Kanye West’s 10th solo studio album has finally been released after over a year of anticipation. The album Donda is dedicated to West’s mother, who tragically passed away in 2007. Donda had an initial release date of July 24, 2020, but was not released at that time. West would later start organizing listening parties a year later for the album, with the first being held on July 22, 2021, in Atlanta, Ga., at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. West would then hold two more events — the first in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 5, and the other in Soldiers Field in Chicago, Ill. on Aug. 26. Delaying the album Each time, West delayed the album and made it feel as if it was never going to be released — until it finally was, by surprise, at 5:00 a.m. PST on Aug. 29. Donda gave us 27 tracks; compared to his last three albums, which each had seven tracks, this was a surprise to see.
Donda is the most different album from any of Kanye’s previous ones; if anything, it is a mix of Life of Pablo and Jesus is King. The album is probably the most emotional from any previous, including 808s and Heartbreaks, but still has some high points of hype — typical of Kanye albums.
The album starts off with “Donda Chant,” which, honestly, is always a skip for me, since it’s just Syleena Johnson repeating “Donda” for 52 seconds. The next track is one of the main songs I was looking forward to. “Jail” was the return of The Throne. Kanye and Jay-Z had finally appeared on a song together since their last collaboration in 2016, when they both appeared on Drake’s “Pop Style.” Kanye starts off the song by speaking on the public divorce with his wife Kim Kardashian, talking about how his mental state had been through that time, and how he felt knowing that his marriage might have failed in the end. Jay-Z’s verse was set up as if he was reassuring Kanye that he would be able to get through this part of his life. The most meaningful verse of this song is when Kanye is singing “Guess who’s goin’ to jail tonight?” expressing how he felt about failing in his marriage as a Christian, then saying “God gon’ post my bail tonight” which means, essentially, that he is forgiven.
“God Breathed” is the next track, and it sounded like something that might have been pulled off of Jesus is King. Kanye is just talking about his trust in God — a key part of his life recently. What sticks out to me the most is Vory singing over some type of humming, which could be heard in a monastery somewhere; his voice and the hums flowed together smoothly.
“Off The Grid” is definitely more fast-paced than the previous two, as Playboi Carti makes an appearance, bringing his usually mosh pit-type energy to this drill beat. This song was one that saw changes between the first listening party in Atlanta and the second one, as Fivio Foreign made an appearance. He put down one of the best features on the whole album, flowing through the drill beat as if it was originally made for him. Kanye then came in with his verse, starting off by saying “mask on my face, you can’t see what I’m finna do,” due to Kanye wearing a mask that covers his whole face most of the time he’s in public. This line also says that no one can tell what his next move is, which has been true of his whole career because no one knows what Kanye will do next. Next comes my favorite line of the whole song: “they playin’ soccer in my backyard / I think I see Messi,” which could mean many things. One: Kanye was living in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the soccer team Atlanta United play, for a couple of weeks. He could be bringing up Messi due to the fact that Lionel Messi just changed teams to Paris Saint-Germain, in Paris, France, this past transfer window. Kanye and Jay-Z have a song involving Paris, so it could be a nice little play on words there.
The one song that I had been waiting for ever since Kanye said he was going to release Yandhi, a now-scrapped album, on Sept. 27, 2018, is “Hurricane.” This song has had a lot of versions over these two years — all unreleased, with the number being over 10 total, involving Young Thug, Ant Clemons, and Ty Dolla $ign. While I love the version featuring Young Thug and Ty Dolla $ign, this official version may have changed that. Canadian artist The Weeknd sings the main chorus, while Lil Baby — who Kanye said was one of his favorite rappers — also has a small feature. Kanye comes in last, speaking about how the public has been perceiving him during this time, but also how he sees himself. Overall, I really do not have too many words to describe how much I love this song; I just say to let this song say it all for me.
