Donda: Album Review


Taylor Leon

On August 29, Kanye West dropped his long-awaited album, Donda. Delayed and unreleased since July 24 of last year, Donda incorporates religious and cultural values similar to previous albums. The initial drop gathered around 357 million streams in the U.S. within a week, charting at No. 1 in 11 countries. According to Def Jam Recordings, Kanye’s record label, Donda has reached more than 775 million streams around the world. Congregating hype for the release, he hosted three listening events. Starting an hour late, the most prominent event took place at Chicago’s Soldier Field on August 26, in which Kanye invited Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, both recently facing controversy. During his production, he lit himself on fire in the face of 40,000 people. The two other events, both taking place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 5 and July 22, involved Kanye offering free Covid-19 Vaccines to all attendees, also speaking no words to the crowd as the album played through.

Along with strong religious and pop-cultural influence, Donda is named in homage to Kanye’s late mother. His album sequencing contributes to the meaning, as the lead-off track “Donda Chant” consists of vocals from Syleena Johnson repeating “Donda” in correlation to Kanye’s mother’s heartbeat. Donda heavily relates to his ninth studio album, Jesus is King, appealing to the original title for Donda. Supposedly, Kanye had been collaborating with Dr. Dre on what was supposed to be titled, Jesus is King Part II. The top-leading tracks that hold the most streams are “Hurricane”, “Off The Grid”, and “Moon”. The fifth track, “Hurricane”, signifies Kanye’s “blessings from god”, featuring input from Lil Baby and The Weekend. “Off The Grid” being the fourth track, featuring Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, represents the purposeful absence from Carti and Kanye in some aspects of their life. Donda’s interlude, “Moon”, collaborating with Kid Cudi and Don Toliver, presents the concept of perseverance and the action of appreciating the future.

Donda starts off with “Donda’s Chant” previously mentioned earlier indicating Kanye’s mother’s heartbeat, abruptly switching to “Jail”, collaborating with Jay-Z returning their iconic duo “The Throne”. The third track “God Breathed” incorporates darker instrumental elements with vocals from Vory, originating from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, ending with an angelic, vocalic tone. The five minute and thirty-three second track switches to the second most streamed release “Off The Grid”, which later shifts to the top streamed track “God Breathed”. The sixth track, “Praise God” begins with a speech from Kanye’s mother quoting, “Even if you are not ready for the day, it cannot always be night”. Fading into “Jonah”, a tribute to Jonah Ware, establishes a more melancholic melody mirroring the sensitivity of loneliness and isolation. With 27 songs, Kanye’s 10th piece of discography embodies his passionate beliefs, emphasizing his accomplishments and personal goals.

Kanye infuses samples from previous artists, one of the most notorious being Lauryn Hill in, “Believe What I Say”. Relating to previous discography, the instrumentals and features can be considered well thought out. Foreword, reviews of Donda were generally mixed as Kanye takes on his new “vibe”. Such reviews of the album follow: “It takes more than one listen to like it”, “Hurricane” is overhyped”, “Out of 10, the album is probably an 8.5”. According to Forbes, Donda was heavily criticized for its length, as 27 songs spanned to 1 hour and 48 minutes. Even with varying reviews and criticisms, nothing can take away that the album is at top charts and receiving loads of praise.

Donda does a proper job constructing euphonious beats under the touchy-subject of Donda West. However, as all artists evolve their music over time, Kanye has redesigned his image through his two newest albums in comparison to the rest of his discography. Placing an album such as Late Registration or Graduation next to Donda, the differences exceed. Late Registration, released in 2005, and Graduation, released in 2010, include such different tones and messages, along with the instrumental aspect setting a different feeling. Kanye is known as a rapper who has laid out the history for his genre, transfiguring his style over time is nothing new in 2021.