Culture of Pop

Kanye West- Donda, Album Review

 

After more than a year since its original announcement, Kanye West, now legally known as Ye, has finally released the highly anticipated album Donda. Of course, the process for this album to be released was filled with nothing but drama, but that is simply how Kanye will roll for any album release. Leading up to this album, fans were treated to four separate listening parties, each followed by an expected release that Kanye didn’t follow through on. Three of the four LPs were exclusively streamed through Apple Music. This was a new concept to all music fans, as this is not something we’ve seen for the lead-up of a highly anticipated release. The listening parties took place in Las Vegas, twice in Atlanta, and Chicago to end. The first listening party in Atlanta sounded like a bunch of rough draft tracks assorted together with a lot of work still needed to be done. The second one sounded much more put together. There was more of a progression through the album and with the help of Mike Dean and others, it sounded much better mixed as well. More tracks were played during LP2 as well. The third LP brought some controversy with not only having Marilyn Manson and DaBaby on stage but also the features he chose to add and remove. Nonetheless, fans were finally blessed on Sunday with an album more than a year later after its initial scheduled release date.

Since late 2019, Kanye West, has been expressing his love for religion and even went as far as to make a Gospel-themed album, Jesus is King. While this didn’t fly for fans who’d hoped for another banger album like The Life of Pablo, there were still some decent tracks to remember like “Selah”, “Everything We Need”, “On God”, and “Use This Gospel”. But at the end of the day, when comparing this to the rest of his discography, this is easily his worst album. But the biggest question from this would be whether Ye would continue the trend of Gospel-themed music or go back to his older styles from Ye and The Life of Pablo. Another big question would be the return in quality. Jesus is King is a fairly forgettable album for most fans. So would Donda finally bring the return to the peak of the hip-hop industry that Ye has been left out of for almost three years now with barely any new music?

The tracklist itself is filled with 27 songs filling up about an hour and 49 minutes worth of music, the most on any album in Kanye’s discography. But what is most impressive about this list is the people Kanye was able to bring in to create this album. Legendary producer Mike Dean is credited with helping out on a number of tracks, including staying with Kanye in Mercedes Benz Stadium to help complete the album. But other well-known names such as 88 Keys, 30 Roc, BoogzDaBeast, and Digital Nas also received their own credit as producers. What’s more impressive are the features Ye gathered. Similar to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and The Life of Pablo, Ye grabbed artists from many different subgenres and popularity to make it all come together. While some names are artists he’s worked with before, he also includes some new names in his family tree. Some names include Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Don Toliver, Baby Keem, Kid Cudi, Fivio Foreign, Lil Durk, Young Thug, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Vory, Lil Yachty, Jay-Z, Lil Baby, The Weeknd, Roddy Rich, Jay Electronica, and many others. This list on paper is incredible and this also raises the expectations for Donda.

Donda Chant is a short and simple intro but the meaning behind it is incredible as the rhythm of the chant is in sync with Donda West’s last heartbeats. A heavy-hitting intro that sets the tone immediately for the rest of the way. “Jail” was a symbolic track after LP1 when fans were shown a reunion of Ye & Hov after previous legal issues. But Jay-Z’s verse deserves credit for some creative wordplay and even pushing the line rapping about Ye’s “Red Hat”, referring to his Trump phase. The beat is powerful yet simple with heavy guitars, almost sounding like a track from Yeezus with the nonsense toned down. “God Breathed” is another Yeezus sounding track mixed with glorious gospel vocals from Vory. The ending of the track oddly went on too long without anything but the instrumental playing, something that could have easily been trimmed. “Heaven and Hell” packs an insane boom-clap beat that’s an instant head-nodder with a bit corny but creative rhyme schemes from Ye. My personal favorite track is “Jesus Lord” without a doubt. Kanye’s narration about a story involving adversity, abortion, and oppression really hits hard, especially with the emotional production. Jay Electronica brings one of his best features in an extremely long time with some wonderful creative wordplay that packs a significant punch, “Earthquakes will strike this nation for what Bush did to Rwanda, What the Clintons did to Haiti and Downing Street did to Ghana.” The voicemail featuring Larry Hoover Jr. at the end of the track brings the sensitive emotion to the forefront. It really exposes how the justice system affects generations of families when these problems are prolonged and unsolved.

“Off the Grid” features one of the most impressive and surprising features from Fivio Foreign, whose stock should be quickly rising in the game. His feature remains heavy and consistent throughout the entire duration. It is then followed up by an equally impressive verse from Kanye West where he is rapping heavily, something not seen too often on his later projects. While there are a million different versions of “Hurricane”, the final cut on the album is the best by far. Vocals from The Weeknd are beautiful and fit perfectly with the mixing. Fans have also been treated with another well-put-together verse from Lil Baby, another artist who continues to improve his lyricism every opportunity he gets. Some changes on “Praise God” make the track polished and complete to complement vocals from Travis Scott and Kanye West. But the Baby Keem feature is a bit disappointing. While it is catchy, it’s a bunch of random phrases repeated without much progression until the very end when he finally gets a few bars rolling. I’m not crazy for Lil Yachty’s feature on “Ok Ok” either. While the argument could be made that it’s one of his best appearances when comparing it to the rest of the list, it’s definitely towards the bottom and pretty forgettable. Fivio comes in again and delivers a much more memorable verse for the track. He’s absolutely a top highlight coming out of the album. “Believe What I Say” was a fantastic last-minute add to the album. Production on this track is unbelievable with a great Lauryn Hill sample in the beginning to the Buju Banton dialogue as the interlude. An extraordinary song to vibe to overall.

