Kanye West’s Donda

An Album Review

Kanye Wests Donda

By Wyatt McElroy

Although Kanye has always maintained gospel influences in his music, they have never been as prominent as they were in his last full-length album, “Jesus Is King.” Many found this release, which came at a turbulent time in Kanye’s life, underwhelming and disappointing after he scrapped the highly anticipated “Yandhi” album due to a radical turn to Christianity. In comparison, “Donda,” named after Kanye’s deceased mother, is far more introspective, fleshed-out, and genre-bending. In classic Kanye fashion, tons of controversy surrounded the album’s release. Kanye sold out Mercedes Benz Stadium (home of the Atlanta Falcons) two times for different “release” events in which Ye showcased a different, slightly more finished product each show but still failed to release the album after both events. For the two weeks between these events, Kanye and his crew lived inside the stadium for a rumored price of $1 million a day, flying out other artists for last-second features, re-recording verses, and tweaking the production and tracklist. The third and final release party took place at Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears), with the album being released a few days later. Still, production mixes on the album have been changed multiple times since the release, with rumors of even more tracks and changes being added. 

The album itself is 27 tracks long, with the final 4 being part 2s of previous tracks. Although the tracklist is bloated, the album remains consistently entertaining. Kanye blends hip-hop, gospel, and rock, with many tracks featuring prominent organ keys that help create a dark yet ethereal atmosphere. The album’s completely black cover suggests this album is not so much about directly mourning the loss of his mother but rather finding stability in her absence. Throughout the album, Kanye copes with his emotional instability since the death of his mother and the volatile relationships with his other friends and family, notably his wife/ex-wife Kim Kardashian. 

The album begins with the mystifying “Donda Chant,” in which a female voice calls out the name “Donda” almost 60 times with various vocal inflections. Some have claimed that the voice mirrors the cadence of Donda’s final heartbeats. Again, here, I think the black album cover is significant. To me, the voice represents Kanye’s longing for his mother as her name is called out into a void of nothingness. 

Some highlights include:

  • Jay-Z’s feature on “Jail,” marks the first Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration in years after an apparent falling out. It is important to note that Kanye came up producing for Jay-Z and often refers to him as his “big brother.” Again, the theme of dealing with turbulent relationships with loved ones is continued.
  • Five Foreign’s feature and Kanye’s verse on “Off The Grid,” which showcases Kanye dabbling into some drill production.
  • The Weeknd’s hook on “Hurricane,” a track that was partially released as a teaser to the now-scrapped “Yandhi” album but has now undergone a complete makeover.
  • Don Toliver’s vocals on “Moon,” are possibly the most angelic vocal performance of the year.
  • Kanye’s introspection on tracks like “Jesus Lord,” “Lord I Need You,” and “Come To Life,” show his struggle yet progression in his ability to effectively manage his personal relationships.

Overall, “Donda” by Kanye West is wildly entertaining. Many of Kanye’s lyrics are clearly written last minute, and the production, while still a strong point, also seems rushed at times. Tracks such as “Remote Control,” “New Again,” Junya,” and “Ok Ok” are all at least decent but could’ve been done better if Kanye had spent more time refining his verses and creating more interesting song structures. The rushed production quirks and occasional corny lyrics still do feel almost intentional, though. The album itself sounds like a turbulent relationship, with beautiful highs and messy lows. Considering the strong themes of self-improvement, the various “release” events that showcased the album’s progression and the post-release tweaks likely also were intentional. With Kanye recently legally changing his name to “Ye” (with no last or middle name), it seems that “Donda,” symbolizes an end and a new beginning. Since his mother died in 2007, Kanye has been prone to controversy with various stunts, such as interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs, and public falling outs with former friends and family, such as his recent divorce from Kim Kardashian. It seems that with “Donda,” Kanye is attempting to wipe the slate clean and move into a new chapter in his life after finally coming to terms with his mother’s absence.