Music Review: Donda

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Luis Mendez ’23

Rapper, producer, and now multi-billionaire Kanye Omari West is no stranger to unorthodox album releases. From his first album, The College Dropout, being delayed a few weeks, to his highly anticipated 2018 album, Yandhi, never even seeing the light of day, there is no such thing as a Kanye West Album release without some confusion. Following this pattern, the Chicago artist’s newest project titled Donda after his mother (who passed away in 2007) was “delayed” multiple times leading up to its release. The question of whether or not it would ever be released was circling the public consciousness. 

Kanye began the rollout process of this record with a series of social media posts from various artists, showing them working with Kanye on this long-awaited project. Shortly after, in early July, he hosted a listening party in Las Vegas that was attended exclusively by other members of his musical strata, such as Jay Z, Beyoncé, and Tyler the Creator. He then announced that he would hold a public listening party in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta on July 23. This time it was more like a concert with open admissions. The event would also be live streamed to Apple Music where subscribers of the service could get a first impression of the album. The album was said to be releasing that night on all major music streaming platforms… and Tidal. 

As most people now know, the album did not release at that time and a series of delays and changes in schedule left a lot of people confused. Ultimately the record came out on August 29th, 2021, and has many people debating whether it lived up to the monumental expectations set for it. 

For starters it’s necessary to understand that this isn’t the typical Kanye West experience that millions of fans have become familiar with over the course of his nearly 20 year career. This is an album that practically requires the listener to have a bit of knowledge about Ye’s life. Kanye’s last few years have been tumultuous to say the least, from being committed to a mental health facility, to having a complete religious transformation, to divorcing his wife of seven years, Kim Kardashian. His musical evolution in that time has also been heavily noticed. All of these things come together to result in this project. If even just one of these four things had not occurred this album does not exist in the way we know it.

The best way to describe the album is as a culmination and combination of both Kanye’s past philosophies and musical efforts. Soundscapes like those heard on his 2018 collaboration with Kid Cudi Kids See Ghosts and his 2016 record The Life of Pablo permeate the album’s general sound. However, hints of his past styles in production and lyrics peek through the cracks, songs like “Believe What I Say” and “Pure Souls” give fans of Kanye’s early records the sound and subject matter they’ve been longing for since the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era. 

This is also Kanye’s longest album by far, clocking in at a total of one hour and 48 minutes, leading to many complaints about the album’s being “too long” or feeling “bloated.” This comes in stark contrast to his past three releases having not even passed the 40 minute mark and receiving opposite criticism. Yes, the omission of certain songs would not be a loss for the album, however, the album’s length is typically fully justified to answer by the end of its long runtime every sonic question posed in its opening tracks. The album does a wonderful job of leaving the listener feeling complete at any point. The new guitar riffs and somber bellowing organs do more than enough to keep a new listener hooked and also interest someone who has been drowning in Kanye’s long discography for years now. Kanye West’s Donda has more than enough to keep both new and old listeners enthralled by Yeezy’s genius production flourishes and lyrics that feel like a return to form. The album does enough new to keep the listener entertained over its long run time and is likely to hold over major fans until the next album.