Kanye West’s Mom Donda: Everything To Know About Their Relationship, Her Love For Her Son, & Death

Kanye West is about to release his second album named for his late mother. Find out everything you need to know about Donda West here.

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Image Credit: Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock

Kanye West has regularly connected his personal life to his music and other work throughout his career. While he’s performed tons of songs that reference friendships, his kids, and past romantic partners, one person who’s been a constant from day one is his mom Donda C. West. He’s been referencing his mama from his first album, well into his most recent record Donda in 2021. With the expected release of Donda 2, it’s clear Ye will keep paying tribute to his mom, who died in 2007 for years to come. Find out everything you need to know about Donda here.

Kanye and Donda after the 2006 Grammys with his awards. (REED SAXON/AP/Shutterstock)

Donda was a college professor.

It should be no surprise that Kanye grew up to be a rapper, because words, language, and literature were extremely important to his mom. Born in Oklahoma City and later studying at the Virginia Union University, Donda was an English professor starting in the 1970s at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College. Her longest time as a professor at Chicago State University, where she taught from 1980 until she retired in 2004. She spent over two decades as the head of the English, communications, media and theater department.

While Ye is an international superstar, Donda was very accomplished in the world of academia. She received her doctorate in 1980 from Auburn University. She also was an important part in setting up the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at CSU, via The Chicago Tribune

She was married to Ray West for five years.

Donda married Kanye’s dad Ray West, 73, in 1975. She gave birth to Kanye in June 1977, but her and Ray’s relationship fizzled out three years later, and the pair divorced in 1980. Ray has established the Good Water Foundation in the Dominican Republic, per DailyMail. Ye has opened up about his parents’ divorce affected his relationship with his dad in a series of now-deleted Instagram posts. Amid his public disputes with his wife Kim Kardashian in February 2022, Kanye has said that his parents’ split influenced him wanting to have a huge role in his kids’ lives. “My dad didn’t have money or a public voice when my mom destroyed me and his relationship,” he said, via Atlanta Black Star.

She worked for Kanye after retiring.

After stepping down from her career in academia, Ye’s career was taking off, and she went to go work for the budding rapper. Donda was the chief executive of West Brands, a company dedicated to all things Kanye, via MTV News. She was also one of the founders of the now-defunct Kanye West Foundation, which was dedicated to fighting school dropouts across the country, according to its website. It also helped provide music programs to schools and partnered with organizations like Challengers Boys and Girls Club. In 2008, Kanye changed the name to the Dr. Donda West Foundation in honor of his mom, but the charity shuttered in 2011.

Donda’s book Raising Kanye was also published in 2009 after her death, but she was always a public advocate for her son during her lifetime. She spoke about how proud she was of Ye during a May 2007 interview with Jet. “I was very grateful that he in my view was an instrument, this voice or truth, that is coming through him. He has the attention of many, a whole generation. I was proud he said those things and grateful he had that kind of courage and would step out and not be afraid,” she said. “I raised him that way, to think critically and analytically and not be afraid to voice what you feel. I helped shape that. I think leaders are people who must do that.”

Kanye brought Donda with him to the 2005 Grammy Awards. (Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock)

How did she die?

Donda died on November 10, 2007 at age 58. She passed away after receiving liposuction and breast reduction surgery, via People. The coroner’s report found that she had heart disease following the procedure, but the definitive cause of death had not been determined. “The final manner of death could not be determined,” the coroner said in a statement in 2008. “Multiple post-operative factors could have played a role in the death. The exact contribution of each factor could not be determined. There was no evidence of a surgical or anesthetic misadventure.”

She’s still a major part of Kanye’s work.

Since his mother’s death, Kanye has paid tribute to her numerous times over the years. While early tracks like “Hey Mama” were some of the earliest references to Donda, he continued to honor her long after her death. On the song “Coldest Winter” from 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, it was one of Ye’s most touching moments, where he bid farewell to his mom. Obviously, Kanye has continued to be influenced by his mom, and he’s gone so far as to name his 10th album, which was released in August 2021, after her. Since then, he announced his plan to release a sequel to the record called Donda 2, which is expected to be released on February 2022. Other than his music, Ye also announced that he was opening the Donda School in California, which is also named for his late mother.