In the throes of creating “Donda,” Kanye West’s tenth studio album, the rapper created the typical amount of chatter that surrounds his album releases. Over the years, West has become known for giving album release dates that he hasn’t kept, much to the frustration of his fans. But still, he always pulls in huge sales numbers whenever one of his projects comes out, which means a good portion of his fans don’t seem to mind the lateness. Plus, it appears that the delays only add more hype to West’s albums, which he could be totally aware of, perhaps even causing the delays on purpose.
One who wanted to contradict that theory could say the late releases solely have to do with West making last-minute changes. That would make sense, since he’s admitted to doing just that in the past. The Def Jam signee is also known for switching album titles at the last minute and making other abrupt changes that could contribute to the delays. But out of all the album rollouts, which are West’s most controversial? To answer that question, here’s a timeline of album releases for the artist who’s hardly ever debuted a record on time.
Kanye West had issues with release dates from the start
For those thinking that Kanye West’s albums not coming out on time is something new, think again. In a 2003 video, he told author and model Liris Crosse that he had no idea when his debut LP “The College Dropout” would be in stores. “It’s supposed to come out in July, but I don’t like to say ’cause it just keeps on getting pushed up,” he explained. “It might be coming out tomorrow…I don’t know.”
As it turned out, “The College Dropout” was released on February 10, 2004, and it immediately made the Chicago rapper a global superstar. But besides having problems with the release, West had to deal with other challenges surrounding the album.
In 2005, MTV reported that “The College Dropout” leaked online before coming out. That led West to rework some of the tracks. “Kanye was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to make the album better. I’ma put strings on some sh*t, have choirs come in. I’ma switch up verses. I’ma make the drums sound stronger,” his former collaborator, GLC, told MTV. “He went in and refined his whole album. At that point, a person usually panics. Kanye just redid sh*t.” Apparently, besides being called a talented rapper and producer, West is good at putting out fires.
Late Registration was an apt title for Kanye West's next album
Perhaps any hopes of Kanye West’s sophomore release arriving on time were doomed as soon as he used the word “Late” in the title. His LP “Late Registration,” called a “masterpiece” by Pitchfork, was supposed to be released on July 12, 2005, as RapTV points out. However, the album dropped a whopping 45 days later. It seems the delay happened for two reasons: One, West decided to remix the album’s lead single “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” a ridiculous 14 times — a number confirmed by Jay-Z, who’s on the remix, as told to New York DJ Angie Martinez (according to MTV). And two, Complex says that West and “Late Registration” co-producer Jon Brion had to wait two weeks to rent a harpsichord.
In the end, the delayed rollout didn’t seem to diminish excitement for the project since many appeared eager to see if West could match the same level of quality that he did on “The College Dropout,” which earned him some Grammys. “Late Registration” was finally released on August 30, 2005, and it features a bunch of big-name artists like Nas, Brandy, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, and Common. West also won three Grammys for the project, Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gold Digger,” Best Rap Song for “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” and Best Rap Album.
Kanye West battled 50 Cent in an album sales showdown
The year was 2007, and it was an all-out showdown between Kanye West and 50 Cent to see who would have the biggest first week of album sales — West’s “Graduation” or 50’s “Curtis.” At one point, 50 Cent “vow[ed] to stop releasing solo discs if” he lost to West (per Rolling Stone), raising the stakes even more. Some might say that besides the sales face-off, this was also a battle between two different types of rap music: 50’s brand of gangsta rap versus West’s music, considered by many to be more eclectic. The Chicago native decided to push up the release date of “Graduation” to September 11 of that year, so it could drop on the same day as “Curtis.” The competition made headlines back then; it probably brought even more attention to the rappers’ LPs than they imagined.
