Donda album review

Donda album review

Ellis Keeffe

After almost a year of anticipation, multiple delays and three listening parties, “Donda” finally dropped on the morning of Aug. 29. The album is one hour and 48 minutes long and consists of 27 songs that mix some of Kanye’s classic style with some of Kanye’s religious side alongside some contemporary music and features. 

While “Donda” is elevated above some of Kanye’s previous work, it is simply too long for a hip-hop album. And somehow, even at its length, it still lacks coherence and feels unfinished. Some of the songs on the album, such as “No Child Left Behind,” feel as though they haven’t reached their full potential, and some songs are prolonged and don’t fit in with the album. 

In “Donda,” Kanye attempts to connect his late mother’s influence on him while also deriving creativity from religion, a theme we have seen since “College Dropout.” While the album doesn’t lack creativity, the unfinished feeling of the album takes away from some of Kanye’s brilliance. 

The album kicks off with “Donda Chant,” “Jail” and “God Breathed,” a tribute to his mother, God and a reunion with Jay-Z. “Donda Chant” is one of the more interesting starts to a record as we don’t hear Kanye’s voice, but rather Syleena Johnson chanting “Donda” over and over again. At face value, the track doesn’t seem like much, but it was later discovered that “Donda Chant” is to the rhythm of his mother’s dying heartbeats. While this is a sweet tribute from Kanye, for the average listener, it is a bit of a strange start to a studio album. 

“God Breathed” again depicts Kanye’s relationship with God, as he repeatedly says “I know God Breathed on this.” It is unclear whether he is insinuating that God breathed on his mother, or on his album, and is intentionally left ambiguous. The track doesn’t have any drums or beat, but rather just sounds like Kanye was messing around in his studio. 

While “Jail” still lacks a classic Kanye rhythm or beat, it features some classic Kanye sounds, a lyrical verse from Jay-Z and a chorus from Francis and The Lights. The most confusing part of Jail is the final 35 seconds, as the sounds dramatically change to a new marching band-sounding beat. One theme throughout the album is the out of place seeming parts of the album, and the final parts of “Jail” fit that theme.

Up next are some of my personal favorite tracks from the album: “Off The Grid”, “Hurricane” and “Praise God”. These three tracks feel almost separate from the rest of the album, as they feature Playbio Carti, Fivio Foreign, Lil Baby, The Weeknd, Baby Keem and Travis Scott. The tracks combine an old-style, classic Kanye that we hear in his verses on “Off the Grid” and “Praise God” with modern rappers that we haven’t seen Kanye work with before. 

While Kanye is known for incorporating various artists into his hip-hop albums, it’s rare to see work with popular modern artists such as Lil Baby or Fivio Foreign. “Praise God” is one of my favorite songs on the album, as we listen to Travis Scott rap about religious meaning and the Devil as his opposition, a twist from what Scott typically raps about. As the song continues, we listen to Baby Keem, a contemporary and religious artist, as he echoes similar themes from Kanye and Travis Scott of religion and success. 

With perhaps the exception of “Junya,” the next six tracks — “Jonah,” “Ok Ok,” “Junya,” “Believe What I Say” and “24”are the worst songs on the album as it features some of Kanye’s experimental work and pushes creative boundaries. While I still appreciate some of these tracks, they are almost useless in their creativity due to their incomplete sounds and unwanted nature. These six songs were some of the main reasons that the album was too long; Kanye was throwing in tracks where they don’t belong. 

After these six songs, we move onto my favorite track on the album, “Moon,” featuring Kid Cudi and Don Toliver. “Moon” features some of Don Toliver’s high pitch voice and Kid Cudi humming/singing/rapping with an electric guitar style instrumental. In “Moon,” Kanye is finally able to connect what he’s been missing in the album: a mix of a modern artist (Toliver) with classic Kanye and Cudi sounds. 

After “Moon” comes “Heaven and Hell,” a sample from the 20th century’s Steel Band song “Heaven and Hell on Earth,” and features a Kanye verse that sounds like it was pulled off “Late Registration.” With a verse like Kanye’s and a beat like “Drive Slow” off “Late Registration,” this would probably be my favorite song on the new album. But again, Kanye finds instrumentals that don’t mix well with his verse, and the song feels detached as a whole. 

With much of Donda behind us, we come to “Donda” (the track), “Keep My Spirit Alive” and “Jesus Lord.” Similar to the middle of the album, these songs don’t have much of what I look for in a Kanye song; they feature a lot of talking from alternate voices, too much praising and preaching, and not enough Kanye. These three songs sound like they came off “Jesus is King,” a gospel album that Kanye made in 2019. While they provide an insight into much of Kanye’s mind and creative drive, they don’t fit in with what “Donda” has the potential to be. 

After those tracks, we come to “New Again,” another one of my favorite songs on the album because it actually features Kanye rapping with a modern beat that pushes the boundaries of hip-hop. The title “New Again” fits it perfectly. It feels like Kanye is making brand new music but also sticking to what he knows best when it comes to hip-hop. 

The next tracks are “Tell The Vision” and “Lord I Need You”. When I first heard Donda’s “Tell The Vision,” I was utterly confused. Kanye took a popular song off Pop Smoke’s recent posthumous album and made it his own, but in a much worse way. It doesn’t include any Kanye, but just a muffled Pop Smoke voice over Pop Smoke’s instrumentals. Did Kanye include this just to give Pop a feature? Was it a tribute to Pop? I guess we’ll never know. “Lord I Need You” follows a similar path to “Keep My Spirit Alive” and “Jesus Lord.” It sounds like it came straight off Jesus is King, and while I understand that Kanye is a heavily religious man, this song feels out of place. 

To finish off the album we hear “Pure Souls,” “Come to Life” and “No Child Left Behind”. These tracks are a nice wrap up to the album, as we hear Roddy Rich on “Pure Souls,” and we listen to Kanye sing his heart out on “Come to Life” and Vory on “No Child Left Behind.” The tracks, again, blend some classic Kanye with a heavily religious undertone, and provide a solid ending to the record. 

 

Favorite Tracks: “Moon,” “Praise God,” “No Child Left Behind”

Least Favorite: “Tell The Vision,” “Believe What I Say,” “Donda Chant”