Kanye West - Donda Review

Story posted September 5, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Caelan Chevrier.

After over a year of its initial announcement, Chicago rapper, fashion designer, former presidential candidate and billionaire Kanye West has released his tenth studio album, Donda.

The album is dedicated to his deceased mother, Donda West, who passed away in 2007 after surgical complications. After numerous delays and retracted release dates, plus revamped beef with rapper Drake, it was unknown when, if ever, Donda was going to come to light.

The world woke up last Sunday morning to a surprise, the long-awaited album had finally arrived with it exceeding nearly impossible expectations.

The album is West’s longest tracklist and length of time. It’s 27 tracks and clocks in at an hour and 49 minutes. Comparing it to his 2018 Wyoming records, 20 more tracks seem almost overwhelming.

This is partially due to the inclusion of four bonus tracks which serve as remixes to songs featured earlier on the album. These can be hit or miss; the original “Jail” with Jay-Z is much more well-crafted compared to the Marilyn Manson and DaBaby version. However, the Ty Dolla $ign feature on “Junya pt 2” makes the track feel more complete.

The beginning of the album starts exceptionally strong. “Jail” is a rock anthem that unites the throne between Jay-Z and West for the first time in seemingly forever. It makes one wonder what could have happened over the past decade if they had a healthy relationship.

The one thing that would have made the track even better is if the drums kicked in during any of the verses or chorus. For some reason, they only came into the mix once all of the vocals were over.

“Off The Grid” is a Chicago drill banger where West recruits the dream team of Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign. Fivio delivers the best verse on the entire album with some of the best inflection and rhyme schemes of his career. West also provides some of his best rapping since 2016’s "The Life of Pablo." The intensity of the track makes West seem like the most Chicago he has ever been since his “Higher Education Trilogy.”

West did a phenomenal job hand-curating all of the features on the album. “Hurricane,” after being the teaser for the scrapped “Yandhi,” was finally released as well. With The Weeknd’s angelic vocals on the chorus and a Lil Baby feature, it makes for a chart-topping euphoric experience.

The addition of the choir behind The Weeknd’s vocals adds another dimension of bliss that can make the strongest atheist feel holy. “Praise God” has one of the best instrumentals in the album, and has remarkable Travis Scott and Baby Keem features.

Another outstanding track features another teaser with a Lauryn Hill sample that got flipped to perfection. Considering how dark the album is, it is one of the brighter moments that stand out. West sings “Don't let, don't let the lifestyle drag you down | Who knows when was the last time you felt the love.”

The last three tracks of the record close Donda off on such a strong note. “Pure Souls'' features incredible vocal performances by Roddy Ricch on the hook and 070 Shake on the backend. Paired with an organ trap beat, the track is a guaranteed earworm.

West’s singing is something that is way more prevalent on Donda, and it’s clear to see that he has been working on his voice. This can also be seen on tracks like “Come to Life,” where he sings about his wife, children over layered piano and gorgeous synthesizer tracks. It is a track that will make one forget where they are, and their struggles, and deliver them peace and serenity.

“No Child Left Behind,” which debuted during a Beats commercial, makes a perfect close to the album. It makes listeners feel as West did leaving his second listening party, levitating towards the sky, feeling like there is more out there than just on earth.

There are very few weak points when it comes to the album. One thing that holds it back from its full potential is that it is heavily censored. During the three listening parties, the featured artists, and even West himself, were heard cursing, yet it is nowhere to be found on the album. This makes some sections sound super awkward, but ultimately it does not take away from the experience.

Also, some tracks feel unnecessary such as the Pop Smoke interlude, “Tell The Vision.” Unfortunately, it has a very incomplete and unpleasant sounding mix.

In terms of West’s discography, it is nearly impossible to say where Donda sits. It makes huge strides from his previous two records, “ye” and “JESUS IS KING.” Right now, it sounds like nothing else out.

Donda takes heavy influence from his previous records; listeners will most likely be reminded of “The Life of Pablo” and some “Yeezus” similarity as well. It is Pablo-esque because of how messy it is, yet somehow cohesive. There is something for every listener to like.

It is impossible to say what West will do next, and that is probably a good thing. Kanye West provides listeners with a spiritual experience that is ahead of its time.

Donda is a near-masterpiece that excels in storytelling, production and replayability.

Rating: 8/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Off The Grid,” “Hurricane,” “Come to Life”
Reviewer’s Least Favorite Songs: “Tell The Vision”

 

Caelan Chevrier is a second-year majoring in journalism. To contact him, email cjc6789@psu.edu.

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Caelan Chevrier

Freshman / Journalism

Caelan Chevrier is a first-year student in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State University studying broadcast journalism with the goal of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years. His plan is to get involved in numerous media-related clubs during his stay. His career goal is to spread informative, meaningful and entertaining content across various platforms and to be a positive impact on the community. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).