The height of the showdown came when West and 50 were guests on BET’s “106 & Park” in an episode called “Clash of the Titans.” Both superstars talked about the competition at length during the show, but 50 did a bit more trash-talking. Then, after the sales numbers for almost a week were in, West came out the victor, with “Graduation” selling 957,000 copies compared to 50’s “Curtis,” which moved 691,000 units. And obviously, 50 reneged on his promise to retire because his career kept going strong, although he’s since pivoted heavily into producing television and film.
When he 'felt like it,' Kanye West dropped an album earlier than planned
Kanye West’s album “808s & Heartbreak” may have been a departure from his previous recordings since it finds him singing love songs instead of rapping. However, it was not a departure from him changing his release dates. First, West said the project would be out on December 16, 2008, but then he announced it would hit shelves sooner. “I changed my album to November something, ’cause I finished the album and I felt like it. I want y’all to hear it as soon as possible,” wrote West on his now-defunct KanyeUniverseCity.com blog, which was captured by MTV. He also hosted a Los Angeles listening party in October 2008 before dropping “808s & Heartbreak” on November 24, three days before Thanksgiving.
In a previous blog post, also documented by MTV, West wrote about his daily work schedule, which might give some insight as to why he finished “808s & Heartbreak” sooner than expected. “I just woke up from a quick studio nap,” he wrote. “I’ve been workin’ on ‘808s and Heartbreak’ about 16 hours a day, and Superman passed out for a little bit. … I’m in Hawaii but I’m still on NY time, so I wake up mad early, do some business, blog, jog for an hour, play ball, eat and then hit the stu by noon.” Now that seems like a productive routine, wouldn’t you say?
Kanye West was tired of an album theme he created
Some musicians have said the albums they’ve created are like children, based on how close they feel to the songs. In the same way that it can be difficult to name kids, it must be hard to come up with album titles sometimes. It appears that Kanye West finds it challenging to name albums, as well, because initially, he said that his fifth album would be titled “Good A** Job” and would follow the college theme from his previous LPs. But in the eleventh hour, the seemingly impulsive rapper tweeted that he was scrapping that title, writing in July of 2010 (via Rap-Up), “The album is no longer called ‘Good A** Job’ I’m bouncing a couple of titles around now.”
Soon after, West said the project would be called “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” a title he chose to give himself more artistic freedom. “I remember I just changed it because I didn’t want to do the ‘Good A** Job’ thing and have to stick to the skits and everything that went with that,” he told MTV in October 2010. The LP had a set release date of October 12 but came out on November 22, another pre-Thanksgiving drop.
Kanye West used a super creative promotional idea
The rollout for Kanye West’s “Yeezus” album started with a tweet the rapper sent on May 1, 2013, that simply read, “June Eighteen” (via Today). Differing from the way he handled many of his other albums, West didn’t change that date. “Yeezus” actually arrived on the day he said it would. But the rollout still came with some controversy based on what could be considered an intrusive promotional campaign, depending on whether one is a fan of West’s or not. The rapper previewed the album’s first single, “New Slaves,” on 66 buildings in various cities around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and his hometown of Chicago, Spin reported. All of the buildings showed West’s face rapping to the song while large crowds looked on, or rather, up.
Another controversy surrounding the album is its name, because it was originally called “Thank God for Drugs.” Kanye West’s art department head, Joe Perez, confirmed the former title on Instagram by sharing concept art (via NME).
The CD eventually came in a clear case with no photo and just a red piece of tape attached. That look was far different from the five artsy covers West used for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which were created by artist George Condo.
The last-minute change that caused an argument
When looking back on Kanye West’s many albums, the various production styles employed by the artist are striking. On “The College Dropout,” for example, West used the so-called “chipmunk soul” technique, where he speeds up samples of soul singers to make them sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. On “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” West recruited a list of celebrities and got them all to fly to Hawaii for recording sessions.