“Praise God” starts off with Donda West reading a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks called “Speech to the Young.” Then starts the actual track, and, my god, what a song it is; we get Travis Scott at his best, rapping about God. This was something I would have never expected to hear, but it really worked. Baby Keem, who had the best week in music — releasing a song with his cousin, Kendrick Lamar and then featuring on Kanye’s album — was the most impressive throughout the song; his flow and energy really carried throughout.
“Jonah” is one of the more emotional songs on this album, as it is dedicated to Jonah Ware, an independent artist from Louisville who was shot and killed on Aug. 8, 2020. Vory starts off the song by talking about feelings of loneliness and isolation, as he is going through his life without the support of those closest to him. The line “way too many fallen soldiers, no, I can’t forget / Hope they got headphones up in Heaven,” likely refers to Ware — in hipes that Ware knows that Vory still thinks about him, even if he’s gone. Lil Durk also comes on the song starting off talking about how Jay-Z and Kanye are still close, then talking about the people closest to him that he’s lost recently, like rapper King Von and how he is still looking after his family.
The next two songs come in to speed up the tone of the album once again. Starting off with “Ok Ok,” Kanye, Fivio Foreign, Atlanta rapper Lil Yatchy, and Chicago native Rooga speak on how the media and the music industry betrayed them or even demonized them. “Junya” comes on next, and, once again, Playboi Carti makes an appearance; this one is short, and I really do not understand what they are rapping about. I have to admit, though, it’s a very fun song that probably has some meaning to it — other than it being a song about Japanese fashion designer, Junya Watanabe.
I’ll be honest about the next song: I have a soft spot for the immaculate Ms. Lauryn Hill, who is probably one of my favorite artists of all time. So, when I hear “Believe What I Say” start off with the sample of “Doo Wop (That Thing),” I instantly fell in love with it. Though it may only be a sample of Lauryn Hill, West really made it feel like a feature, using a small clip of the song to fill in background vocals for the four-minute song. West also does an amazing job flowing through this song and making sure that he did that Lauryn Hill sample justice. My only complaint about this song is that I really wanted Lauryn Hill to actually rap or even sing in “Believe What I Say.”
“24” showed what Kanye learned from Jesus is King and Jesus is Born in order to perfect it in this album. The song features West’s Sunday Service Choir, and it is dedicated to both Donda West and the late Kobe Bryant, whose number through much of his career was 24. Honestly, this is one of the few songs that makes me shed a tear each time I hear it, as the choir does an amazing job, and West sings with lots of emotion, as he and Kobe were pretty close. The part that brings me to tears each time is when the choir starts singing “twenty-four hours, twenty-four candles, twenty-four hours,” which is dedicated to how Bryant is still in our hearts, and, somewhere, someone is lighting 24 candles in his memory.
“Remote Control” is the song that made me the most upset. Do not get me wrong, I love the song; West’s singing is nice, as he just flows through the beat. Young Thug’s feature was amazing, too, but the original song had Kid Cudi’s verse, which was amazing as well, and Kanye took him off of it, replacing him with The Globglogabgalab, an internet meme based on a children’s cartoon. Let’s just say I was not too happy to hear that at the end, but, other than that, it’s an amazing song.
Here we come to my favorite song on the album, “Moon,” featuring Don Toliver and the Man on the Moon himself, Kid Cudi. I say this is my favorite song because of how peaceful it sounds. Toliver perfectly sets up the mood, harmonizing a slow and calming tone; then, Kid Cudi makes you feel like you are floating. While listening to him, you feel at peace; his hums carry throughout the track. The song shows, once again, why West and Kid Cudi are a perfect pair for collaboration.
“Heaven and Hell” is one of my least favorite songs even though I like West’s flow. The beginning is hard for me to get past, as I do not really like the high pitch sound of the first verse. The song also seemed out of place, and the album could have gone without it.
