By Tate Luckey
After months of delays, 3 listening parties, and a bunch of controversies, Donda, Kanye West’s 10th album, is finally out for the masses to listen to. His last album, Jesus Is King (2019) combines Christian overtones and gospel elements with his repudiation from sin. Donda expands upon this, interlacing the previous point with Ye’s family and childhood. It’s an expansive album (27 whole songs, just shy of 2 hours), with an equally expansive catalog of features (by comparison, Jesus is King clocks in at 27 minutes, and The Life Of Pablo goes on for just over an hour). Because there is so much here to unpack, here are a few songs that really stand out.
Featuring vocals from “The Weeknd” and a verse from “Lil Baby”, this song actually popped up in 2018 as a demo West posted on his Instagram and Twitter. Now as a fully finished song in 2021, this is definitely one of the standouts of the album. Kanye has a real knack for realizing what sounds fit and which don’t; The Weeknd’s harmony with his Sunday Service Choir on the first and last “Don’t let me down” is powerful. This song’s transformation from an arguably lofi sound to more grandiose is perhaps emblematic of Kanye’s musical transformation, too.
Set up after “Donda Chant” and featuring a verse from Jay Z, Jail is my personal favorite song from the album. The chorus is infectious, and the minimalist guitar instrumental perfectly complements the restrained anger Ye and Jay-Z’s lyrics have towards the prison systems and their own personal heartbreaks. It’s the perfect song to display their lyrical chemistry.
Kanye’s ability to create both energetic and somber songs is on full ability display while listening to “Moon”. The lush, reverb-soaked vocals perfectly complement “Moon”‘s idea of ascension (which, knowing Kanye is likely spiritual). One can even make the argument that Kanye’s calling out to his mom, given the lines “don’t leave me so soon” and asking out “how can I get through” to reach out.
Believe What I Say
Previewed during the 3rd listening party West had for DONDA, “Believe What I Say” is another standout. The grooving bassline, along with West’s laid-back vocals give off a Graduation vibe. Even Lauryn Hill is featured at the beginning! It’s a song that I think is underrated on the album, and fans of older Kanye may enjoy it more.
Now, it’s tough to quantify a body of work from an artist, whether a film or painting or album, as a letter grade or star review system. I feel that that’s disingenuous to the idea of a review. So I’m choosing to grade this based on a simple question: would I listen to Donda again? Sure. Admittedly, a few of the songs go on too long (looking at you, Jesus Lord), but I encourage anyone reading to block out time to take a listen. It’s almost as if this album is meant to be heard at a live event rather than in your own home. Concept albums like this are nothing necessarily new, but Kanye does it again producing a moving, introspective experience.
File Graphic // Kanye West Twitter //