Review: Kanye West’s ‘Donda’

I’m scratching my head at the moment trying to think of any artist ever that has produced a two-hour-long album which is excellent from start to finish and I’m drawing a blank. Why Kanye West thought that he would be the artist to manage the impossible when he has not released an album better than any of his previous work in the past five years, is a mystery. It could of course be linked to his legendary ego so I guess we will forgive him there, he really believed he could do it. His hotly anticipated newest album Donda, named after his late mother, is intended as a tribute to her. Her presence on the album is not overpowering, in fact, she does not appear to have a huge influence over it, save the tracks in her name and some lyrics more obviously dedicated to her and Kanye’s relationship with her. Overall, the album achieves some true classic bangers, wonderful hidden gems, and a few terrible tracks that should never have left the studio.

Overall, the album is chaotic, messy, and needed far more editing, intermixed with some true musical gems. The strangest part of the album is that Kanye is not the standout artist featuring on this Kanye album. The guest additions in places outshine him completely, but of course not everywhere. We could perhaps say that Kanye was trying an artistic approach that represented the chaos of his life in the past year, however, I suspect that may give him too much benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, there is no denying that some of the tracks on Donda are magnificent and will remain classics for a while.

‘Off The Grid’ is my top pick from Donda featuring Kanye’s best verses on the album along with excellent features from Playboi Carti and Fivio. It gives us Kanye’s established high energy, impactful style which, coupled with his flawless production, makes for an outstanding track. ‘Jail’ is similarly a strong track which I enjoyed a lot. Although Jay-Z’s verse is perhaps not his best ever it adds excitement and depth to the song including teasing a “return of the throne”. I absolutely love The Weeknd’s feature on ‘Hurricane’ which has become one of the more commercially popular tracks and for good reason. The vocals are stunning with strong lyrics and a powerful verse from Kanye himself. My favourite feature on the album has to go to Don Toliver on ‘Moon’, a beautiful song that reflects back earlier themes heard on the album and also employs Kid Cudi, whose presence on Kanye’s albums has become favourably expected and hotly anticipated. Of the lesser-known features, we can expect Vory to be heading upwards in his career following outstanding features on ’24’, ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Jonah’, despite the latter not being a brilliant overall track. The longest song on the album, ‘Jesus Is Lord’ is a more hidden gem on the latter half of the album which gives Kanye space for some of his most thoughtful bars.

Unfortunately, Donda is let down by some of Kanye’s weakest songs. There’s an awful lot of songs that strike no reaction other than “meh”, which is not exactly flattering, or are merely what we’ve come to expect from Kanye. Would anyone really have given ‘Junya’ the time of day had it not been a Kanye track? I’m not convinced. I’m never sure if reprises are necessary on a commercial album but ‘Junya’ certainly did not need one. It would be difficult to discuss the reprises without touching on the problematic ‘Jail pt 2’ which Kanye insisted would retain DaBaby’s and Marilyn Manson’s features. Both individuals are controversial figures, and as such, I think the album could have easily done without this reprise. Firstly, it does not add much to the album anyway, and more importantly in 2021 giving such huge platforms to homophobes and those repeatedly accused of alleged sexual assault is out of place and totally unwelcome.

The album is complex, long, and messy. I think it is one of those albums we have to just accept for what it is: imperfect, but still with moments of brilliance we can only expect from Kanye. Some standout tracks, and some that are frankly bang average. Particular featuring artists are truly excellent and a treat to listen to performing their best on Donda, however, some were unnecessary. There is always controversy surrounding Kanye, but he has definitely stepped over the borderline of acceptable with some of the features he chose to keep on Donda. Generally, despite its fairly evident flaws, my feelings towards Donda are positive, however, I’ll be skipping a few of the tracks next time I listen.

Featured image: Kenny Sun on Flikr with license

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