After months of hype, speculation, many dates being moved, and a slew of listening events throughout the country, Kanye West finally released his 10th studio album; DONDA.
Kanye West making a big deal out of an album release is nothing new, but this one felt special since his last few albums have either been shelved or extremely short, as Jesus is King and Ye, his 9th and 8th albums, respectively, were under 10 tracks.
The bottom line is that he is arguably the most influential rapper of the last 20 years, and after releasing a full-on gospel album, many rap fans were itching for some classic Ye action and we got that with DONDA.
First of all, the album is a hefty, jaunting 27 tracks, 4 of which serve as reprises and a few tracks that go past the 5-minute mark so it is a hell of a listen and comes across as a real epic masterpiece of sorts. It truly feels like a combination of some of Kanye’s favorite bits and pieces of music that he has made over the last several years.
As mentioned, there were the cancellations of Turbografx 16, Yandhi, and Love Everybody that seemingly led to a lot of music being shelved indefinitely, something confirmed by most of the leaks over the years.
While its massive, genre-bending tracks prove that Kanye is still a musical marvel that keeps his finger on the pulse of the culture, DONDA’s biggest and most alluring attraction is the gospel-infused trap that really takes the center stage in a much more balanced way than on Jesus is King.
This is where the first 10 tracks or so really shine, as the features from Fivio Foreign, Travis Scott, Jay-Z, The Weeknd, and Playboi Carti get a chance to give their own unique perspective on a higher being in their respective guest appearances. (Fivio on “Off The Grid”, Weeknd on “Hurricane”. Jay-Z on “Jail”, Travis on “Praise God”, and Playboi Carti on “Junya Pt.1”
Unfortunately, there is about a half-hour worth of much more music centered around religion, which completely overpowers the sonically pleasing mix from the first half that occurs from “Jesus Lord” to “Come To Life”. Somewhat ironically, one of the edgiest acts in Westside Gunn precedes this in the song “Keep My Spirit Alive”.
After that, we get the reprisals of “Jail Pt. 1”, “Junya Pt. 1”, and “Ok Pt. 1”, which are great tracks to serve as bookends to the album but it does give the album a bit of a bloated feeling as they are complete retreads of the song but with different features.
All in all, the music is extremely well produced and even beautiful at times but the album swells and builds without ever really climaxing, perhaps mirroring his ongoing tangents about (what seems to be) his troubles with his beau Kim Kardashian.
The almost constant cult-like insertion of religious imagery in Kanye’s lyrics almost completely dwarf his witticism that is scarce in an album that spends a lot of time letting other artists get the verse spotlights. However, those very features provide that perspective and only highlight Kanye’s amazing production skills and how he maintains a real visceral lack of care towards any criticism. This is real art.
Many of the guest spots are instant recommends, but as the features seem to take the center stage we might be seeing the sunset of Kanye’s true rapping era as he transitions into a DJ/producer role going forward, something he already has been known for since the dawn of his career.
FINAL NOTES; The leaked versions and final version of “Hurricane” could easily be spliffed into one awesome song, the Larry Hoover Jr. story of his father being in prison and fighting for hope in his community was powerful, the looming release of Certified Lover Boy by Drake and their ongoing beef took a large chunk of the focus away from the music itself as their rivalry became the story, and that piano-only version of “Tell The Vision” was as intriguing as it was unsettling (in a good way).
Favorite Songs: “Hurricane” (ft. Lil Baby & The Weeknd), “Jail Pt. 1” (ft. Jay-Z), “Junya Pt. 1” (ft. Playboi Carti), and “Tell The Vision” (ft. Pop Smoke)