As different images of Kanye West’s late mother, Donda West, flashed across screens at Solider Field on Thursday night speakers filled the stadium with one word on repeat: “Donda. Donda. Donda.”
Initially scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., Chicago rapper Kanye West took the stage nearly two hours late for his listening party, which recreated his South Shore home. Standing beneath a replica of that home, which was topped with a cross, West was joined by Marilyn Manson, who’s currently facing multiple sexual assault charges, and DaBaby, who received backlash this summer for homophobic comments. Also there were some of West’s creative cohorts: Westside Gunn, Don Toliver and Travis Scott.
As for COVID-19 safety protocols, negative test results and proof of vaccination were not required, but there were vaccines available on-site.
The stadium, with a normal capacity of 63,000, was limited to around 38,000 fans due to COVID-19 protocols.
With the front porch serving as the home’s unofficial stage, fans watched from the stands as the rapper played his latest album “Donda,” which he recently finished while living in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Soldier Field, however, could be described as eerie. The artist stood beneath hues of blues and fog with a mask covering his face as he moved his body, saying nothing but the lyrics.
Surrounding the replica of West’s childhood home stood a wrap-around fence, where dancers dressed in SWAT-like gear moved in rhythm to the beats; sometimes posing, often dancing or running in circles around the home.
Each song offered a different variation of church melodies, with rap lyrics and phrases sung over soft church hymnals. Instead of lyrics to the new songs, West offered Bible verses, with about one or two per song.
That prompted someone in the crowd to say, “Guess we should’ve brought a Bible.”
As a song featuring the Weeknd began to play, Isaiah 41:10 appeared at the bottom of the screen: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” the scripture states.
The verses seem to go hand-in-hand with the lyrics they accompanied, collectively telling the story of West’s confusing, emotional road to redemption in an unlikely gospel concert.
As James 2:14-26 flashes on the screen, the lyrics “This one on Donda, on my momma I made a promise,” are heard in the background over a somber melody. The tempo quickly changes as a sampled version of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” is played. And for the first time, all night the crowd moves in unison, finally aware of how to react to the sound. Just as that comfort sets in, a new song begins as lyrics like “God’s got this,” “We’re gonna be okay,” and “I don’t wanna die alone,” play in the background.
With features from artists like Kid Cudi, Larry Hoover and many others, it’s clear West’s goal with this new album is to bridge the gap between mainstream music and spirituality as fans praised God, shouting “Hallelujah!” just moments after saying “Ayyye!” and bobbing their head to the beat.
This unlikely blend becomes a little more apparent as the song que reaches its end, and the church hymns become more present in each song. At one point the only sound was the chorus speaking in tongues, or spiritual supernatural language used in the church.
But that changed for the final song, as traditional wedding music played, and a figure draped in all white appeared and slowly walked across the Soldier Field floor. The woman beneath the sheet is believed to be West’s former partner, Kim Kardashian, as they recreated their wedding day.
Note: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly stated the location of Kanye West’s childhood home. The story has been updated.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.