Fans gather at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Kanye West listening party

The rapper-producer offered a preview of his unreleased album ‘Donda.’
Kanye West appears on a white field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to preview his upcoming album "Donda."

Credit: Courtesy of Apple Music

Credit: Courtesy of Apple Music

Kanye West appears on a white field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to preview his upcoming album "Donda."

It didn’t seem like much to look at, at first glance, Thursday night in Atlanta, but Kanye West proved that he’s arguably one of the biggest draws across popular music.

West, the recipient of more than 20 Grammy Awards, hosted a listening party for his 10th studio LP, “Donda,” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before 40,000 fans. The album is named for his educator mother, who died in 2007 from plastic surgery complications at age 58.

The controversial Atlanta-born, Chicago-raised recording artist hit the foggy white field, which resembled snow, in solitude. He played some of the album’s tracks — tunes filled with church organs, some rock guitar and heavy on the spitfire bars — through the stadium’s speaker system. The event was livestreamed on Apple Music.

West took his time before making his appearance, and barely uttered a word before the crowd. He was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. but made his entrance roughly 90 minutes later.

Throughout the barely hour-long event, a spotlight shone on West, dressed in a scarlet red outfit and orange sneakers. The light morphed into various geometric shapes but never once left his silhouette.

The rapper and producer either paced the entire field or kneeled, prayer-like, as his boombastic playlist, mixed and engineered by his longtime musical director Mike Dean, filled the stadium. Short films were also projected onto the blank field.

And the sound was impeccable. Lighters and cellphone cameras from the crowd illuminated the minimal stage, giving the room a tranquil vibe that put the focus on the man of the hour and his music.

“It was a unique experience,” Clark Atlanta graduate Derrian Carter said. “I thought he would’ve said something to the crowd or performed songs with a band, but he gave and offered a different listening experience.”

Tickets went on sale at 5 p.m. on July 19 on Ticketmaster’s website. Selling out instantly, the original prices were $20 and $50 each. Reseller tickets were going for $90 and up by the following day.

“Donda,” West’s first studio effort since 2019′s “Jesus is King,” was recorded during a creative stretch, pre-pandemic, on a farm in Cody, Wyoming.

The “Donda” listening party was officially announced following a cryptic post, including diagonal font, on Instagram on Monday from rapper Pusha T and a Beats by Dre earbud commercial featuring track-and-field standout Sha’Carri Richardson backed by one of the album tracks, “No Child Left Behind,” on Tuesday during game six of the NBA Finals.

“Donda” tentatively features guest appearances by Jay Z, Lil’ Baby, Travis Scott, Playboi Carti, Roddy Ricch, Pop Smoke and Lil Durk. Songs on “Donda” are preceded by and interspersed with spoken word vignettes.

Leading up to the big event, West has shared numerous posts to his reinstated Instagram page, including one where his back faces the camera while he wears a customized Atlanta Falcons jersey, emblazoned with his mother’s name, in front of a whiteboard with a list of song titles. Twitter posts show a fully masked West seated at a table by his iPhone and legal pads, and him catching vibes with musical director Dean playing snippets of the songs.

West gave back to the Atlanta community leading up to showtime. West donated more than 5,000 tickets to faculty, staff and students that attend Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College and Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC).

Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan restaurateur and philanthropist Pinky Cole also gave out 1,000 tickets in exchange for school supplies for back-to-school drives at any of her locations.

Last Saturday, a fully head-covered West made a surprise courtside appearance at multi-hyphenated entertainer Ice Cube’s BIG3 league basketball games in Las Vegas. Later that evening, West treated an intimate group, including Revolt TV’s “Respectfully Justin” host Justin Laboy and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant to a private listening session of “Donda.”

“Kanye West album is really done,” Laboy also tweets. “When it drops this week, we probably not going to listen to anything else for a while.”

But not everyone was supportive of West’s return to the stage. The Twitterverse reminded audiences of his past wearing the red MAGA cap and expressing support for former President Donald Trump. He made additional headlines after TMZ reported comments by West alleging that slavery was a choice.

Criticism aside and the love-hate relationship West’s fans and followers have with him, the “Donda” experience is a potpourri of beats and spiritual overtones that held the captivated audience’s attention.

West might be polarizing and complex, but filling that stadium for a pop-up album preview indicates that the megastar knows the power of doing more with less.