Album review: After long last, Kanye West’s “Donda”

News of a new Kanye West album had been floating around the hip-hop world since March 2020. The community was in denial as West had shown to be flaky in the past, thinking specifically about his unreleased projects “Yandi,” “Love Everyone” or the alternate versions to his 2003 album “The College Dropout.” “Donda” felt different though. West had never set up a recording studio in a stadium before, nor had he ever had multiple “drop concerts” concerts where he showcases the new album as it is released for any of his other unreleased projects, so hope was high. Now it’s here, and it’s exactly what I could have asked for. 

“Donda Chant” starts the record off with some odd tones. This track is 52 seconds of a woman saying the name of West’s late mother, Donda. This is rumored to be her last recorded heartbeat before she passed. As far-reaching as it seems, the alleged meaning behind the track holds some real power.

“Jail” is a legendary track. It’s hard not to love this song. The satisfying instrumentals and interesting drum outro, this is what I love about West. The track is simple and yet it feels so powerful, even if the main hook is about going to jail. I have listened to this track on repeat just for how satisfying of a listen it is.

The next few tracks feel like something we’ve heard before, a mix of classic West style, gospel and trap-rap. I should mention, this album has an amazing cast of features. “Hurricane” holds an angelic and harmonious chorus by The Weeknd and a solid verse by Lil Baby. “Jonah” holds a feature from Lil Durk and Vory. 

As much as I love this album as a whole, some moments aren’t exactly for me. I have never been a huge trap-rap fan, and find a majority of the artists within that category to be uninspired or hard to listen to. A majority of my beef comes from their specific flow, but that varies on region, and with West behind them, producing these remarkable tracks, I can’t complain too much.

“Ok Ok” holds one of my favorite verses off the record. I love Lil Yachty’s voice, and hearing him on the bass-heavy simple beat is awesome. “Junya” is not a song I would run on repeat, but I can understand the appeal. It’s got a good church organ type beat and some quotable moments.

“Believe What I Say” is a bop. It’s hard not to move your body to this track. It’s got a tasty beat and some fantastic vocals. This track also feels like one of West’s signature  storytelling tracks, a window into his mind, a look at his view at his marriage with Kim Kardashian West. We get to see West’s group Sunday Service play hard in “24” a powerful track with no holds barred on the gospel influences. “Moon” is a massive expansive track with some of the finest vocal play I have ever heard in a West album. 

This album as a whole feels like West has stepped back from attitudes we have seen him punctuate in other records. We don’t necessarily get the harder feelings we did in “Watch the Throne” or “Yeezus,” but we get to feel some of that sadness and heartbreak felt in “Ye” and “808s & Heartbreak.” This album is also heavily influenced by his Christianity and time spent with Sunday Service. 

Some notable tracks off the back end are “New Again” with some very cute and fun starting lyrics. “Pure Souls” is a fun bop, a track you could play with your friends in the car. “Come to Life” is another similar track to “Hurricane” with some very tasteful, simple chord work. 

“No Child Left Behind” closes the initial release (a second version of the album was released with four new tracks after this review was written). This track had been leaked for quite a while, so I knew what I was getting before I clicked play, and yet, it still hit me like the first time. 

This album is very Kanye. With that said, I find this album to be a safe spot for non-Kanye fans. He has had no short of controversy and discourse within the community. If you like fusion, if you enjoy sample-heavy hip-hop or gospel, this album is a triumph. After waiting for so long, I couldn’t be happier.

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