'DONDA' Review: Did Kanye's Album Live Up To The Hype?
Kanye West has walked through the valley of the shadow of death and back many times: his billion-dollar divorce, a failed presidential run, and the passing of his late mother Donda—all have inspired the rapper's recently released album, DONDA.
Included in the album are a few standouts like the track Jail featuring close friend Jay-Z. It had a few clever double entendres pertaining to both artists' works, despite their public dispute. Many were also anticipating Praise God featuring Travis Scott and Baby Keem, Moon with Don Toliver and Kid Cudi, and God Breathed featuring Vory.
In anticipation and promotion of the momentous drop, West held 'listening parties', an event where artists play previews of their songs before its official release. But West being himself, the rapper gave the audience a show that was almost comparable to a full concert.
The songs were instant hits, making everyone's heads bob in sync. Three listening parties later, people have predicted that the album would be his best work so far.
Instead, we received a hodgepodge of songs that include strains of his older sound and polyphonic harmony. While fans eagerly savour the 108-minute album and consider its duration a treat after a month-long delay, others also feel the need to broach its conflicting themes and lack of brevity.
Thirst for salvation
West admitted to having a spiritual dilemma, a battle he once revealed in 2016 after being hospitalised. But even before his current state made headlines, West had already been open about his faith. His famous line from Jesus Walks even mentions his interest in making a record about God which he thought wouldn't be played.
But in contrast to his previous album, Jesus Is King, wherein songs were mostly praises to God, West's desire for salvation bleeds into the lyrics he writes in DONDA. It's the recurring wish that West sings of—with agony, anger and passion in his voice—including Praise God where he declares, "We gon' praise our way out the grave, dawg". He even expresses his genuine intentions in Heaven and Hell with the line: "Save my people through the music".
A hidden gem among the others, Come to Life is a poignant reflection of the artist's marriage to Kim Kardashian-West (and what seems to be an intention to save it). It sets the tone for the next track titled, No Child Left Behind, which gives the listener a transcendental experience and would've served as a brilliant outro for DONDA. But unlike the listening party, the record doesn't end there and continues with alternate versions and some questionable features.
Sitting with sinners
West proceeds with a narrative that centres on his struggle with sin as we hear lines like "Man, it's hard to be an angel when you surrounded by demons," in Jesus Lord. True enough, this reflects in two of his tracks.
He kept the album clean and free from expletives, yet features Marilyn Manson, who was recently accused of abuse, and DaBaby, who was under fire for tweeting a homophobic remark, in Jail pt 2. While West revealed that keeping DaBaby's verse was his way of showing support after DaBaby publicly showed support for West's presidential run, it's unknown why he also included Manson.
He also shares the chorus of New Again with Chris Brown, who was once accused of physical abuse, that goes, "I repent for everything that I'ma do again". West has scrapped Brown's verse—a decision he's made for unknown reasons, causing the latter to call him out on social media—but kept his vocals in the background.
Could this be the rapper's way of sitting with sinners (so to speak)? If so, what good does it do if he's still caught in sin himself?
On the first day of release, DONDA broke records. Not only did it set a new Apple Music record with 60 million streams, but it has also become the most-streamed album on Spotify as of writing, beating Olivia Rodrigo's debut album Sour.
There are many reasons to turn the other cheek, but Kanye's musicality makes it difficult to do so. Either way, the album will go down in history as one of the artist's most memorable projects to date and it's up to us to pick and choose which tracks to put on loop and which tracks to keep in the shadows as they are better off not alluded to.