“Donda,” “Donda,” “Donda.” For the latter half of the summer the title of Kanye West’s latest album has found its way onto my social media feeds, whether it be trending tweets or Instagram photos of West’s room in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Kanye, or “Ye,” as he would prefer to be called, commanded attention and mystified his fans with three exclusive listening parties, each one featuring a slightly different iteration of the album. At the first two, which were performed in Atlanta, Ye strutted around the stage, hardly rapping live to his tracks. The third, in Chicago, featured bombshell appearances from disgraced artists DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, and an additional cameo from Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, who appeared on stage in her wedding dress. “Donda” additionally sparked controversy with a potential scheduling conflict with Drake’s new record, “Certified Lover Boy.”
As time went on, the wait for the album made fans more and more excited for “Donda” to drop. Yet for all the hype that preceded it, “Donda” itself did not wow me, leaving me wondering if the publicity surrounding the drop served to overinflate my expectations of the actual music.
Ye’s style and sound has been extremely versatile throughout his career. His music, like his personality, is hard to pin down due to his ability to draw from multiple different influences such as R&B, gospel and EDM. However, despite the variability of his source material, Ye has demonstrated that he can take any sound and make it his own. Even when he features other artists on his tracks, such as Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj on “Monster,” the overall sound of the music is undeniably Ye. That said, “Donda” sounded like Ye adapted the sounds of his guest stars for their parts in his music, instead of orchestrating them into his style. For example, “Hurricane,” which features The Weeknd, sounds more like Ye on a Weeknd track than The Weeknd performing in the style of Ye. Even “Jail,” which incorporates an intro riff on the electric guitar, sounds more like Ye adapting the sound of Post Malone, who is not even featured on the album. There are some golden moments of originality that include that quintessential Kanye originality, like the gospel sound in “Keep My Spirit Alive” that hearkens back to Ye’s 2019 album, “Jesus is King.” Or “Come to Life,” which includes a rich piano solo interlude mixed with a very auto tuned Ye on vocals that fits his brand. However, this quintessential “Kanye-ness” stayed within the B sides of the record.
“Donda” comes after Kanye fully embraced his Christianity and made it an integral part of his music and performances, which included “Sunday Service,” his line of semi-religious concerts. His Christian themes from “Jesus is King” carry over into “Donda” and can be seen in many of the lyrics and song titles on the album. This theme meshes well with the other major focus of the album: Ye’s dedication to his mother, Donda West. The religious and familial focus of the album takes the listener on a meditative journey with Ye as he dives into his mental state and his relationship with his mom. This meditative, prayer-like aspect is heightened by constant repetition that takes place throughout the album. At the beginning of the record, Ye’s guest vocalist Syleena Johnson chants “Donda” for over a minute, so much so that the word almost turns into a mantra that starts the prayer that is the album. Using that lens, the repetition of lyrics and the revisitation of certain songs that Ye puts in part two of the album make sense of this decision. However, like additional litanies in mass, this makes the album run too long and could lose the listener’s interest.
“Donda” disappointed me because it did not leave me stunned by the overall artistry of its music. The pre-drop hype inflated my expectations of the album so greatly that nothing could live up to the publicity stunts that preceded it. Throughout his career Ye has proven himself as a master orchestrator of the media and music, but in the instance of “Donda,” his masterful hype totally eclipses the quality of the album.
Artist: Kanye West
Label: GOOD MUSIC and Def Jam Recordings
Favorite tracks: “Pure Souls,” “Come to Life,” “Keep My Spirit Alive,” “Donda”
If you like: “Jesus is King,” Tyler the Creator, The Weeknd
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5