Donda by Kanye West Review


Getty Images for Universal Music

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – JULY 22: Kanye West is seen at ‘DONDA by Kanye West’ listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

Daniel Doherty, Opinions

Eight in the morning on a Sunday is probably the worst time to release an album that everybody’s been waiting for since last year. However, Kanye is the only person in the music industry who doesn’t surprise anyone when this kind of thing happens. The chaotic rollout of the album had the world of music and social media abuzz and managed to generate millions before it was even out. Everyone anticipating this album had endured three listening parties (and a private one in Vegas), album release dates that failed to materialize, and a livestream of Kanye sleeping and doing push-ups in his little rented room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta just for this to drop to happen at what is probably the most awkward time possible. But we’re happy for it to be out, so who cares?

The nearly two-hour long album Donda follows his so-so 2019 gospel album Jesus Is King as well as a couple of singles. However, he’s been much more notable in everything that isn’t music recently, having ran for President of the United States last year and continuing his involvement in the fashion world with his Yeezy Gap line. Honestly, after he had a breakdown at his first campaign rally and his divorce with Kim happened, I assumed this project was scrapped like the rest of his unreleased work. I was thankfully proven wrong when the Donda rollout started.

“Jail,” the first track of the album (that isn’t someone chanting “Donda” repeatedly), hits you immediately with a completely unorthodox beat composed of mostly distorted guitars. The main attraction of this song is Jay Z’s feature, which, while surprisingly weak in the beginning, is creative at points and anticipates a return to collaboration between the two (something every hip hop fan has wanted for years). Ye continues to explore the unusual in the following track, “God Breathed,” which weaves gospel influences with experimental production. “Off the Grid” is one of the best songs of the album, with amazing bars from Kanye and Fivio (one of the best features of the album, in my opinion) and a good (but admittedly brief) Carti verse. The next track, “Hurricane,” appeals to pop sensibilities, but nonetheless is an amazing song. The Weeknd, a legend in the world of Pop and R&B, does the addictive chorus, and Lil Baby, who has had an amazing year of features, also contributes positively to the track. “Praise God” shines in terms of features, with Travis Scott doing great (as always), and Baby Keem, while very unexpected on a Ye track, doing pretty well. However, the album takes a bit of a dip with the next three songs. “Jonah” is good and has a memorable chorus, but pales in comparison to the previous track. “Ok Ok” and “Junya” are underwhelming, with the highlight of the two being Carti’s feature in Junya (even though he did much better in “Off The Grid”). “Believe What I Say,” which Ye had teased on social media about a year ago, is probably the most pop-like song on the album. It provides upbeat bars and production, as well as a sample from the amazing Lauryn Hill. 

The album takes an even less secular turn after this and further entrenches itself into personal songwriting as well as gospel influences. The next song, “24,” showcases this with lyrics dipped in emotion and the use of an organ and a gospel choir throughout the song. The following track, “Remote Control,” is not exactly a high point in the album despite the good production. The next four tracks of the album, which are “Moon,” “Heaven and Hell,” “Donda,” and “Keep My Spirit Alive” are generally pretty good all around. “Moon” is definitely one of my favorites and contains some of the best features in this album. “Heaven and Hell” has one of Ye’s most impressive verses of the whole record. “Donda” is brief but heartfelt and beautiful. Finally, “Keep My Spirit Alive” is incredibly underrated, as it has a wonderful vocal contribution from KayCyy and verses from two thirds of the Griselda crew that are way, way too brief. The project reaches a high point once again at “Jesus Lord” and “New Again.” Not a single second of “Jesus Lord’s” 8 minute and 58 second play time is wasted, and it contains some of Ye’s most emotionally vivid and spiritual lyrics out of the entire album. The rest of the record consistently showcases good, intelligent lyricism under religious tones, outstanding productions, and great feature choices. The album closes with a three minute track consisting of mostly vocals (from Vory and Kanye) and electronic instrumentation made to sound like a church organ. While I wouldn’t necessarily listen to this song on its own, it is an atmospheric and cinematic way to end the record. Even though “No Child Left Behind” was blatantly meant to act as a closing track, there are a few songs left. All of them are labeled as a second part to a previous track and the only part that notably changes are the features used. “Jail pt 2” has a DaBaby verse instead of Jay Z, and it’s somewhat above average for a feature of his (and there certainly are plenty). The track also has a vocal feature, oddly enough, from Marilyn Manson, who should not be anywhere near this album. The next three ‘part twos’ are each better than their respective original versions simply because they add good features that don’t detract from the quality of the song. I think they should have been the ‘normal’ album version.

It has been commonly speculated that Kanye will make post-release changes to Donda just like he did with The Life of Pablo, especially because of the erratic album rollout and a rumor that it was released without his permission. A song that was most likely supposed to be on the album or will be added to it at some point was leaked by Drake, called Life Of The Party (with a feature from the legendary Andre 3000). That’s pretty awkward considering it’s better than every single song in Certified Lover Boy. So, maybe the album will have some changes after this review is released, and I just hope they’re good. Overall, the album is impressive and enjoyable, but it could use a few changes in the track order and production.

Here are two lists that summarize my overall opinion of the record:

Five best features:

  1. Jay Electronica – “Jesus Lord”
  2. Kid Cudi – “Moon”
  3. Roddy Ricch – “Pure Souls”
  4. The Weeknd – “Hurricane”
  5. Fivio Foreign – “Off the Grid”

Honorable mention to Syleena Johnson, who did the vocals in “All Falls Down” in Kanye’s first album, The College Dropout. I don’t know who could’ve said “Donda” 60 times, better than she did.

Ten best songs:

  1. “God Breathed”
  2. “Believe What I Say”
  3. “Heaven and Hell”
  4. “Come to Life”
  5. “24”
  6. “Hurricane”
  7. “Pure Souls”
  8. “Moon”
  9. “Off the Grid”
  10. “Jesus Lord”