Donda, the tenth studio album by rapper Kanye West, shows him returning to his revolutionary and game-changing ways.
When was the last time an album has had this much anticipation around it? Especially during the covid timeframe. Longtime rapper Kanye West knows how to build up an album over his lengthy and hearty career, and his previous nine studio albums – nearly all of them receiving widespread critical and commercial acclaim – are testament to this.
Ask any West fan what their favorite album is and they’re more than likely going to come up with a wide variety of answers. Some may tell you My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy whereas others may say The Life of Pablo. His discography truly has something for everybody and it’s hard to find a rap artist with so many consistently great albums in his track record.
However, some West fans have been a little iffy about the artist in recent years due to his releasing of both Ye and Jesus Is King, which are two of his most disliked albums in his fanbase. Personally, I find a ton of enjoyment in both, with the latter being my favorite since Pablo.
But even I, a JIK fan, will admit that West’s music hasn’t had that spark of electricity that was ever-present in his previous works. Fantasy saw West at his most alive and inspired, making an hour-long album full of timely themes, deep self-introspection and mind-blowing production to go along with it. Life of Pablo had West speaking his mind about various topics more than he ever had – for better and for worse.
So what happened to his spark? Why has West felt kind of burned out of music for a while? It’s hard to come up with a definitive answer but what I can tell you is that Donda, West’s tenth studio album, is my personal favorite since Yeezus. It’s an album I never really thought I’d be able to hear, but now that I have, I can wholeheartedly say it was worth the wait.
West has had a bad track history of recording albums and working hard at them for lengthy periods of time and then, for whatever reason, not releasing them. Yandhi is probably the one that has fans the most disappointed because all signs pointed to it being excellent, and the same thing can be said about the very interesting TurboGrafx 16.
But I think the reason why West decided to finally, after all this time, release Donda is that it is a deeply personal album for him. Named after his late mother, West undoubtedly wanted to take his time with this album because he didn’t want to screw up an album that’s named after the person he loves the most, and I’m happy that he did not disappoint.
Donda is an outstanding, fiery album from West and one that never lets go of its grip on you until the final track is over. The record opens up with Donda Chant, which is fifty-two seconds of the name “Donda” being said over and over again. Some will say it’s a pointless track that takes up nearly one minute of the album, but I sort of see it as a hype track. Once the final few seconds of the song are over, we get thrust straight into Jail, featuring Francis & the Lights and his long-time collaborator Jay-Z. Jail was an early indicator that I was going to love this album. It’s an extremely loud, drum-heavy track that proves West and Jay-Z are an absolute dream team working together. It’s the sort of song you’d hope to hear West perform on stage to get the best possible experience.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now – Donda is a massive album. The record clocks in at nearly two hours in length and features twenty-seven songs, some of which are nine to ten minutes in length. Because of how vast and expansive the album is, it’s hard to pick favorites and say which ones stood out because it felt like one big, gigantic experience.
But there are a few that truly caught my attention and hooked me. One of the earliest is Off the Grid which just may be one of my favorite West songs to date, which features an incredibly catchy chorus and has great vocal appearances from Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, both of whom I’m usually not the biggest fan of, but they shine here.
At the various listening parties for Donda, all I kept hearing was how amazing Hurricane featuring the Weeknd and Lil Baby is, and now that I’ve heard it, I can further amplify that yes, it really is that good. When the Weeknd opens the track with his soothing, 80s pop-style vocals, singing “All lights out for me, lightning strikes the beach / Eighty degrees warm it up for me”, it’s hard not to be transported away into the song’s comforting yet emotional state of grace.
There does come a few points in Donda where the album doesn’t sound quite as exciting as it did a few minutes ago. Tracks like Ok Ok and Believe What I Say aren’t bad necessarily, but they are a few examples of songs on the album that don’t have the same charisma and charm as others.
Remote Control features easily one of the most bizarre song endings of any West song to date. It’s a fun song for the most part, but when it ends with a sample of The Globglogabgalab Song from the animated film Strawinsky and the Mysterious House, you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder what West’s thought process was for the track. I’m not sure whether or not this was weirder, or him screaming “Chick-fil-a!” at the end of Closed on Sunday on Jesus Is King.
As the album reaches its last thirty to forty minutes, West finds his footing again especially with Jesus Lord, which not only features an infectious beat produced by West, Swizz Beatz, Gesaffelstein, and Michael Dean, but also some of the best lyrical content on the album. “God got you, the devil’s watchin’, he just peekin’ in / I know I made a promise that I’d never let the reaper in” further emphasizes West’s stance on religion and leans deep into his controversial Gospel sound here which is already getting people talking.
And that’s kind of the beauty of Donda in general – it’s getting so many people talking and debating whether or not it’s good and there are reasonable arguments from both those who like it and those who don’t. You could call it an overblown mess of an album with twenty-seven songs. You could call it a tiring near-two hour experience that knocks you on your behind. But, you could also say it’s West at his most inspired in years.
You could say that it’s an electric, chaotically produced album with skill telling the story of West’s personal experiences with God and his beliefs. I will say that Donda isn’t perfect and it isn’t his best album like we were all hoping it would be, but it is Kanye West returning to form and proof that he feels more inspired than he has in years.