After over a year since it was announced, three listening parties and hardly any information, Kanye West’s “Donda” was finally released this past Sunday.
“Donda” is Kanye’s 10th studio album following the similarly tumultuous release of “Jesus is King” in 2019. It’s dedicated to Kanye’s mother, Donda West, who passed away in 2007. It’s 23 songs long with four additional tracks that are second parts to other songs on the album, but with different features on them. In total, the album is one hour and 49 minutes in length.
“Donda” is Kanye’s largest release to date, bringing forward Kanye at his best, worst and most extravagant. Overall, the good parts echo past the bad, culminating in some of the best music that Kanye has released in a long time.
To address the main elephant in the room, this record is huge. It’s among Kanye’s most grandiose and biggest projects that he’s ever released, filled with features, producers and long songs.
On that note, it’s almost too much at times, at worst feeling bloated and a marathon to finish. There could have been a few songs cut from the record to trim some of the fat.
However, there’s an inherent joy to having an artist release such a large project, especially when most of the problems exist as moments within songs instead of the full songs themselves. There are a few strange production choices, vocal arrangements and song lengths throughout the album, leaving it feeling sporadic at times, not unlike “The Life of Pablo.” For example, the choir cuts too quickly in “Hurricane,” which is an otherwise perfect song.
But there wasn’t a song that was clearly bad, except for maybe “Jail, Pt. 2” for reasons that won’t be stated here — let’s just say some terrible people are featured on that song. If anything, you could skip the last four and be fine — except for maybe “Ok Ok, Pt. 2,” which is great — as well as any songs you don’t like out of personal preference. Basically, this album is perfect for chopping into an 11 song playlist.
That being said, the rest of the album is filled with some stellar production at times and some of Kanye’s best songs, pulling influences from all over his discography. This album is heavily Gospel infused, with incredible organs, beautiful choirs and even some droning chants. It blends into the drums, bass and synths used throughout the album.
Despite the large nature of the album, it feels stripped back, creating a sparser quality to the instruments. Ultimately, this helps the album, as it makes everything feel heavy, gripping and purposeful. There is something to latch onto within each song, leaving a lasting impact while feeling weighty.
It allows for some truly stellar moments on the album. The synth riff in “Off the Grid,” the “Graduation” synth beat on “New Again” and the organ on “Pure Souls” are a few standout moments in that regard. Typical for a Kanye album, there are several samples that are interspersed throughout the album, some of them leaving a confused and sour taste.
But for every Globglogabgalab feature at the end of “Remote Control,” there’s a sample that hits just right. This manifests in the perfect usage of a Lauryn Hill sample on “Believe What I Say.” It is used with a dance beat while Kanye sings about love and worry. It feels straight off of “808s and Heartbreak” and is the best song on the album.
Speaking of vocals, this album features some of Kanye’s best rapping in a long time, at least since “The Life of Pablo.” It’s not as corny as his recent efforts, with the few joking moments feeling playful and earnest — there’s a line about him and Kim Kardashian being “the best collab since Taco Bell and KFC”.
Generally, his rapping is on beat and poignant, with him mostly bearing his heart out as he raps about his mom, his friends, his family, his faith and his career. There’s actual substance to what Kanye is saying in this album.
Along with Kanye, the features — barring the obvious bad ones alluded to earlier — are excellent. There is not one feature out of place, with a majority of them becoming the highlight of a song.
Features like The Weeknd, Jay-Z, Jay Electronica, Kid Cudi, Vory, Fivio Foreign and KayCyy all add tremendously to the album as a whole, fleshing out the songs and breathing even more life into the project as a whole. Even the ones not mentioned here do a great job, again adding to each song individually.
Finally, there are some spoken word recordings from Donda West spread throughout the album, tying it back to the heart of what the project always was from the start. They help bring the album together, despite the mix-match of songs.
There seems to be everything and nothing to say about this album. It’s the most complete, fullest Kanye album in a long time, even if he decides to tweak aspects of it later. Although there might be something to cut, change or clip, it’s mesmerizing to see this album finally come to fruition.
It’s hard to say if Kanye West fans will like this album. It’s simultaneously everything that he has done in his career culminating into one album, while also being completely different. It’s like a strange combination of “The Life of Pablo” and “Jesus is King,” yet it works surprisingly well. Along with that, it’s really long, with a consistent feeling like it’s about to wrap up even though there’s 10 songs left.
It’s definitely worth giving it a listen out of sheer curiosity, just to see how a year-plus long project finally turned out. At least for me, I’m really into what “Donda” brings to the table. It’s definitely one of Kanye’s better outputs in a long time and something worth revisiting over time.