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“Donda” Review

9 mins read

After much delay, Kanye West finally released his tenth solo studio album, Donda, on Sunday, August 29 at 8 a.m.

It is worth noting the timing of Kanye’s release. First, let’s clarify how album sales are recorded.  Billboard, an American music and entertainment magazine known for their “Hot 100” music chart, begins tracking sales on Friday and ends the following Thursday.  Therefore, most albums are dropped on a Friday, in order to give the record as much time as possible to accumulate the maximum number of sales in its first week. Since Donda was dropped on a Sunday, the album was only accessible for five days before Billboard stopped recording its first week sales. According to Kanye, “UNIVERSAL PUT MY ALBUM OUT WITHOUT MY APPROVAL AND THEY BLOCKED JAIL 2 FROM BEING ON THE ALBUM.” It is true that “Jail pt 2” was initially unavailable on the album, but Universal denies these claims. Nevertheless, in its first “week” following the release, Donda debuted with the equivalent of 309,000 sales in the United States — the most sales from any album in 2021. He was quickly dethroned, however, following the release of Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, which dropped five days after Donda.

Donda is a God-inspired album consisting of 27 songs with features from several notable artists such as Jay-Z, Travis Scott, and The Weeknd.  The body of work is a tribute to his late mother, Donda West, who passed away in 2007.  Not only does Kanye name the album after her, but he also includes two tracks that draw a clear connection to his mother: “Donda Chant” and “Donda.” “Donda Chant” is a 51-second intro to the album performed by Sylveena Johnson; its only lyrics are “Donda” spoken repeatedly with different cadences and tones of voice. It has been speculated that the cadence with which the chant is spoken is a reference to the cadence of his mother’s dying heartbeat. Similarly, the song “Donda” opens with Kanye repeatedly singing “forever” and “glory,” leading to a powerful monologue from his mother. It is apparent that Kanye finds significant strength in his mother. This can be seen in the final lines of Donda West’s speech: “What did I teach him? / And why Kanye ain’t scared?” 

Compared to his early discography, Donda presents a new “Ye.” As a young rapper, West was flashy and conceited; in his music, he frequently referenced women, parties, and fame. On Donda, West seems to be sending a different message. The album is completely free from explicit lyrics and he reveals a new side of himself — a man who is God-driven, working towards a vision larger than himself.  

There are a number of significant features on this project, in addition to those mentioned above, Lil Baby, Young Thug, and Roddy Ricch make an appearance as well. West also added two last-second features to the album: DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Understandably, this caused an uproar. Following the homophobic comments made by DaBaby at Rolling Loud Miami and the numerous sexual abuse allegations against Marilyn Manson, West’s decision to include both features on “Jail pt 2” is questionable and disappointing. Still, the inclusion of both controversial figures could be driven by his faith in God and forgiveness.

Before diving into the album, it is worth discussing the album’s cover. As a visual artist myself, I was initially bothered by the completely black cover. Upon further inspection, however, it fits the mood of the album quite well. The dark, dystopian tone of the album evokes powerful, mysterious, and overwhelming emotions that reminisce with the color black. After two weeks of listening to this album on heavy rotation, the cover makes sense.

Now let’s delve into the actual songs. In terms of content, this album is a dense, spiritual experience. I am not going to lie — I can’t stop listening. It is honestly hard for me to pick favorites. I’ve added 16 songs to my “No Doubt” playlist, the playlist that I listen to when I need a song that will give me immediate comfort. These songs include, but are not limited to,  “Moon,” “Off the Grid,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Hurricane,” and “Pure Souls.” I have had these songs on repeat since the release.

Let’s take a closer look into some of these “No Doubters.” In my opinion, the strongest overall songs on the album are “Moon” and “Off The Grid.” “Moon” feat. Don Toliver & Kid Cudi is an instant favorite for me, as Don Toliver and Kid Cudi are two of my top artists at the moment. The symphony made up of their three voices make a truly beautiful and mesmerizing melody. “Off The Grid” feat. Fivio Foreign & Playboi Carti brings an evil and treacherous energy. Each artist has key moments on this song. The feature from Playboi Carti evokes dark emotions similar to that of the character, “The Joker”; this is most prominently felt through the way he performs his ad libs. Similarly, Fivio Foreign lays down an exceptionally hard verse; the line that catches my attention in particular is “I know it’s demons in that dark liquor.” Even Kanye brings back his old flow. His best line of the song is: “Don’t try to test me, I keep it clean, but it can get messy / I talk to God everyday, that’s my bestie / They playin’ soccer in my backyard, I think I see Messi.” Classic Kanye.

Not all songs, however, were as impressive as these. In particular, “Tell The Vision” feat. Pop Smoke was a let down for me. Pop Smoke was one of my favorite young artists before his passing, however, this song falls flat for me. The original version of “Tell the Vision” was released on Pop Smoke’s second posthumous studio album, Faith, featuring Kanye West and Pusha T.  However, the Donda version is a spin off of the original, with the inclusion of a piano loop and a tweaked version of Pop Smoke’s verse from Faith. Kanye doesn’t even make an appearance on the song.  It’s not bad, just nothing special; I don’t understand why the song is even on the album.

Overall, this album was extremely on brand for Kanye. Between the dramatic build up and the controversial release, Donda was a rollercoaster. Following a mental breakdown, a divorce, and a spiritual awakening, however, Kanye gifted us with an especially solid album.

5 Comments

  1. Better titles for Jack Snyder’s review:

    1) “I listened to ‘Donda’, so you don’t have to.”

    2) “‘Donda’: Not my father’s Yeezy”

    3) “Yo, Swarthmore ranked No. 3 among national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News, bittttches, and, um, ‘Donda’ to you too.”

  2. you’re trippin about Ok Ok my guy…regardless the review is a great analysis of Kanye’s artistry, 10/10 👏🏾

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