The Kanye West album rollout cycle has become familiar: First the whispers among music and media personalities, then confirmation from someone in his camp (or Kim) and a star-studded listening event, and finally a blown release date. Despite hosting a massive listening session and livestream from Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium last Thursday and soundtracking a Beats commercial that advertised a July 23rd release date, Kanye’s 10th album Donda is still nowhere to be found on streaming services. According to the internet personality Justin Laboy, who was central to stoking hype for the original date, the album will now be released on August 6th— although really, given Laboy’s track record so far, who knows? But if it holds, a two-week pushback isn’t the worst thing—it gives Kanye more time than he usually allows himself to tinker and perfect and allows fans to stop tweeting Laboy and any and every other known Kanye collaborator for incessant updates. All good, right?
Well, Kanye either wants to deliver Donda even sooner, or he has a lot more than two weeks worth of work to do on the record, because he hasn’t left the stadium in Atlanta since Thursday. Literally—reports say he has refashioned the locker rooms he took over for the listening event into a makeshift studio, effectively commandeering a large portion of the building long after his business there has concluded. Saturday, attendees for a soccer game reported he “wandered” into the stands for a break to watch the game, wearing the same exact all-red outfit he debuted the album in. Kanye’s been known to favor uniforms, but it’s also possible he just hadn’t slept since Thursday.
No one can ever say Kanye lacks ambition, but for every of his many high-profile successes, there’s a few ideas that never got off the ground, from scrapped albums and tours to not one but two TV pilots. But the Kanye projects that never saw the light of day can lend just as much insight into his evolution as the ones that did. Here’s what we know about 13 Kanye concepts that never came to fruition.
2007: The Alligator Boots TV Show. One of the earliest unreleased Kanye projects was also perhaps the strangest. Dubbed “one of pop culture’s greatest oddities” by WIRED, Alligator Boots was a sketch comedy show utilizing felt puppets, masterminded by West and the rapper Rhymefest and featuring Crank Yankers co-creator Daniel Kellison, Jon Kimmel, and Jordan Peele as part of the creative team.
The project was inspired by Rhymefest’s puppet alter-ego, Pork Troy, which he would assume in order to joke around during studio sessions for Graduation. The pilot was filmed at the Jim Henson studio lot—the Shangri-La of puppet filming locations.
A behind-the-scenes documentary shot by director Konee Rok gives us a sense of the intended tone, which was crass and surreal, in keeping with Comedy Central programming of the era. It was also inspired by the format of The Muppet Show, featuring human guests alongside the puppet characters. One of those guests? Kim Kardashian, who the crew says West was adamant should appear on the program, though the pair had never met previously. “That was probably the thing he was most certain about on the show,” said director Tom Stern.
No surprise, but Kanye’s collaborators recall him being particularly concerned with the puppet wardrobe choices, and proposing that the artist KAWS fabricate the characters. The names involved, combined with the left-field premise, make for a pretty wild thought exercise, and the people who made it seem to think fairly highly of it, particularly a Peele sketch that was a riff on Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I Have a Dream” speech. Still, like many of West’s unfinished projects, part of the allure of Alligator Boots is in the unknowable.
“I think this is one of those things where it just wasn’t meant to be,” Rok told WIRED. “It’s probably better living as it is, as this urban legend.”
2007: The Pastelle Clothing Line. Long before Yeezy dominated the world of streetwear, Kanye had an idea for another brand: Pastelle. This lengthy history of Pastelle from Complex offers a look at West’s ambitious plans. According to people brought in to work on the project, a wide range of prototypes were designed, ranging from leather jackets to tees to sunglasses. Veteran jeweler Ben Baller even worked on a Pastelle Jesus piece chain made out of porcelain.
“I was pretty hyped for the Pastelle line,” Baller told Complex. “When I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is fucking amazing.’ It was a cross between that real golden era of Polo, a simpler A Bathing Ape, and a little bit of A.P.C. If you put all three together, that was what it was like.” While Yeezy clothing matches the slightly harsher vibes of later Kanye projects, it’s easy to see Pastelle fitting perfectly with Kanye’s early technicolor vibes.
