donda, Donda, Donda” rang through the audience’s ears like a hymn, while her visage illuminated the stadium floor, eventually morphing into a flying white dove that casted a ghostly shadow over the house. When her presence disappeared, Kanye began to deliver the sermon of Donda.

During the second Atlanta show, Kanye wore a spiky Balenciaga jacket from Demna’s apocalyptic Fall 2020 collection that many speculated was inspired by what the internet claims to be a Siberian bear hunting suit from the 19th century. Whatever the inspiration is, it’s a piece of outerwear that serves a foreboding function when paired with a bulletproof Donda vest, black cargo pants, and military boots. It made Kanye look like an impenetrable person you would never cross. Someone whose skin is so tough that any jab towards him, whether it be about his music, Kim Kardashian, or his clothes, don’t affect him. So when Ye approached the steps of his childhood home, he naturally looked more relaxed when opting for a leather Balenciaga jacket that was from the label’s Pre-Fall 2021 collection, along with leather motorcycle pants and a dad hat embroidered with flames. Again, Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s creative director, orchestrated the event. And like the last Donda listening party in Atlanta, Gvasalia’s penchant for religious dress codes and uniforms, became evident when a mob of dancers made a cultish circle around the stage again. This time every dancer was outfitted with black bulletproof Donda vests and masks. Throughout the show, several more circles formed, composed of Donda’s disciples, and a rally of black sedans, SUVs, and minivans. The ensemble began to look more like the world’s largest security detail surrounding Ye and his entourage on the porch of his house. 

Kanye West Chicago 'Donda' Listening Party Review
Image via Jesse Lirola/BFA courtesy of DONDA