After one of the craziest rollouts ever, Kanye West has finally released his tenth studio album, Donda. Binding together an experience dedicated to the spirit, soul, and memory of his mother, hip hop’s greatest creator puts together a magical performance that embodies the many beauties of his genius. While the record’s near two-hour run time may seem undigestable, nearly every moment has an essential purpose to the arc of Ye’s spiritual rebirth. The intro track “Donda Chant” welcomes us to this new era through its haunting refrain of the word Donda which is made to resemble the final heartbeats of Kanye’s late mother, Dr. Donda West. From this point of death and despair, we witness Ye’s rocky road towards redemption. While this overall theme is very loose and sometimes may even feel nonexistent due to the abundance of star power and showmanship, the explosion of Kanye’s tormented thoughts make for a performance quite like no other.
Through its depiction of God and the Devil fighting over his soul, the song “God Breathed” masterfully depicts the inner struggles Kanye’s been facing since losing the only figure who truly ever cared and protected him. Despite his belligerent wealth and array of revered accomplishments, Ye’s generally charismatic spirit has shrunk to the depths as a result of the routine like loss that’s constantly reoccurring to him. Even with so much trouble around legendary visionary, Kanye manages to find the lord and hold onto his faith while he attempts to slay his innermost dark demons. The pivotal climax of this comes on the heavenly “24,” which shows Kanye communicating with his mother’s spirit as he refinds himself through the Sunday Service Choirs’ angelic aroma. Using this energy, Yeezy’s ego starts to restore but in a more collected and thoughtful way than ever seen. Sinking him to the actualization of what he’s been missing in the first place, the cuts “Heaven and Hell” and “Lord I Need You” take a brave dive into Ye’s marital situation with Kim Kardashian, which we learn has gone to ruins for the first time from Ye himself. Ripping off these band-aids, Kanye reaches a new point of vulnerability and remorse, which allows for him to make some of the most heart-wrenching conclusions of his entire career.
Through this challenging journey, Kanye teams up with friends new and old to expand on ideas centering on faith, destruction, and brotherhood. Right off the bat, we witness one of the longest awaited reunions in all of music as none other than Jay-Z joins Ye for the beautifully maddening “Jail”. Through Kanye’s exuberant vocals, instrumental explosions, and Hov’s bond restoring verse, we learn how the throne finds peace in the deepest of despairs. More than anyone else, Kanye understands that life has rapid highs and lows, and everything from his writing to production style embodies this. From the sheer and utter chaos himself, Playboi Carti, and Fivio Foreign reak on “Off The Grid” to the resilient and healing Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Royce Da 5’9 team-up “Keep My Spirit Alive,” the stylistic and thematic versatility embodies every inner thought and emotion Kanye thinks and feels. Out of these one-of-a-kind collaborative experiences, the best usage of Kanye’s guests seem to come on the darker, intenser cuts. Whether that’s the three-headed monster of Ye, Travis Scott, and Baby Keem on “Praise God” or the team up with Lil Yachty, Fivio Foreign, and Rooga on “Ok Ok,” this younger group of featured guests tends to step their game up and deliver some of the best performances of their entire careers here. Out of all the new-gen artists that appeared alongside Yeezy, none performed better than Roddy Rich who’s triumphant lyrics and emotional delivery culminates with the organ-based instrumental to make “Pure Souls” the tear-jerker that it is.
When a song is not expanding on the album’s themes, Kanye’s at least expanding his artistic arsenal. From the slow-paced, atmospheric, synth-based banger of “Remote Control” with Young Thug to “Junya,” which features and infuses Playboi Carti’s signature sound with gospel music, Kanye once again shows off his ability to create and master any sound he wants. The “Moon” interlude was a definite standout in this regard as Kanye steps out of the booth and mans the boards as Don Tolliver, and Kid Cudi harmonize over some soft yet dominating guitar riffs. “Belive What I Say” was a true gem as it utilizes the same low-pitched synth style of The Life Of Pablo’s “Fade” but spices the core up with better-fitted vocals, a Lauryn Hill sample, and some reasonably potent songwriting. “24” and “Donda” were another impressive mark as Ye refined the sound he tried so hard to achieve throughout the Jesus Is King era and manages to implement the Sunday Service Choir, and they’re organically played gospel soundscapes into well-written sensical pieces about his mother and spiritualism as a whole. A definite standout here was “Hurricane,” which showcases all these aspects on the forefront through its combination of trap drums, church organs, transcending hook from The Weeknd, heartfelt verses from Kanye, and surprisingly Lil Baby.
Another vital piece to what makes Donda so genuine and understandable is that Kanye has by far his best lyrical showing since TLOP. The hard-toned, tense finale of “Off The Grid” shows him rapping in a pocket we’ve never seen, as he covers things such as his escape from LA and goes as deep as to subtly dissing Drake. For just as intense as Kanye can get, he gets even more philosophical on the monumental “Jesus Lord”. At a staggering nine minutes, Ye regretfully unravels the layers of his mind as he reminisces on all he has lost and over the years. Complementing this extensive monologue, Jay Electronica adds one of the best verses on the entire album through his religious allusions and prophet-like predictions. Bringing the two MC’s ideas together through a spoken-word interlude from Larry Hoover Jr., the two’s ideas revolving around survivor’s guilt and faith are brought full circle through the renowned crime figure’s son’s speech about injustice and religious importance.
Riding out the wave of both the more introspective tracks and the ones here purely for entertainment purposes, we get one of the best finales of any record in Kanye’s entire catalog. “Come to Life” serves as the bittersweet climax where Kanye wishes that he could live another life and redo many of the things that have resulted in catastrophic losses, like the demise of his marriage. Through this gruesome process of healing, Kanye frees himself of the pain, and the instrumental crescendo signifies his soul being reborn. Following this up, “No Child Left Behind” leaves listeners with hope through its otherwordly atmosphere, which is made super emotional through the soft singing from Vory and West. Between the rollercoaster buildup to this moment and the power of its resolution, Kanye once again leaves us shocked, surprised, and amazed.
While its ideas are always arent handled properly, Donda is one of a kind record that embodies everything we love about Kanye West. With 23 tracks, there are really no dull moments outside of the bland “Jonah,” the inconsistent “New Again,” and the odd Pop Smoke interlude “Tell The Vision,” which I would assume is here to signify a heavenly connection between the drill legend and Donda West. At this point, Kanye has proved his doubters wrong once again, and between his incredible versatility and unmatched creativity, I’m sure he will continue to impress us for years to come.
- Easily one of Kanye’s most versatile efforts
- Production job is amazing
- Nearly every feature is great
- Kanye’s spiritual rebirth arc is beautiful to watch unfold
- Doesn’t get boring for a single second
- Kanye’s best lyrical performance since TLOP
Why Isn’t It Rated Higher?
- Theme is very messy
- Two to Three songs could have been left off
Written By: Mr. Fantastic