The team apparently completed an entire collection, but the rollout plan fizzled. Eventually, Pastelle’s office was closed, a ritzy New York Fashion Week unveiling was scuttled, and the garments never made it to market. Kanye was apparently driven by his love of fashion, but Pastelle wasn’t set up to thrive as an actual company.
2008; 2018: The Good-Ass Job Album. West first announced the title of Good-Ass Job way back in 2003, as the conclusion to his initial trio of albums: The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. It was routinely referenced throughout the 2000s (this DJ Booth piece offers a comprehensive look at the album’s circuitous history), but his mother’s shocking death altered his plans. Instead, West made 808s & Heartbreak his fourth release.
In September 2018 Chance the Rapper, a frequent Kanye collaborator but a Kanye fan first and foremost, revealed he had convinced West to revive the title—whether it was to be a joint album or just a project loosely executive produced by Chance is unclear. But since then, nothing has come of it.
2008: The Abandoned HBO Show. HBO commissioned Kanye to make a pilot for a series in 2007, and we have the comedian Wyatt Cenac—and a Vulture reporter in the right place at the right time—to thank for our pretty comprehensive understanding of the Untitled Kanye West Comedy Project. Per Cenac, West envisioned the show as part-Curb Your Enthusiasm, part-Entourage; he worked on it with Larry Charles, the comedy veteran who wrote and directed on both those shows as well as Seinfeld. The pilot featured a very Curb-friendly scenario in which West went to meet an ill child in a hospital, but was paranoid about having bad breath. In the end, he wound up wearing a hoodie that covered his entire face, a reference to the full zip hoodies that dominated rap fashion in the mid-2000s.
In classic Kanye style, the pilot his team cut was twice as long as HBO had originally requested. Cenac also posited that the reason the network didn’t order the series is that many of the biggest laugh lines weren’t delivered by Kanye, instead going to rising comedy acts like himself.
2009: The Fame Kills Tour With Lady Gaga. “I’m married to Kanye,” Lady Gaga once said during a press appearance. “I love and admire him so much. As I say, we’re married.” What she (probably) meant was that the two were working on an extremely ambitious project: the Fame Kills tour, which would have featured the duo co-headlining at arguably the peak of their respective popularities.
Much of what we know about Fame Kills comes from interviews with Gaga. She told Out that she stressed to Kanye the tour should be accessible to and inclusive of her queer fans, and explained that the overarching narrative of the show would be told with a runway-style stage design. On one side would be Gaga, representing “home and humble beginnings,” while West would be on the other, representing “fame.” Each coveting what the other has at the start, they would vie for position on the stage, performing their big records and, at the end, some duets.
The tour was cancelled not long before it was slated to launch in November 2009—right in the midst of the fallout from Kanye’s infamous Taylor Swift VMAs incident. Since then, the two stars haven’t had a ton to do with each other. West famously questioned Gaga’s stint as a creative director for Polaroid. Gaga has offered support to West during his public struggles with mental health. “I think that everybody has a threshold and everybody’s human, and artists are human,” Gaga reportedly said of the decision to not move forward with the shows.
2015: Rihanna’s Kanye-produced Album. Before Rihanna released her 2016 opus ANTI, there was much anticipation about what exactly her eighth studio album would sound like. In a red carpet interview from 2015, Kanye announced that he would be executive producing the record. This was on the heels of their triple-platinum collaboration “FourFiveSeconds,” lending credibility to the idea. Later that same year, Rihanna dropped “Bitch Better Have My Money,” another Kanye co-production.
But in the end, ANTI didn’t bear West’s fingerprints, despite frequent collaborators of his like Hit-Boy, Travis Scott, and No I.D. all assisting on the boards. Since then, the only Rihanna and Kanye song we’ve gotten is The Life of Pablo’s “Famous.”
