The ethos of the 21st-century icon Kanye West is controversial, complicated, and captivating. Since his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, no Kanye West musical work better exemplifies his persona than Donda. It presents Kanye at his most personal during a highly arduous point in his life. He lost his presidential race, he has gone through a rocky point in his relationship with Kim Kardashian that has left them on the brink of divorce, he still struggles with bipolar disorder, and he still mourns the death of his mother that was the light of his life, Donda West. He examines this with a new, innovative sound in his tenth solo studio album, Donda.
A recent bright spot in Kanye West’s life is his headfirst dive into a faithful life. In songs such as “Pure Souls,” “New Again,” and “24,” Mr. West celebrates his faith in an uplifting fashion, inspiring listeners to be a better person and move forward from a rough past. In “24,” the Sunday Service Choir’s repeating of the phrases “we gonna be okay” and “God’s not finished” emphasize West’s goal of inspiring people to overcome their hardships through faith. Kanye West contrasts these uplifting tracks with slower, more somber tracks such as “Jail,” “Jonah,” and “Moon.” “Jonah” features two other artists besides Kanye West, with Vory delivering a refrain and verse and Lil Durk delivering a verse. The refrain from Vory repeats the line, “Like who’s here when I need a shoulder to lean on? I hope you’re here when I need the demons to be gone And it’s not fair that I had to fight ’em all on my own” and exemplifies Kanye West’s feeling of loneliness throughout his life and looming divorce from Kim Kardashian. Kanye West is a stronger musician when he writes about his constant need to “Keep moving forward,” as a refrain in his song with Kid Cudi, “Reborn.”
Kanye West’s structure of the tracks on Donda is paramount to its success. Before the release of Donda, I heard most of the songs on the album at Kanye West’s three listening parties that were live-streamed on Apple Music. Every listening event provided a different order of tracks and other versions of the same songs. I had no idea which version and order of songs to expect from Kanye West on the official album. After months of buildup, I first turned on Donda to hear it start with “Donda Chant.” “Donda Chant” is not necessarily a song with the track’s 52 seconds being taken up by former Kanye West collaborator on “All Falls Down,” Syleena Johnson, rhythmically repeating the name of Kanye West’s mother, Donda. To say the least, “Donda Chant” left a bad taste in my mouth. Before I had too much time to think about “Donda Chant,” I was surprised by the jarring guitar chords of “Jail.” From then on, Donda rolled through its 27 tracks, and I went through my first listen of Donda in its entirety. That setup of “Donda Chant” to “Jail” is expertly done by West to effectively begin the best album of the year 2021. After months of buildup, Donda‘s structure proved that patience leads to great things in life. Instead of turning off the album and dismissing Kanye West as “washed up,” I was quickly rewarded by his genius.
While Donda is not Kanye West’s best work, it provides a new, personal, uplifting, inspirational, somber, and deep look into one of the most controversial artists in pop music. While popular music review platform Pitchfork Media dismisses Donda and says, “Kanye West’s 10th album arrives barely finished and with much baggage. Its 27 tracks include euphoric highs that lack connective tissue, a data dump of songs searching for a higher calling,” I say that Donda is a beautiful continuation of the career of Kanye West and gives me hope that he will get through his challenges and come out a better artist and person. I give Donda 4.5/5 stars.
Kanye West at his second listening party