Two Months On…Is ‘Donda’ Kanye West’s Magnum Opus?
Over two months have passed since the release of Kanye West’s (now formally known as Ye) 10th solo studio album, Donda, which came to life following three performative public listening events. These were held in two of the biggest stadiums in the world; The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, and Soldier Field, Chicago, in his hometown where he was born and raised. Thousands of people in person, and many millions online were able to witness the album take shape, from the earliest demos showcased back in July all the way to the performance of the final album on August 27th .
The album has an astounding runtime of 1 hour and 48 minutes, the longest of any of his albums by some way. Named after his late mother, who tragically passed away from surgery-related issues in 2007, the album is supposedly a project dedicated specifically towards her. However, the project seems to be multi-focused, exploring issues of motherhood more generally, faith, the dichotomy between imprisonment and freedom, success, and most notably, his divorce with celebrity and mother of their four children Kim Kardashian-West. But how does the final version of the album stack up against his past releases, and the other big-name releases of the year?
The album begins with ‘Donda Chant’, a spoken chant by singer Syleena Johnson (who sung the hook on one of Kanye’s breakthrough singles All Falls Down) repeating the name Donda 58 times in quick succession. This is then followed by ‘Jail’, which sees the reuniting of Ye with his oldest collaborator and mentor Jay-Z after ten years. This rock-infused song, featuring some of Francis and The Lights’ distorted electric guitar riffs accompanying the vocals, leads nicely into the album narrative of being trapped and then finding God on midway track ‘24’ and from then on living a religious life. The songs Pure Souls and Keep My Spirit Alive are both blatant expressions of his faith, and it is here where we see Kanye embodying the true Christian life, for example in his lyrics “Father I’m yours exclusively. Devil get behind me, I’m loose, I’m free”. The penultimate song ‘Come to Life’ sees Kanye free himself, which when performed at Soldier Field was the most moving song on the record, with Kanye setting himself on fire in an attempt to be ‘reborn’ and free of the mourning of his mother. The hidden features are a standout of this record. In the same way that Kanye did with The Life of Pablo album back in 2016, Kanye has pulled together some outstanding artists who really capture the zeitgeist of the 2020s music scene, including collaborators such as Baby Keem, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Playboi Carti, Don Toliver, Roddy Rich and the legendary Jay Electronica, to name just a few. All showed out for their tracks respectively, with a standout from Fivio Foreign on the song ‘Off The Grid’ who raps for 2 minutes non-stop about the perils of being signed by a record label and plights that come with new-found fame.
Whilst Donda is Kanye’s most introspective and diverse album within the past 5 years, its shortcomings are patently clear. The mixing on the album sounds incomplete, for example on the outro of Pure Souls, or each line on ‘Come To Life’ sounding like they were recording on different microphones. Moreover, the tracklist is bloated and not in a good way: Songs like Ok Ok and the Part 2 remixes to ‘Jesus Lord’, ‘Ok Ok’, ‘Junya’ and ‘Jail’ are unnecessary additions to what would otherwise be a concise enough, easy to follow track listing. Nevertheless, the fact that Kanye continues to innovate even on his 10 th studio album, nearly 20 years on from his first single tells us something about his genius. Here, he puts forward what a Christian rap album can and should sound like, proving wrong claims that inclusion of his faith would taint his music. Whilst a staggering effort, ‘Donda’ doesn’t reach the heights that his previous releases, such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus and 808s and Heartbreak reach – it falls short, but not by far, of having a classic album status.