Artist Kanye West seen in the middle of a performance. Image provided by Creative Commons.

After dropping the disasters that were ‘Ye’ and ‘Jesus Is King’ , Kanye West fans were left with a hopelessness of whether the prolific artist will ever return to his former glory. However, after four missed release dates Kanye has finally dropped ‘Donda’, the imperfect magnum opus.

West gained notoriety in the early 2000’s due to his engenius production level dropping classics such as, “The College Dropout’ or ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ garnering West the title of rap legend. Lately, Kanye has shifted from his upbeat hip hop tracks to a more gospel approach, most notably beginning in his 2016 album ‘The Life of Pablo’.

The transition to gospel in his latest works have caused a rift in listeners contemplating which is the most “Kanye”, but with the release of ‘Donda’ he seems to have found the balance of producing an album that is a masterful blend of both new and old West. As the name pertains, this album is a tribute to West’s late mother Dr. Donda West who for those who keep up with West knows Mrs. West’s key role in his life growing up as a single parent.

This album is a trek clocking in at an hour and 48 minutes, almost double the length of West’s last two albums. This album stands out from the previous giving listeners a blend of both gospel and hip-hop like an audible abstract art piece a mess to look at, but holds immense value. The positives of ‘Donda’ come from its outstanding production. The musicality put into each track is unique in its own form range from tone, to instruments making each song deliver a certain aspect of West as he deals with self, the death of his mother, and change.

As with most Kanye West albums, or at least more recent albums, there is always a direct flaw within them and for “Donda”, that would be it’s prevalent sense of incompleteness.

Some of the songs feel incomplete or have features that felt last minute throwing the flow of the album off and its supposed premature release.

According to an instagram post from Kanye West himself, he states “UNIVERSAL PUT OUT MY ALBUM WITHOUT MY APPROVAL AND THEY BLOCK JAIL 2 FROM BEING ON THE ALBUM.” leaving an obvious doubt within the mind of listeners on the quality of this album.

To provide a thorough review of ‘Donda’ we must start from where the album fell short. Starting with ‘Praise God’ , the sixth track on the album, was by far the worst song. Featuring Travis Scott and Baby left a disappointing note following great tracks like ‘Jail’ and ‘Hurricane’. Baby Keem’s verse was just beyond unlistenable single handedly ruining the song, with his flow feeling all over the place and his ad libs just plain strange, a hard contrast from the contributions of Kanye and Travis Scott. The mismanagement between different artists is an unfortunate byproduct of an album that technically was not supposed to be released.

The second and final track to rank in the lowest tier was ‘God Breathed’. In all honesty the lyrics on this track were not terrible, the main gripe was with the beat. To put it in context, this song feels like religious psychosis, with hard 808s and constant drum loops making the song convulse in the ear, which although in the spirit of Kanye, does not mean it makes an enjoyable song.

From the bottom we move from the satisfactory tier to the just listenable tier. One notable feature within this album is that Kanye features two versions of a couple songs with different features to show a different spin on tracks already in the album, but that does not mean that both versions are good.

The track ‘Ok Ok’, both original and part two, are not the strongest both production wise and lyric wise but they are not terrible. The original track features Lil Yachty and Fivio Foreign, two contrasting artists with different styles. When compared to West’s sound, Fivio Foreign seems more in sync while Yachty’s sound does not live up entirely to the project.

In an episode of The Cave, a bi-weekly series by producer Kenny Beats, Yachty himself said: “I’m not a rapper”.

A claim that stands true given his mediocre flow on a not so strong beat.

The remix of ‘Ok Ok’ does only a slight service to the otherwise subpar track. Instead of lil Yachty, (more like lil Shoddy), his verse is replaced by Jamaican dancehall singer Shenseea which gives this song a little more pop than the original take.

The addition of Shenseea’s verse gives the track a more cohesive story about dealing with heartbreak and the sense of feeling ‘okay’ when you’re covering for pain.

The fourth track ‘Off The Grid’ fits in this category solely because of Playboi Carti’s verse which was just not that strong compared to Fivio Foreign, who ended up saving the song from not being considered bad. This song feels like you’d want to lift something heavy to it with its booming bass and drums accompanied with the dramatic sampling in the back, almost cinematic sounding.

Let’s get something straight, Carti wasn’t terrible on this track. More so when West features artists on his tracks they have more of a chance to be more lyrical to coincide with West’s production style, but I felt Carti was just Carti which has its own value but felt a little odd on a Kanye West track, but I felt Carti was more fitted for ‘Junya’.

Speaking of ‘Junya’, ‘Junya Pt. 2’ is mediocre incarnate. The song just features more of Carti and Ty Dolla $ign but that’s about it, nothing really special just an alright track. It’s hard to form any elaborate thoughts about this track when there’s not much to say. If you like Carti and Ty Dolla $ign then this track will be a good fit for you, but that’s about it.

As the album plays, the tracks start to pick up in effort in such examples as ‘Pure Souls’. Roddy Ricch, the feature on the track, felt complimentary to the feel of the song, making it the perfect track for him to showcase his style and elevated the track.

‘Jesus Lord’, marks the beginning of where West invokes his rapper side and exposes the human side of himself as he addresses his late mother, Dr. Donda West, who the album was dedicated to and past memories within his life. The soft church organ allows a mellow vibe to the song making it deep and personal making it a stand out song in the album.