But West’s 2016 album, “The Life of Pablo,” may forever be attached to its strange rollout and the several title changes West made. As the BBC reported back then, he first announced the LP would be called “So Help Me God.” He then changed the name to “Swish.” West’s announcement that the album would be called “Waves” sparked a heated back-and-forth with Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa, who said West was stealing from incarcerated New York rapper Max B. Max is credited with inventing a more sing-songy style of rap, which he called “Wave,” as Mic explains. “Max B is the wavy one. He created the wave. There is no wave without him,” tweeted Khalifa. Kanye West then shot back with a series of now-deleted tweets where he insulted Khalifa’s music, claiming that no one has ever listened to one of his albums “all the way through.” Ouch!
Kanye West had a bunch of rich celebs standing in a field
“Donda” wasn’t the first time that Kanye West held a huge listening event to preview an album. He played “The Life of Pablo” LP to celebrities, friends, and family members in New York’s Madison Square Garden while introducing his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line. Talk about multi-tasking. Anyway, West also held a listening party for his album “Ye,” released in 2018, but it was far different from the Madison Square Garden event. That’s because there was no fashion show, no famous venue, and it wasn’t held in a large U.S. city. In fact, the party wasn’t even held indoors. Instead, West threw it at Diamond Cross Ranch in Moran, Wyoming, and angered a lot of neighbors in the process.
Some of the celebrities who attended are Chris Rock, Jonah Hill, Teyana Taylor, Nas, Scott Disick, and West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian. After the event ended, Jane Golliher, who owns and runs the Diamond Cross Ranch, told the Blast that she was misled about the details. For example, Golliher said she was told the party would end promptly at 10:00 p.m., not around midnight, as it did. It was also supposed to be held at an indoor location on the ranch, but was moved outside at the last second. Plus, to go along with the helter-skelter feel of the album release, West took the cover photo on his way to the party on his iPhone, People confirmed.
Things had to be perfect on Jesus is King
It’s safe to say that by 2019, the year Kanye West’s album “Jesus Is King” came out, the rapper’s fans took the release date of September 27 with a grain of salt. West had become famous for delivering his projects late, and whenever he gave a release date, it sounded like a rough prediction at most. But the controversial rapper still seemed to confuse people with “Jesus Is King,” because he changed the release date three times.
First, the album was supposed to arrive on September 27, 2019, which Kim Kardashian announced on Twitter, but that didn’t happen. It was then said that the album would be released on September 29, according to the Independent, but again, nothing. Then, another release date was given, October 25 at midnight on the west coast. Those who stayed up late probably wished they’d turned in early, because West disappointed them again. He gave a reason for the delay on Twitter. “Thank you for being loyal & patient,” wrote West on October 25 at 1:18 in the morning. “We are specifically fixing mixes on ‘Everything We Need’ ‘Follow God’ & ‘Water.’ We not going to sleep until this album is out!” It appears that West really did forfeit a night of slumber to work on the album, because “Jesus Is King” technically arrived on October 25. Fans must have been exhausted by then from all the false starts.
Kanye West keeps people waiting for over a year
It could be said that the rollout for Kanye West’s “Donda” LP has taken the longest time compared to all of his other albums. Most people probably first heard about it in July 2020 when he shared a piece of the song “Donda” in a since-deleted Tweet (via Pitchfork) to celebrate his late mother’s 71st birthday. Kanye West also tweeted that the album would be called “Donda: With Child,” before it was ultimately changed.
Once talk of the project went quiet, it was announced it would be released on July 23, 2021 (via Spin), but it was not. The “Donda” chatter really started to heat up after West previewed the album in July of 2021 in Las Vegas at a private listening party. He then held a listening event for the album at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium on July 22 for a large crowd and did the same at a second listening party on August 5 at the same location. For the second event, West was seen floating away from the arena by use of harnesses, which got plenty of attention. But after all of that, the album still wasn’t released.
And get this: As of this writing, it seems that West has been living at Mercedes Benz Stadium to finish the album. In a since-deleted Instagram post (via Hypebeast), Kanye West shared a photo of his meager living quarters. So far, “Donda” might be the most controversial of West’s releases based on when he first announced the project.
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