ATLANTA – A lone figure clad in reddish-orange walked slowly across the floor of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the words “We gonna be OK, we gonna be OK” intoning repeatedly over swelling organ chords in a sonic blast.
A haze of smoke pumped from machines stationed around the stadium floor, making the tiny figure even more difficult to discern.
As the venue lights dropped, a dim white light shone on Kanye West – who sometimes paced in a circle, sometimes trotted a few steps – as songs unfurled around him, the light contracting and expanding in various shapes.
And about 48 minutes later, he was gone.
On Thursday night in downtown Atlanta, West presented the official unveiling of “Donda,” his long-awaited, oft-delayed 10th album, to a crowd of about 42,000 – a sellout for the event’s configuration. The album arrives Friday.
West was, expectedly, late to his own party, finally appearing at 9:50 p.m. (start time was billed for 8 p.m.); the listening party was also streamed live on Apple Music.
Fans, who paid $20-$100 to attend, might have expected some semblance of excitement.
Or perhaps a few words from West.
Or…something…anything to make this night feel special?
But instead they were presented with the new material, played very loudly over stadium speakers, as the light on the venue floor gradually expanded to a full rectangle that briefly flickered with a mysterious image.
The album is named after West’s mother, Donda, who died in 2007 at age 58 and is present on the album in a recorded speech introducing a song.
West’s last release, 2019’s “Jesus is King,” marked a stylistic shift for the mercurial rapper, who stocked it with church organs and choirs and lyrics that interpolated Bible verses and Christian hymns.
A few songs from “Donda” indicated West might have returned to that motif with lyrics about “snakes and money pits” and “the holy fountain, holy water.”
The song, “God Breathed on This,” which West released earlier in the week, repeated the title in between verses obscured by Auto-Tune before shifting into choral sounds. And, in a callback to his September claim that he is “the new Moses,” one thumping song continually referenced his preferred title.
But any religious bent was occasional, as most of the songs blended into a pastiche of distorted sound with no true delineation where one stopped and another started. Heavy piano chords banged repeatedly over one track, while fuzzy guitar clamored on another.
Several tunes included spoken word segues, including one from poet Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward (Among Them Nora and Henry III).” (“Even if you are not ready for day, it cannot always be night.”)
Through it all, West occasionally stopped to raise his hands overhead or pitch forward in a kneeling stance. It appeared that his roaming the stadium floor had no purpose.
Except, perhaps, in his own mind.