Track number 16, ‘Keep My Spirit Alive’, features a casual, laid back mood with a sprinkle of self-reflection making this a great late-night drive tune. ‘Remote Control’ is another decent track on the album and West and the feature Young Thug really flow well with each other, but what makes this track stand out would be the strange sample at the end of the song which caught attention of fans on sites like Twitter. The sample in question was The Globglogabgalab, a character from Stawinsky and The Mystery House which comes off as a bit of humorous self-awareness on West’s part.

‘No Child Left Behind’ gained a lot of traction before the album was released, being leaked and going viral on TikTok. While the production of this song is phenomenal it begs to wonder if this song was just a little longer. but this is one of the iconic tracks from the album and is a victim of overhype, but it still is a decent listen.

Much to Playboi Carti’s okay performance in the ‘Junya’ remix, the original take of ‘Junya’ works out just a little more than its remix. West has more of a prevalent part within the song and it feels more like a West song rather than a song ‘made by Kanye’.

Now onto the really good songs. These songs are the most listenable and overall carry the strongest lyrics and production. First up is ‘24’, the 11 track on the album. This song alone did what ‘Jesus Is King’ was going for and is miles above the whole album. This song is a good example for those old Kanye West fans hesitant about the transition into gospel and wanting to give it a chance as it wasn’t too overbearing.

Next up at number 5, ‘Hurricane’ featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby brings a more pop vibe to the song and really sounds like a The Weeknd song. This song along with a solid production features introspective lyrics talking of personal struggle and seeking forgiveness making this fit well within the overarching theme of Christianty and forgiveness heard throughout the album.

As an album with shifting emotions, the next major move is seen in track seven, ‘Jonah’. Featuring rappers Vory and Lil Durk, this melancholy track gives the listener a sense of isolation and loneliness as Vory sings of fighting off personal demons followed by West’s similarly toned verse.

It is to be noted that the track is named in tribute to Jonah Ware, a 19-year old artist who was shot and killed in Louisville on August 8, 2020.

The 15 track on the album, ‘Donda’, is a special song as a majority does not involve singing or any rapping, instead West’s late mother is the main feature of the track. The track features a speech made by Donda West herself at Chicago State University in 2007 in which Mrs. West was a professor in English at the university and it is meant as an introspective memory piece.

In the continued context of posthumous tracks, ‘Tell The Vision’ features the late Pop Smoke in a brief interlude-esque featuring a prominent piano giving this short and powerful transition into the following track ‘Lord I Need You’.

‘Lord I Need You’ follows West’s past relationship with Kim Kardashian and the complexities and acceptance of their divorce after seven years of marriage. Love, life and death are the common themes found within the album and a track that hits all three would be ‘Donda Chant’. Featuring Syleena Johnson, the repation of West’s mother’s name creates this heartbeat-like rhythm to symbolize his mother’s vital role in Kanye’s life.

Track number 14, ‘Heaven and Hell’ feels reminiscent of ‘Power’ from ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ in terms of mood and pasing. This high energy song features strong 808s giving this track a real kick, hence the high rating.

Now on to the best tracks in the album…the ones that made this album really stand out from the rest.

Starting off, ‘New Again’ featuring Chris Brown gives this bouncy party feel, demonstrating the new era of Kanye’s career and his new sound. This song also features the opening line that made its rounds on TikTok,

“If I hit you with a “W-Y-D?”

You better not hit me with a “H-E-Y”

It better be like “Hiii” with a bunch of I’s

Or “Heyyy” with a bunch of Y’s”

Next up ‘Come To Life’, or alternatively known as ‘The Ballad of Ye’ is a gripping song detailing West’s wish of a different life and alternative situations with his ex-wife and his kids. The production from this song alone is outstanding and is being compared to some of his greatest hits like ‘Runaway’. With the synth throughout the song paired with piano give this song so much depth it’s hard to believe that the man that made ‘Gold Digger’ wrote this.

Another song made famous through the album leak was ‘Moon’ featuring Kid Cudi and Don Toliver. Much like ‘New Again’, this song also made rounds on TikTok and this song makes you feel like you’re suspended in midair due to Don Toliver’s beautiful chorus and the guitar accompanying him. Hearing Cudi on the track is nostalgic as Kid Cudi and West have been a form of dynamic duo back when West helped Cudi’s career take off.

In the spirit of dynamic duo’s, West’s ‘Jail’ features none other than Jay-Z. The two famous artists responsible for that one song who we still don’t know who was in Paris. However, hearing the two greats back on a song together was a warm welcome for being the second track on the album. This song features a prominent guitar that sets the mood of a man whose public image was on the downfall quoting “Guess who’s goin’ to jail tonight?”

To end the review would be to present the number one song on the album and that honour would go to ‘Believe What I Say’. This song is the perfect blend of old and new Kanye, featuring a flow and beat that feels like an instant classic despite being a new release. The immense joy felt when this song queued is hard to describe but this song was by far the perfect addition to the album that rounded it up.

Overall this album was fantastic, though, not perfect.

Much like this review, the album was overstuffed, but that doesn’t take away light from the really solid tracks on the album. Personally this feels like a step in the right direction for West to reclaim his former glory within the rap world. To give a numeric rating, ‘Donda’ would get a solid 9/10 and was by far a fantastic album that exceeded expectations.

Addendum: To speak on the noticeable exclusion of ‘Jail Pt. 2. This remix has stirred a good amount of controversy due to its features. Replacing Jay Z, the remix features Da Baby who came under fire after publicly making insensitive comments during his set at Rolling Loud in Miami. The remix also featured Maryiln Manson who is facing sexual assault allegations thus leading the remix to receive negative feedback from fans. I excluded said remix because of previously stated controversy, and also to be blunt their contributions sucked and does not hold a candle to the original track.

 

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