Kanye West’s career has never had a dull moment. Dealing with a publicized divorce and the aftermath of a failed presidential campaign, Kanye is in a despondent state. To heal and rise out of this new low, Kanye not only finds himself looking to God and embracing spirituality on his new record, but also finally coming to terms with the passing of his mother, the album’s namesake, Donda West.
At 27 tracks, Donda is a tedious listen and has significantly less to do with his mother than the title of the record would suggest; it is largely up to the listener to interpret how this album is linked to Kanye’s acceptance of his mother’s untimely death in 2007. Aside from a few tracks and references to his mother, Donda feels like a continuation of the religious and mental health themes from 2019’s Jesus Is King. The tracks that pertain most to his mother and the impact of her sudden death are the intro track “Donda Chant” and the title track “Donda.” “Donda Chant” features Syleena Johnson chanting his mother’s name, “Donda,” repeatedly in an iambic, hypnotic fashion. Despite its simplicity, the chant’s rhythm alludes to a religious chant and his mother’s heart failure. The title track is the most intimate insight we get into Kanye’s relationship with his mother on Donda. This is largely because the cut features a Donda West monologue about how blessed she is as Kanye’s mother and the impact of his work on current and future generations.
On Donda, the highlights of the record are grandiose, anthemic, and rejuvenating; they can even bring listeners to a spiritual place. “Jail” is Kanye’s take on a stadium rock anthem. The lo-fi and echoed hook about “going to jail” and having “God [...] post [Kanye’s] bail” has vocals that sound like they are bouncing off the walls of a stadium. Kanye raps about “going to jail” as a consequence of his public divorce, as well as the actions that led to his dubious reputation. While Jay-Z’s verse is charming with its references to the fact that this is the first time they collaborated since they made up, his verse lacks the same fire that Kanye’s hook has. Drill banger “Off The Grid” is one of the most instrumentally layered highlights on the album. With its ominous synth lines, booming 808s, rattling high-hats, sword unsheathing sound effects, and occasional eagle caws, the mix is filled to the brim with personality and charisma. “Hurricane” with The Weeknd and Lil Baby features what may be each artist’s best feature this year along with beautiful organ chords and other-worldly scorched choir vocals. “Come to Life” is the most gorgeous and mature track on the record with its shimmering piano keys and heartfelt lyrics about Kanye’s conflicted feelings for his ex-wife and his love for their children.
Several tracks on the album sound like Kanye calling back to his prior records. “Heaven and Hell,” a candidate for best track, sounds like a Yeezus throwback with its industrial electronics and pitched up mutant soul vocals. The build-up to the climactic compressed choir vocals on the track is sure to make one’s hair stand up straight. “24” is reminiscent of Kanye’s freestyling with the Sunday Service Choir from Jesus Is King. While some of the mentions of God and the Devil on “24” are too direct to be interesting, the organ chords and choir vocals chanting “dear God make it alright, nothing else ever feels right,” are enough to bring even the most nonreligious listeners to a spiritual place.
Disappointingly, Donda has nearly as many duds and snoozers as it has highlights. Tracks like “God Breathed” and “Junya” are some of Kanye’s most annoying tracks in years with their droning structures and repetitive hooks. “Praise God” would have been a highlight, had Travis Scott and Baby Keem brought better performances to the table. “Ok Ok” is sleep-inducing with how monotonous both the beat and Lil Yatchy are. “Tell The Vision” clearly means well with its posthumous Pop Smoke feature, but Pop Smoke’s inclusion here feels unnecessary and unceremonious. “Remote Control” may be the worst track of the bunch with its grating whistle sound effect, Kanye’s annoying oscillating vocal melody, juvenile lyrics, and the inclusion of a snippet of the internet meme “The Globglogabgalab.” Finally, tracks “Lord I Need You” and closing track “No Child Left Behind” are impressive on the production side, but are lyrically underwhelming.
The infamous “Jail pt 2,” which was not included on the record originally for its controversial inclusion of accused rapist Marylin Manson and recently disgraced rapper DaBaby, is the only “pt 2” that is worse than the original. Manson’s vocals on the hook are discordant and DaBaby’s victim playing in response to his cancellation is disturbing.
While Kanye is a known provocateur, being “provocative” at the expense of sexual assault victims and the LGBTQ+ community is not being contentious—it is simply damaging to the victims of these artists’ malicious and hateful actions.
Donda is an unnecessarily long project that is far too inconsistent to be considered one of Kanye’s best works. I would not be surprised if within the year Kanye decided to redo and finish many of the tracks and remove the production blemishes (as he did with The Life of Pablo). Titling the album Donda seemed to imply that Kanye was going to make music about his healing from the passing of his mother. In some ways, Kanye’s mother is present in everything he does; on Donda, he is looking for her to comfort him during these trying times, but she’s not there for him, and as a result, he’s turned to God. Donda is an excessive, at times problematic, long-winded, spotty, and spiritual record that simultaneously showcases Kanye’s genius, varied musical styles, and his faults as both an artist and person. In some ways, it is the most “Kanye” of any album in his discography. Whether you love it or hate it, it is hard to disagree that only Kanye West could have made a record like Donda.
Rating: I N D Y
Illustration by Deborah Han
Lammas is a Commentary Co-Editor and a Junior in the College studying Government