“Pure Souls” with Roddy Rich is another top highlight on Donda. His chemistry with Kanye and the beat is shown straight from the jump and it only goes up from there. The vocals followed up by Shenseea are incredible and a phenomenal top to end the track. “Moon” featuring Kid Cudi and Don Toliver is a prime example of pairing features that blend perfectly. Their calm and psychedelic tone make this a top-tier track. “Come to Life” and “No Child Left Behind” combine for an outstanding outro before the Part 2s. “Come to Life” features some of Kanye’s best singing backed behind beautiful piano melodies. “While No Child Left Behind” is packed with lifting vocals from Vory and The Sunday Service Choir that make one feel like they are being lifted up to Heaven. These two tracks create a beautiful way for an album filled with so much drama, speculation, and anxiety to end in the most heartwarming way possible. “Keep My Spirit Alive” features fitting verses from Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, two of the most underrated artists in today’s industry. Kanye’s wordplay and choice are also innovative. “Who needs practice? I don’t do rehearsals, And I don’t do commercials cause they too commercial.” KayCyy’s vocals on the chorus are solid but there are a handful of other artists who I could see fill this portion much better. All the Part 2 tracks are enjoyable but the highest standout is Ty Dolla $ign’s standout verse on “Junya”.

“Tell the Vision” is the only real dud on the album. Not only was this track already released on Pop Smoke’s most recent album Faith, but the difference between the two tracks is very little. Kanye basically just adds a simple piano melody on top of Pop Smoke’s vocals and that’s basically the entire track. This should have either been left off or remixed much much better. Another feature could have possibly been added or Kanye could have included his own verse. “Junya” is a catchy Playboi Carti toned track with a beat that could have come off of Whole Lotta Red. But there is little significance to the album outside of a solid Carti feature and a bouncy beat.

Overall, I would give this album an 8.8/10 with some of my favorite tracks being “Jesus Lord”, “Off The Grid, Hurricane”, “Praise God”, “Believe What I Say”, “Moon”, “Come to Life”, and “Pure Souls”. The production on this entire album is out of this world. I do wish that Kanye kept Pusha T on the track Donda. His dialogue made an incredible opening track for the album and the replacement of Donda Chant is better as an interlude than an opening. While there are still plenty of tracks that involve gospel-related sounds, vocals, and verses, religion almost plays into more of a filter on the album rather than the main focus. Of course, no recent Kanye album could go without some corny snippets, but not to the level as the Chick-Fil-A reference did on “Follow God”, it’s fairly acceptable to include some lines talking about Buzz Lightyear and Hertz Cars. Donda also features some of Kanye’s best singing out of his entire discography. The various rap verses that Ye recently added show his passion to revive himself after a lackluster Jesus is King. The energy and heat on each verse will be remembered as some of his best lyricism when it’s all said and done. Kanye does a fantastic job of allowing all the featured artists to have their own spotlight on Donda, with some taking a major advantage,  like Playboi Carti, Fivio Foreign, Westside Gunn, Roddy Rich, and others. Donda also mixes up a bunch of different themes and styles of music, allowing other artists on it to perform in their own zone. But as always, Kanye makes sure to give himself some spotlight as well and not disappointing. All of these factors continue to push the narrative on how Kanye is one for other artists more than himself. While it is far from a perfect album, Donda is a great rebound for Ye’s career.

When talking about some of the most influential artists of all time, there is no doubt that Kanye West is one of the most influential artists still making music currently. But he also isn’t far behind the top tier of artists like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and others when it’s all said and done. Not only does he shatter streaming numbers including Apple Music’s all-time record of No. 1 album in 152 countries and earning the single biggest day of streams from any artist this year on Spotify. I could read 10 more incredible records that he’s simply blown out of the water. What’s even more impressive is that through all the drama endured through the making of this album, more people continued to tune in. The streams from each listening party only went up, each also shattering the record for most people listening to a single Apple Music stream. But what makes Kanye so special is his family tree of artists he’s worked with. Some more than others but Kanye’s willingness and ability to work with artists like Lil Pump and 6ix9ine shows the kind of draw that he has. Everyone wants their opportunity to have a Kanye West-influenced track on their discography. This family tree goes as far to artists he’s completely revitalized in terms of their careers. Playboi Carti, Kid Cudi, and Travis Scott are just some of the RECENT artists that Ye has helped raise their music to reach a new level of excellence and overall improvement. Kanye West is truly a multitool artist with outstanding vocals, lyricism, production, creativity, and formatting. There are not many artists who can include their names on that list. Whatever may be next for Ye, which we all know is remarkably unpredictable, fans will be impatiently waiting for another world-altering album. But for now, Donda will live on as an important staple in Kanye’s discography as his 10th studio album and a magnificent tribute and remembrance of the late Dr. Donda West.

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