2015: The Chiraq Album. Not much concrete info is out there about this album, which theoretically would have followed Yeezus. West’s collaborator, the graphic designer Joe Perez, once shared that he mocked up art for Chiraq. The timing would have coincided with the release of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, a musical movie inspired by the Greek play Lysistrata that set the story against the backdrop of ongoing violence on the city’s south side. Pitchfork reported that West was in talks to work on the soundtrack, though that never wound up occurring. Given the controversy around how Lee’s film depicted the city and its residents, plus West’s own propensity for polarizing audiences, their collaboration would have surely dominated the news cycle, for better or worse.
2016: The Cruel Winter Album. 2012’s Cruel Summer crew album likely doesn’t rank near the top of too many fans’ lists of best Kanye records, but it still had a colossal cultural footprint thanks to the singles “Clique,” “Mercy” and “Cold,” the song wherein Kanye proudly professed his love for Kim to the world. Rumors of a follow-up began quickly, with Pusha T even fanning the flames by highlighting Q-Tip’s involvement in the project during an interview that October.
However, Hit-Boy threw some cold water on the proceedings by expressing skepticism in interviews: “Until I get that word from Kanye himself like ‘we doing this,’ then it’s not real,” Hit-Boy said, offering something of a doctrine for all Kanye collaborators to live by. But in June 2016, West upended expectations yet again by announcing Cruel Winter on Big Boy’s Neighborhood label, though he was careful not to make anything seem imminent. He released the record’s first (and only) single, the mammoth “Champions,” which was practically designed in a lab to play during cutaways in the NBA finals. Featuring everyone from Travis Scott to Gucci Mane to Quavo to Big Sean, it promised a proud, chest-pounding album where the G.O.O.D. Music members would bask in the glow of their success.
That same year, Travis Scott declared that West had appointed him to shepherd the project. Since then, not much news has surfaced about the album, besides a claim from CyHi the Prynce in November 2017 that it would drop after his own debut album. It’s been more than three years since No Dope on Sundays was released, and we’re no closer to hearing Cruel Winter.
2016: The Joint Album With Drake. There’s a long, winding history behind the idea of a Drake and Kanye album. Much of it came around the time West was working on TLOP, and the fire was stoked with songs featuring Drake like “Pop Style,” “30 Hours,” and a demo version of “Wolves,” which at one point was to be the name of the project. West teased the album while appearing onstage at 2016 OVO Fest. They even got as far as putting up billboards (long a go-to hype tool for Drake’s album rollouts) that seemed to hint at a title or at least a thematic direction riffing on their shared LA neighborhood of Calabasas.
And then summer 2018 happened: Pusha T and Drake’s cold war suddenly exploded, Drake felt betrayed and used by Kanye, and since then nearly every new Drake verse or project has had at least two credible subliminal lines aimed at one or both of them. Drake allegedly wrote a diss song that could have been a “career-ending blow” to Kanye, per Rap-A-Lot’s J. Prince, but it never saw the light of day. At one point, Kanye publicly apologized for how he handled the situation, but in September 2020 said that he was owed an apology of his own by Drake. Recent rumors indicate that their feud may be in the rearview, but don’t expect this album any time soon.
2016: The Only One iPhone Game. It’s only right that the self-proclaimed “grown-ass kid” has a deep interest in video game design. At one point, West even met with the then-President of Nintendo North America and video game design icon Shigeru Miyamoto, who directed early Donkey Kong games and created the Mario and The Legend of Zelda franchises. Due to Nintendo’s busy schedule, the company had to turn down the chance to work with Kanye, who later released a trailer for a game in 2016 at a Yeezy fashion show. Titled Only One after his Paul McCartney-assisted ballad, the game was a tribute to his late mother. The actual storyline focused on her ascent into heaven, and was first teased by West in early 2015.
Updates since the trailer have been scarce. An Insider story from 2017 found that there hadn’t been substantial work done on the idea since summer 2016. Reportedly, it was supposed to be for mobile devices, and was billed as an “endless runner” game, meaning it was likely a sidescroller in the vein of early Mario games or the famously addictive Flappy Bird.
