In 2018, Kanye West’s perpetual tardiness became kind of a joke after his GOOD Music releases came later and later. In 2021, no one is laughing — or even surprised, really — that West has now had two separate listening events for his new album Donda while the album itself has been pushed back over and over again. Originally, its release date was scheduled for sometime in 2020, but for obvious reasons, it was pushed back to early this year.
But then, it was pushed back again — and again. Kanye now has a third listening event booked for this Thursday but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much buzz as there was for the first or even the second. This is after neither listening event drew the sort of response that Kanye was able to generate in 2016 with the rollout for The Life Of Pablo. Maybe his antics just don’t resonate anymore or maybe he’s finally burned through all of the goodwill he generated with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and his 2010 GOOD Fridays campaign, but it feels like excitement dies down with each new release date he announces.
The diminishing returns for each new announcement remind me of another much-hyped hip-hop release that never came to fruition: Dr. Dre’s long-rumored, but as-yet unsubstantiated masterpiece, Detox. Referred to throughout the years as “rap’s Chinese Democracy, Detox held near-mythical status among hip-hop heads for over a decade following its announcement shortly after the release of 2001, Dre’s anachronously-titled sophomore “solo” album — which itself dropped nearly 10 years after his debut, The Chronic.
Billed as Dre’s final album and tentatively scheduled for release in 2004, Detox not only never materialized, but it also frustrated rap fans endlessly with every tantalizing detail hinted at by one of its seemingly endless list of collaborators. Names attached to the project included 50 Cent, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and even Golden Era pioneer Rakim. On Dre’s collaborations with proteges like 50 and Kendrick, he continued to tease fans to “Look Out For Detox.” Interviews and features described the high-concept theme of an epic crime thriller, Dre’s ultimate goodbye to the rap game.
And yet, with each successive year, the reality of Detox seemed further and further away. Where once artists’ hints that they had been in the studio prompted excitement from hip-hop fans, by the mid-2010s, such tidbits only inspired derisive dismissal. By then, everyone had been in the studio with Dre. If he were to release even a fraction of the collaborations that were rumored to be sitting on some hard drive somewhere, it could only spark waves of lamentations that the other rumored records hadn’t dropped as well, or that the buzzy alliances would only result in music that fell short of expectations.
Single releases like 2011’s “I Need A Doctor” felt like forward movement, only for Dre to again go dormant by the end of that year. Four more years went by before Dre released a full project and it wasn’t even Detox. 2015’s well-received but short-lived Compton seemed to put paid to the concept of the swan song, which was possibly Dr. Dre’s only way out of the prison of expectations he’d built around himself. By moving on from Detox, he freed himself from the constraints of releasing an all-time, game-changing classic and let fans engage with the music itself instead of their disappointment at missing pieces.
While Donda hasn’t quite reached that level of hype just yet, there are some pretty obvious parallels. His extensive list of potential collaborators on the project includes everyone from newcomer Baby Keem to classic New York battle rappers The LOX to the slippery trap rap royal Young Thug. So far, two entirely different versions of the album have been played for fans, including one with a Jay-Z reunion record, and yet, the quality of the music has been washed out by the spectacle of the events themselves, with snack menus going more viral than any of the songs and news coverage of the third event focusing heavily on what appears to be the publicity stunt of Kanye building a house inside Soldier Field stadium.
Meanwhile, should another projected release date pass by without a listenable version of the album hitting streaming services, it’s a safe bet that whatever goodwill Kanye has left will be spent in its entirety. Sure, there’s a subset of Yeezy diehards on Reddit who have convinced themselves that what he’s doing is the next big idea in album rollouts, but the rest of us will probably finally admit to ourselves that the emperor has been parading about in his underwear for the last few years. Maybe the constant delays really are a sign of his perfectionism, just like Dr. Dre’s were for Detox — but in the end, unless they actually release the products they’re pushing, it won’t matter how good they are, if they only exist in the artists’ imaginations.