Donda: A Must-Listen Project

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Kanye West, August 2021 (BFA/Yeezy) Kanye West in look 35 from Balençiaga’s AW20 collection by Demna Gvasalia at his second album listening party.

Kanye Omari West pushes his awing discography to new depths in his latest release, Donda, an album long-awaited by fans since the early mentions of it in July 2020. 

Donda acts as an artistic tribute and reflection on the lessons learned from his late mother, Dr. Donda West, as well as an outlet for Kanye to explore his more recent emotional state. Post-presidential campaign, newfound riches, and divorce, West has plenty to reflect on in this tracklist and he does just that.  

Although the songs on the album have no sort of true cohesive auditory theme, a common set of ideas and stylistic choices bind the project into a lovely amalgamate. 

The album kicks off in Kanye-fashion with the obscure “Donda Chant.” It was first laughed at due to the track simply being Syleena Johnson, an R&B singer-songwriter, saying the name Donda a thousand times over. However, it is now praised for its alleged meaning, of which the chant supposedly represents the last heart beats of his dying mother.  

Kanye’s features on this album bring a new light to every single track with what feels like zero uninteresting verses on the album from anyone but West himself. The first example of this would be the notable Jay-Z verse on “Jail,” an insanely catchy Rock-inspired anthem made more enjoyable through the interchanging of flows between the two artists. The rhythmic bond between the two is refreshing to hear, with their chemistry being longstanding since their 2011 collaborative mixtape Watch the Throne, of which garnered an immense musical connection. 

“God Breathed” and “Off the Grid” reaffirm the ability of the 44-year-old rapper to rap on par and up-to-tempo with the younger generation of artists on his own tracks. With “Off the Grid” being a personal favorite due to Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign both rapping at peak performance and Kanye acting as the perfect melodic unity between the two leaders of their respective rap-subgenres on the track. 

“Jonah” is an emotional peak on the album, with cries of no shoulders to lean on and lack of help in fighting one’s demons by Vory in a beautiful manner that could be tear-jerking for some. The song acts as an artistic expression of solitude in which so much of the audience could deeply resonate with. 

Things lighten up on “Junya,” a braggadocious and simplistic banger where Kanye and Carti exchange flows on an organ-created beat. A part-two of the track appears at the back end of the album as well that features Ty Dolla $ign floating on the beat in an insanely, mindlessly- appealing manner. 

“24” acts as a spiritual reaffirmation track, featuring a beautiful chorus exclaiming that “God’s not finished” on an amazing organ melody. “Moon” with Don Toliver and Kid Cudi seemingly acts as a gentle conclusion of the themes on “24”. Toliver initiates a breath-taking chorus raising his vocal register to angelic levels exclaiming his reach to the moon and asking to the universe how he can get through. Kid Cudi comes on with reflective thoughts of wanting to be a better person and his connection to heaven. West joins in with echoes of Toliver’s ongoing vocal reach along with recurring hums and melodies of Cudi all coming together to seemingly propel the listener through the Earth’s atmosphere towards the direction of our lunar companion. 

“Jesus Lord” is a track reminiscent to those off of Kanye’s 2016 release, The Life of Pablo. Him and several other rappers reflect on their conscious on the mammoth-track of nine minutes all over a gentle, godly beat. A soothing track with features still-notable, presented in a calm and collected manner, acts as a nice refresher to the grandiose, hit-filled tracklist. 

“Pure Souls” was a personally conflicting track as it took a few listens to appreciate Roddy Rich’s lyricism, flow, and vocals, but, as is, it’s an evidently inspiring track reminiscent on the humble beginnings of both rappers and the beauty in success. 

 Vocals on the album cannot be discussed to sufficiency without mentioning the insanely beautiful “Come to Life.” With the track being made up of vocals that could be easily considered some of West’s best ever, along with a beautiful piano build up. Kanye sings to put one’s ideas into motion, and about his incredibly untouchable position in his space because of the confidence he holds in the trail-blazed path he took to get where he now is, and thus, he is free. 

“No Child Left Behind” is a minimalist, yet beautiful anthem that picks up the pieces of the tracklist and pulls everything to an awing close. With Kanye closing the track simply repeating, “He’s done miracles on me.” 

While some songs like “Heaven and Hell” and “Keep My Spirit Alive” feel a bit repetitive and somewhat boring, and “Believe What I Say” essentially sounding like a Childish Gambino rip-off, this album is not without its flaws. Despite this, such a lengthy, complete album with countless highlights by Kanye West this late in his career is immensely refreshing from the last run of sporadic, shortened albums since 2018 and is a great project overall; with the album earning an 8/10.