They say behind every great man lies an even greater woman. Tupac & Afeni, Biggie & Voletta, Jay Z & Gloria, Kanye & Donda. These are some of my favourite creative minds who changed the world not only through music but also through their voice and actions. Tupac and Biggie (rest in peace) put hip-hop and urban culture as a whole on the map. Jay Z carried the torch for 2+ decades and now sits atop the tide. Kanye West constantly tries to push music and the creative industries beyond their boundaries.
On August 30th 2005, Kanye West released “Hey Mama”, song no. 16 on what was his second studio album, titled ‘Late Registration.’ Although the song, produced by West and composer Jon Brion was released in 2005, it was reportedly initially composed in 2000 and is a ballad dedicated to West’s mother, Donda West, detailing his love, affection and appreciation for the way she raised him. In November 2007, Donda West unfortunately passed away due to complications from cosmetic surgery and what had initially been a celebratory song would end up becoming a tribute song.
The life and teachings of Donda West not only inspired Kanye West to write a song about her but also inspired him to form DONDA. DONDA, according to West will span over 20 divisions with operations ranging from medical research on HIV and cancer to transportation, artist management and even match-making. In narrowing down exactly what the company will be, Kanye West tweeted that “DONDA is a design company which will galvanize amazing thinkers and put them in a creative space to bounce their dreams and ideas.”
Although DONDA hasn’t quite achieved the feat it set out to, it’s been behind some of the most innovative works of art to date. DONDA has been credited for the marketing rollout for Kanye West’s Yeezus artwork. It’s also been behind a number of album and singles artwork for artists like Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean among others.
DONDA was behind the premiere of West’s ‘New Slaves’ video which was projected publicly on walls in 66 locations worldwide. West also debuted a seven-screen film called ‘Cruel Summer’ which featured multiple screens providing an immersive audio and video experience.
While the rest of the world has been hesitant to fall behind West’s new business initiative, the hip-hop community has embraced him like they always have, supporting his every move as he continues to take the genre to new heights. DONDA is more than hip-hop though as evidenced by Kanye West’s ‘categories of influence organizational chart’ shown above. Even more evidence lies in West’s publicly asking Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to “invest $1 billion in Kanye West ideas.” West would make this public plea on Twitter which left many scratching their heads as Twitter is a direct competitor of Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
Even after such innovative achievements, DONDA remains largely a mystery. The company sports no website or official social media account. Apart from West and his long-time friend and collaborator, Virgil Abloh who has been publicly named DONDA’s creative director, no one else has been officially attached to the company. Designers Joe Perez and Bryan Rivera have gotten the primary credits on many of DONDA’s works but none of them have officially been given a title at the company. Other notable credits in DONDA projects include film director Steve McQueen, painter George Condo who painted the art for Kanye's MBDTF album, and artist Takashi Murakami who designed the art for Kanye's Graduation album. So far, DONDA seems to be a collective of like-minded creatives who all have their own individual things going for them but collaborate every now and then on major campaigns – mostly under the direction of Kanye and Virgil.
DONDA has largely remained behind the scene, instead choosing to let its work do all the talking. It continues to push creative boundaries in multiple disciplines and the more the world continues to ask questions, the more Mr. West and his team will feel the pressure to introduce the world to the faces behind the scenes. This is further emphasized by DONDA’s recent partnership with Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter’s management company, Roc Nation who will now be managing DONDA's musical endeavours. Both artists have a long history of successful collaborations both in music and outside of it. Their collaborative effort, ‘Watch The Throne,’ whose marketing rollout was fully designed by DONDA was a creative and commercial success and Tidal of which both artists are co-owners has continued to hop over obstacles, securing its place in the ‘Big 3’ of streaming services.
When Kanye West was first introduced to the Hip-Hop community, he was seen largely as a producer and was never taken seriously as a rapper. It was Jay Z who signed him to his first record deal, with Rocafella Records and set West on the path that is. He is no doubt one of the best artists of our generation . The song ‘Hey Mama’ would not have happened without the support of the man West calls his big brother. I personally look forward to this partnership and Jay Z helping Kanye West bring his visions to the limelight again. As a self-titled digital storyteller with a background in music production, I believe Mr. West is breaking down a lot of barriers for not only myself but my generation of musicians/creatives/entrepreneurs which will in turn allow us to break down more barriers for the next generation. Hey Mama.