Kanye West has been on a fascinating run as of late. After announcing his 10th album, “Donda,” over a year ago, West spent the past two months performing the new tracks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with the sets becoming progressively zanier and the many songs/features being changed each time. Now, West has finally released “Donda” for the whole world to hear.
From the album’s opening track, West’s otherworldly creative choices take the forefront once again, with “Donda Chant” containing nothing more than the repeated word, “Donda.”
Named after his late mother, “Donda” represents somewhat of a creative turning point for West. After completely revamping his musical style for the heavily religious “Jesus is King,” Kanye blends his faith-based music with something out of his 2016 masterpiece, “Life of Pablo.” Still containing the positivity and love for God found in “Jesus is King,” “Donda” brings back the signature Kanye aggression that helped make him famous while refusing to shed his newfound relationship with God.
After its weirder-than-usual introduction, the album establishes itself on sophomore track, “Jail.” Rapping alongside a beat that would make any American rock fan squeal, Ye happily raps “Guess who’s goin’ to jail tonight?” in an expression of comfortability after a decade as public enemy number one. But the real surprise comes in the track’s latter half, with former collaborator Jay-Z spitting an exceptional verse that all but confirms the two have ended their years-long feud.
Jay Z: “Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus / You are not in control of my thesis / You already know what I think ‘bout think pieces / Before you ask, he already told you who he think he is / Don’t try to jail my thoughts and think pre-cents / I can’t be controlled with programs and presets.”
Like his other projects before, West handles the majority of the album’s production, and it shows. What makes the beats so special here is how seamlessly they blend Ye’s aforementioned styles. While many beats would never find their way into a church choir, many of these songs are sung in such a way that suggests they could easily find a home in listeners’ local place of worship, while still invoking energetic anthems that will be screamed in unison by thousands of fans at West’s next live show.
On “Off the Grid,” Kanye employs young talents Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, who effectively bring their own styles to the table. While Carti retains the emo-esque style that made headlines on his previous album, “Whole Lotta Red,” Fivio Foreign delivers a long verse respecting Kanye’s religious motif while providing the headbanging rhymes that NYC-drill rappers are known for.
Fivio Foreign: “Just to get the top, then they gotta respect it / If you got a voice, then you gotta project it / If you got a wrong, then you gotta correct it / If you got a name, then you gotta protect it / If you give me shock, then you gotta electric.”
One of the most fascinating components of the album is its lack of expletives. Most likely in an effort to pay respect to religion and his God, Ye makes sure the 27 track project doesn’t contain a single uncensored curse word. But, unlike “Jesus is King,” this album still maintains the quintessential Kanye energy fans know and love, as opposed to the entire switch up from his style that was “Jesus is King.”
“Ok Ok” is one of Ye’s best verses across the album, as Kanye raps with Fivio Foreign, Rooga and the always colorful Lil Yachty in an emphatic verse about the value of hard work and the large number of untrustworthy people in their lives.
Kanye West: “Okay, now they got me, wanna rap again / Heal the wound and then you stab me in my back again / You the type to play the joke and try to hide your hand / Not the type to come around and try to play your friend /You the type to cut the grass and snake your bestest man / I’m the type to close the deal and cut my **** in”
As always, Kanye is at his best when he is introspective, which he showcases on “Jesus Lord,” a song about the sadder moments in his life: fake friends, drug addiction and the loss of his mother. Easily one of the most somber tracks on the album, Kanye’s dark discovery into his own mind delivers as one of Ye’s most heartfelt verses in years:
“It’s just drugs, it ain’t no hugs, it ain't no love there / You been down so much you don’t even know what's upstairs / Suicidal thoughts got you wonderin’ what's up there / And while I introduce the party, you say it's up there / Too many pills, so much potions, so much pain, too many emotions / And everything that you do good, it just go unnoticed.”
Despite acting as a return to form for the Grammy-winning rapper, “Donda’s” greatest fallback is its length. There isn’t much wrong with the quality itself, but many of the songs feel bloated on the instrumental side, with songs like the excellently rapped “God Breathed” containing quiet outros that span over a minute. These poignant moments had lots of potential for greater artistic growth, but are instead overshadowed as excess fat that could have been trimmed for a tighter project.
Additionally, Kanye ends the album with a handful of “Part 2” songs that act as remixes to earlier tracks on the album. While it’s great to hear the added features, it would have been nice if Ye could have used these on the original versions or even entirely new songs, as these remixes just feel like excess.
One of the album’s greatest strengths comes in the form of personnel, with Kanye enlisting everyone from Ariana Grande, Marilyn Manson, Playboi Carti, The LOX and even Buffalo natives Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn. While others would easily fumble such a mixed bag of artists, Ye blends everyone together seamlessly, creating one of his largest scale projects and further cementing his artistry as one of hip-hop’s best and brightest minds.
While fans can never be sure when his next release will be — in no small part due to his penchant for delays — Kanye gave listeners what was easily his best album in years: an encyclopedia of musical ideas, complete with every type of artist, beat and lyrical subject. Donda West would be proud.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.