REVIEW: Kanye West - Donda
Updated: Feb 7, 2022
Favorite Track: “Off the Grid” Least Favorite Track: “Jonah”
If you’re a Kanye West fan, the last year or so has probably been a bit of an excruciating process. Granted, Kanye has never been shy in terms of playing with his fans emotions, but the lead up to his tenth studio album Donda may be the most hype any album has seen in the internet age. The neverending leaks, teasers, fake album announcements and release dates, everything pointed towards one of the most grandiose releases in Kanye’s discography. Most fans not only were excited for the record in and of itself, but they were also hoping for a stark return to form after the absolute flop that was 2019’s Jesus is King.
The album’s first listening party, which was held at Soldier Field in his hometown of Chicago, left a lot of fans greatly concerned for the release of Donda. Many of the mixes were bare, percussion-less, and riddled with technical issues. However, the second and third listening parties presented a product much more polished, filling in a lot of the gospel influences that would come to fruition on tracks like “24” and “Jesus Lord”. The theatrics were present too, as Kanye recreated his childhood home on the field and raised himself into the sky on a rope during what would come to be the album’s closer, “No Child Left Behind”. Everything seemed to be falling in line; the album was finished, and fans seemed to be unanimously adoring the finished product. Finally, over a year and a half after its initial announcement, Donda was released on August 29th, 2021.
If you were following the buzz leading up to the album, it may have been hard to imagine Donda living up to the immense hype it built. In short, it doesn’t. The album is riddled with flaws from beginning to end; it is bloated, Kanye is often outperformed by his features, the entire record is unnecessarily censored which does nothing but distract from the experience of the album, and even the best songs present on the record don’t hold the same luster as they did when hearing them for the first time during the listening events. However, this isn’t to say Donda doesn’t have highlights or upsides. In fact, despite its flaws, it happens to be a rather impressive return to form after the utter disappointment that was Jesus is King.
For starters, the gospel and religious influences that Kanye attempted on the aforementioned Jesus is King that failed are actually done quite well on Donda. Kanye does a good job of relating his faith to each segment of his life, explaining how being a christian influences him each and every day. In short, it feels like much less of a cash grab in the name of god than JIK. Songs like “Praise God” and “New Again” are wonderful examples of gospel choirs being used in spades, the latter boasting a fantastic choir call of “Make me new again” and the former using choir calls as wallpaper for some of the best rap verses of the year courtesy of Kanye, Baby Keem, and Travis Scott. It is also impossible to talk about the religious influences of the record without mentioning the absolutely transcendent “24”. The track is easily one of Kanye’s most uplifting moments on any record, a positive reassurance anthem that lets the listener know that, just like Kanye says, “We gonna be okay/God’s not finished”.
Kanye also employs his features incredibly well on this record, maybe even better than he did on The Life of Pablo back in 2016. “Off the Grid” is easily in contention for best on the record, and despite Kanye’s fiery verse on the back half and his earworm chorus, the real credit goes to Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign. Carti’s ad-libs across the track are energetic and engaging, and Fivio raps on the track like his life depends on it. “Just get to the top, then they gotta respect it/If you got a wrong then you gotta correct it/If you got a voice you gotta project it/If you got a name then you gotta protect it” he raps in quick succession, riding the drill beat like a seasoned veteran and proving himself alongside some of hip-hop’s greatest. The aforementioned “Praise God” is also a massive highlight on the record, with Baby Keem delivering what might be his best verse ever alongside a fantastic Kanye performance, a thrilling Travis Scott appearance, and a relentlessly hard-as-nails gospel infused trap beat.
Where the album falls short, unfortunately, are in the details. First off, the record is painfully bloated. The album, (if you are counting the Pt. 2 versions of “Jail”, “Junya”, “Jesus Lord”, and “Ok Ok”), runs 27 tracks and nearly two hours. Many of the tracks, such as “God Breathed” and “Jesus Lord” tend to overstay their welcome, and there are multiple tracks on the record that are just pure duds. “Jonah” features an absolutely atrocious chorus from Houston singer Vory, with an obnoxious vocal performance and a painfully crammed together flow that does the song absolutely no favors. “Tell the Vision” is essentially just a Pop Smoke song with the vocals tampered with, and the song seems to have very little to do with not only the album narrative, but any sonic elements of the record either. The gospel element also has a tendency to be a bit overdone as well, not really adding much to the overall experience of the album on tracks like “Lord I Need You” and “Come to Life”.
Overall, Donda is a slightly above average album. Within the incredibly bloated listening experience, where eight or nine of the tracks feel unnecessary, there is a wonderful album influenced by gospel and hardship that tells a complete narrative of Kanye’s life struggle. Unfortunately, that record is drowned out by some lackluster moments that do nothing to reinforce the gargantuan hype the record received. Anyone listening to Donda will likely find a relatively enjoyable listening experience, provided that they disregard the hype and see the record for what it is: a solidly decent addition to one of hip-hop’s most polarizing discographies.