After four listening parties and multiple delays, Kanye West is back with his tenth studio album named after his late mother, Donda, who passed away in 2007. West had been quite since his 2019 release Jesus is King, which at the time was quite a departure from West’s previous material. The record highlighted the Sunday Service Choir, and a treasure trove of gospel inspired sounds and Christian lyrics, quite a difference from the experimental hip-hop showcased on The Life of Pablo.
The album was one of the most anticipated of the year and surrounded by controversy. Notably West’s ongoing feud with Drake, and his upcoming album release set for September 3rd, and the recent divorce of West and Kim Kardashian. The constant delays and listening parties made fans question whether the album would ever be released at all. Unexpectedly, the album was released on Sunday morning.
Donda is West’s combination of these two styles. The record is long, nearly two hours, and packed full of features from across the industry including, Travis Scott, Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Pop Smoke, and Playboi Carti.
The album is widely varied in its sounds and styles, not unlike The Life of Pablo. However, Donda feels more personal and in the moment of what West is going through the past year, and revisiting his mother’s death. With lyrics like – “Mama, you was the life of the party/I swear you brought life to the party/When you lost your life, it took the life out the party,” on one of the standout tracks “Jesus Lord” featuring Jay Electronica. Or another intimate standout “Come to Life.”
West has a nice balance of bangers and more intimate moments on Donda, with songs like “Jail” as the album’s anthemic opener with Jay-Z, and “Off the Grid,” a banger featuring Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti which showcases West’s hand at Brooklyn drill. “Hurricane” with Lil Baby and The Weeknd is a tremendous track, which is poised to be the album’s top single.
Other standouts include “Moon” and “No Child Left Behind” which shows West and producer Mike Dean excelling making songs that make the listener feel as if one is levitating off of the ground.
Despite the numerous high points in Donda, there are numerous moments where Kanye’s bars raise eyebrows. Take “Off the Grid” for example, where Kanye raps “Don’t try to test me, I keep it clean, but it can get messy/I talk to God everyday, that’s my bestie/They playin’ soccer in my backyard, I think I see Messi.”
Kanye also somehow thought he could get away with saying “Everybody Hertz but I don’t judge rentals,” without inducing a cringe on one of the album’s best songs “Hurricane.” Or the globglobglob sample at the end of “Remote Control.” The album also feels like it could be trimmed, like one more revision might be necessary, with an outro that far over stays it’s welcome on “God Breathed” and four tracks receiving second parts at the end of the album, none of which are notable additions to the record.
There are also moments where Kanye is playing second fiddle to his features, like on “Pure Souls” with Roddy Rich, where Kanye is clearly carried by Roddy Rich’s vocal performance. This is the same with “Hurricane” as well with The Weeknd and Lil Baby carrying most of the track.
Donda is a unique album in Kanye’s discography, and despite some of the record’s issues, it is a strong effort with some of the best songs Kanye has released in years. Although not as innovative as The Life of Pablo, Donda is often a beautiful introspective look into Kanye’s life, that strikes gold when it effectively combines the gospel influences and choirs of Jesus is King and the beats and features of The Life of Pablo.