Album Review: Kanye West- Donda
I spent a large portion of my youth and early adulthood thinking that Kanye West was the most wildly talented and creative producer and rapper out there. To me he was THE artist; he completely redefined to me what it meant to be a rock star. I remember playing "Touch the Sky" non-stop on my iPod Nano. I remember having the white shutter shades after the "Stronger" music video. Still to this day, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best rap album I've ever heard (don't @ me). I was a huge, HUGE fan. He was so outrageous, so cocky, such an asshole, and so cool. Any fan can tell you, though, he has always had a larger than life persona that goes back to his early career. Remember during the Hurricane Katrina telethon when he publicly declared on national television that "George Bush doesn't care about black people?" I'll literally never forget it. Things have changed, though. What we have seen more so over the past five years is someone having a very public, very serious mental breakdown that is channeled into "art" forms that aren't just music: an unsuccessful presidential campaign, Twitter rants that live in infamy, and a turn to religion and Christian music that could be argued to be very empty. His music has suffered. I remember when Life of Pablo was released in 2016, I viewed it as a disappointment, but little did I know it would be the best thing he would put out going forward by far (although I did really enjoy his Kids See Ghosts EP with Kid Cudi). I can't believe I'm saying this, but I look back on Life of Pablo now and yearn for something with that level of cohesion. To quote a song from that album, "I miss the old Kanye."
Here we are in 2021 about a week and a half after the release of his new album, Donda, after God knows how many delays and bunch of events that previewed the unfinished project that also featured weird appearances by disgraced rock star Marilyn Manson (more on this later) that echoes the days of 2016 when Life of Pablo was released, but continuously updated on streaming services because Kanye decided it wasn't finished. It all feels like one big stunt....because it is. The album feels like a collage of hastily put together songs that have no cohesive flow. Honestly, some of them are really good, but when you put out an album that's just shy of two hours, you're going to have a ton of filler.
All in all, like Kanye himself, the album is extremely chaotic. We're seeing deep inside the mind of a man who considers himself a man of God, now doesn't curse in his music, but almost views himself as a disciple or messiah of some sort, and isn't that kind of sacrilegious in its own right? The third track, appropriately titled "God Breathed" starts with Kanye rapping in repetition "I know God breathed on this." Sure, Ye.
Donda's guest list reads like a who's who in the 2021 hip-hop world and you'd expect that from someone who is one of the biggest hip-hop artists of all time, but it also reads like a who's who in terms of controversy that goes purely for shock value. Chris Brown, the world's worst human being, provides his vocals on what is otherwise a standout track, "New Again," but apparently had a verse cut from the final album in which he asks God for forgiveness. Though the track should definitely have just dropped him all together, the new-wave synth production and playful lyrics "If we dive, it's the deep end baby, let's go/I'll be gone by the weekend baby, XO" allow for redemption.
"Jail Pt. 2" is another one that sure to catch attention due to who he chose for features, none other than two figures in hot water, DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Manson sings the chorus with Kanye "I'll be honest we all liars/I'll be honest we all liars/I'm pulled over and I got priors/Guess we goin doin, guess who's going to jail." This plays on the very real possibility that Manson is about to go to jail for his numerous, numerous rape and sexual abuse allegations. This jail in the song is not even a metaphor. My question for including him on the song: why? We all know Kanye doesn't steer from controversy, but this one feels in extremely poor and weird taste. DaBaby takes a verse on the track comparing his "jail" is cancel culture after his homophobic rant at Rolling Loud a couple months ago in Miami. Like in real life, his verse is sort of an apology, sort of a "you don't know where I come from" kind of schtick. All I have to say about this song is.....sheesh.
Like I said earlier, the guest list reads like a who's who of Hip-Hop and that's one of the best things about the album if you take out a few of them. Despite the original version of "Jail" (not Pt. 2) feeling self-righteous, I was delighted to hear Jay-Z's verse and even hear him give a shoutout to Watch the Throne. The Weeknd's voice kicking off "Hurricane," caught my attention immediately, but noticed that the standout track was carried by him and Lil Baby and not as much Kanye himself.
Overall, the album is kind of confusing as a whole, but so is Kanye and I think what we are seeing here is a reflection of the artist: it's grandiose, it's messy, there's too much going on, there's so much to digest, and yet it still feels incomplete.