Donda West pushed Kanye as he dropped out of college (the very college where she worked), but supported his music, as a manager and frequent presence at her son’s side, including at the Grammys. West has called her his “first fan,” among the first to appreciate his lyrical gifts. “We were coming back from a short vacation in Michigan when he was 5, and he composed a poem in the back seat,” Donda told The Chicago Tribune in 2004. “The one line that sticks with me is ‘the trees are melting black.’ It was late fall, and the trees had no leaves. He saw how those limbs were etched against the sky, and he described them the way a poet would.”
Three months after Donda’s death, West performed a wrenching rendition of “Hey Mama” at the Grammys, adding the lyrics: “Last night, I saw you in my dreams/Now I can’t wait to go to sleep.” I remember this performance, too—the visceral pain of it; watching someone live out, in a public forum, perhaps my greatest fear: living without my mom. Having to go on functioning in a world without her.
West continued to share his anguish over his mother’s death in the years that followed. In 2015, he seemed to blame himself, telling Q magazine, “If I had never moved to LA she’d be alive… I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”
In comments about West’s mental health last year, his then-wife Kim Kardashian called West a “brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressures of being an artist and a Black man… experienced the painful loss of his mother.” I sincerely hope Donda helps West in the process of grieving its namesake.