2016-2017: The Turbo Grafx 16 Album. The late-eighties TurboGrafx-16 gaming console may not have the lore of early Nintendo consoles or the Sega Genesis, but it did have one major fan in Kanye. “One of my favorite gaming systems when I was a kid,” West wrote on Twitter, according to The Verge. And he loved it enough to almost name an album after it.
Turbo Grafx 16 was slated to be his next LP after The Life of Pablo, released sometime in 2016 or 2017. In early 2016, Kanye’s longtime associate Ibn Jasper posted a picture of Kid Cudi and one of their earliest collaborators, Plain Pat, working on the album. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, a host of newer artists were apparently invited to work on it, as Quavo posted a picture captioned “TURBO” that showed himself, Offset, Lil Yachty, and Vic Mensa in the studio with Big Sean and Kanye.
Legendary producer Pete Rock also posted footage of himself working on the album alongside West. The beats he played were creamy and soulful, harkening back to their work on “The Joy.” A few possible song names came out, too, including several inspired by non-Turbo Grafx games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Pikmin 2. But 2016 was perhaps the most turbulent time in his life since becoming a public figure—there was the infamous Kim Kardashian robbery in Paris during his Saint Pablo tour, erratic speeches on said tour interviews on everything from support for Donald Trump to lashing out at Jay-Z and Beyoncé.Then the tour was cancelled and Kanye was admitted to UCLA for psychiatric evaluation. By the time he emerged almost a year later, his eighth album had morphed into Ye, which by all reports, doesn’t account for anything out of the Turbo sessions.
2018: The Yandhi/Yeezus 2 Album. Barely a few months passed after Kanye dropped his messy eighth album, Ye, before he was promising another. YANDHI was originally due out in late September 2018, and given the title, it was viewed as a kind of sequel to Yeezus, which West drove home thanks to cover art that was clearly inspired by the 2013 LP.
Just a few days before YANDHI was due out, West visited the New York office of The FADER and played songs for the staff, which featured controversial rappers like 6ix9ine and XXXtentacion. During that meeting, West made several eye-opening statements, including a comment about the number of slaves in the 19th century that was off by several million. He also critiqued the private prison industry, and said he wanted to design flying cars in his hometown of Chicago. Eventually, Kim Kardashian announced the album would instead come out on November 23, though that date came and went in silence.
A 2019 feature in The FADER posited that even though many of the tracks from YANDHI that leaked are unpolished, “these songs have more shape and direction that nearly anything on Ye.” The most famous of the leaks was “New Body,” which featured Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign. YANDHI was decidedly more hedonistic than what Kanye’s actual ninth LP, Jesus is King, although some of the selections did have a religious bent.
2018: The Watch the Throne 2 Album. In September 2018, Kanye made a big proclamation that raised plenty of eyebrows in the rap world. “Throne 2 coming soon,” he tweeted, hinting that a sequel to he and JAY-Z’s quintuple platinum 2011 collaborative album was on the way. And that’s about all the news we got for a while. The relationship between Kanye and his mentor had grown complicated, and he even said during a 2016 performance that JAY was the reason the album wasn’t going to happen.
After referencing Kanye on his 4:44 and EVERYTHING IS LOVE albums, JAY spoke about their relationship in a verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free,” saying “No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye.” Some initially viewed this as a slight, and when Hov posted a message clarifying the bars were meant to be supportive, West quickly jumped online to share his hopes that they could make Watch the Throne 2 a reality.
No one really put much stock in the idea—the duo may have de-escalated tensions, but from the outside they seemed cordial at best, a far cry from the creative synergy that birthed Throne. That perception was changed last week, when the listening event for Kanye’s new album Donda closed with none other than a new verse (recorded a mere five hours prior, apparently) from big brother. Jay leaned right into the elephant in the room, addressing his distancing from Kanye during Trump’s presidency and going so far as to declare “This might be the return of the Throne.” Fingers crossed.