Kanye West's Bloated 'Donda' Has Glimpses of Classic Yeezy
Published Aug 30, 2021Forty days and nights — seriously — after first announcing his 10th studio album via a Beats by Dre commercial starring track and field sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson, Kanye West officially released his tenth studio album, Donda, though apparently not with his explicit approval. Following the release of his Grammy-winning gospel affair, 2020's Jesus Is King, the album offers an objectively more accessible body of work, though it isn't without its flaws.
During a January 2020 Sunday Service, Ye took particular offence to Drake's suggestion that he may never again make secular music. In a classic Ye rant, he noted to the crowd, "Don't call me secular, 'cause secular is trying to say that I'll do anything for anyone other than Christ. That's where they got it messed up." He stays steadfast in this sentiment, but Donda is far less heavy-handed than Jesus Is King; instead, it's noticeably more sombre, though it manages to balance his faith and ongoing spiritual journey with glints of classic Kanye.
In proper (classic) Kanye form, and unlike his last two releases, this album is long. While it's the product of apparent locked-in focus, it doesn't hold on to consistent genius across the expansive, nearly two-hour setlist, filled with a dizzying line-up of guests.
Some of the guests help provide the album with its shiniest gems, including JAY-Z on the exhilarating Watch the Throne reunion "Jail" (thankfully not replaced by DaBaby, as was implied by the latter's appearance at the third and final listening party mere days ago, whose version now appears as "Jail, Pt. 2" at the project's tail end); the LOX, who appear on the second part of the album's centrepiece, "Jesus Lord," with the once-elusive MC Jay Electronica; Kid Cudi on "Moon"; and Conway the Machine, who appears with his brother Westside Gunn on "Keep My Spirit Alive." Features like Vory over the thundering bass of "God Breathed," Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign eating up "Off the Grid," and the Weeknd and Lil Baby skating over "Hurricane" help alley-oop Ye some of the best material he's made in years.
However, with so many chefs in the kitchen, sometimes things get muddled — especially with Ye perpetually tinkering with elements that perhaps aren't broken, causing things to fall apart in other places. While there is a message of hope, rebirth and salvation abound, songs like "Remote Control" with Young Thug (and the bizarre Globglogabgalab cameo) feel oddly off-brand when Ye isn't on the mic, as does the addition of Rooga on "Ok Ok, Pt. 2." Ultimately, the sheer volume of guests and scattered sequencing keep this project from being the best that it could be.
Perhaps the biggest flaw was the transparency in its creation process; letting fans hear three very different listening experiences probably wasn't the best idea. "Jail" was once the album closer but now serves as the second track, which frankly throws the vibe off — mainly because Ye played an alternate and more logical song sequence weeks ago.
There are swipes at cancel culture by DaBaby (among other mixed messaging), and overproduced songs, like the final mixes of "Hurricane" and "New Again" with Chris Brown that don't help the cause when the original mixes sounded cleaner. Also, it's difficult to know whether the contributions by JAY-Z, Kid Cudi, the LOX and Conway were left out of the third listening session strategically or whether Ye tacked them back on at the last moment because of the tsunami of fan feedback. Either way, at 27 songs, it's bloated.
It's hard not to feel the energy that Kanye exudes on Donda. Though its creation process was an overarching performative event in itself, Ye still managed to (for the most part) control his narrative, and deliver his best body of work in recent memory. It's just hard not to think that some trimming and sequencing tweaks could have made this LP that much greater and his message that much more poignant. (Def Jam/Universal)