Up next, “Donda” is not really a song, but instead a brief interlude in the album, where Donda West seems to just be talking about Kanye in a speech. “Keep My Spirit Alive ” is a really interesting song; it features Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn, Royce da 5’9’’, and KayCyy. Hearing Westside rap about selling drugs on an album that’s supposed to be about God was ironic to hear, and Conway’s verse, while short, was interesting; he thanked God for keeping him alive after he was shot in the back of his head. The way KayCyy is present throughout the song between each rapper’s verse really brought the song together.
“Jesus Lord ” is the second-longest song on the album, and it’s one of the more heavy-hitting songs. West speaks on his depression throughout his life, as well as talking about the suicidal thoughts that have been plaguing his mind. He goes on to tell a story about a family struggling through life, connecting that to where he is from and what the people there go through every day. The Jay Electronica verse was just amazing. There was so much packed into his verse that it could have its own article, so I definitely recommend listening to it.
“New Again” is a strange song in itself; in the beginning, West says if he hits someone up with “WYD,” they better respond with “Hi,” with a bunch of I’s, or “Hey,” with a bunch of Y’s.” The song also features Chris Brown singing the chorus. I thought the song was pretty good — nothing spectacular, but good. “Tell The Vision” was basically a Pop Smoke song, and it was not really that special. I feel like Kanye only put it on Donda so he could say that he had Pop Smoke on an album, or he just recognized Pop Smoke as an up-and-coming artist who he would have loved to work with.
“Lord I Need You” had a similar feeling to what Kanye did on “Violent Crimes” on Ye, as he reflected on his relationship with Kim Kardashian. He speaks about how he has been accepting that their marriage is really coming to an end, and how she helped him throughout their time together. It seemed as if he still cared for her but recognized that maybe it’s time to move on. It is really an emotional song that can connect to a lot of people, as most of us have felt this way when a relationship is falling apart.
“Pure Souls” was the first collaboration between Kanye West and Roddy Ricch — and what a song it is. Ricch’s fast-paced energy really kicked off the song well; he spoke about how life was before he made it big, as well as how he felt about not winning a single Grammy this past year. He said he was honored just to be nominated, and he knows that more will come in his future. One of my favorite lines belonged to West: “I can give a dollar to every person on Earth,” which would be true if Kanye had about a billion more, but, still, it would not be a Kanye West album if he was not flexing something in one of his songs.
“Come to Life” is another one of my favorites, and a song that I honestly have no words for. West really puts his whole soul into this song. What seems to be the main point of this song’s lyrics is, once again, Kim Kardashian; he has mixed emotions about her not being by his side anymore. There’s likely even more meaning in the lyrics, which is all the more reason to listen to it.
“No Child Left Behind” serves as kind of the outro to the album, but it is not quite the last song.
The next four songs are second versions to some songs on the album, with the first being “Jail pt 2.” Honestly, I could have gone without hearing this song. West’s part is the same exact as the original song; the only difference is that DaBaby and Marilyn Manson were on this song. It wouldn’t be West unless a bit of controversy was part of this album. I’ve never really been a big fan of DaBaby, and the homophobic comments he made during a festival did not make me want to become a fan at all, but I will admit that his verse was pretty good. As for Manson, I had no idea who he was until I did some research and found out that there were some sexual assault allegations against him; I really do not understand why West had him on here. My only thoughts on why West chose to put them on here was to show that they could be forgiven for their actions, but I may be looking too deep into things.
“Ok Ok pt 2” was the same exact song, with the only difference being that Lil Yatchy’s second verse is replaced by Jamaican dancehall artist Shenseea, and I really do not have anything to say that I did not say on the original song. “Junya pt 2” shortens Kanye’s part, extends Playboi Carti’s part, and adds Ty Dolla $ign; I like this one a little better than the original. Ty Dolla $ign was a really great addition, as he seems to fit the beat really well. “Jesus Lord, pt 2” keeps West and Jay Electronica’s parts intact, but adds three more verses from Jay Electronica, and adds The LOX, a group including Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch. I like both versions equally, but the addition of The LOX was definitely worth another version of this song.
After all of that, would I rate Donda well? I give it a strong 8/10. It definitely was not West’s best album, but it was still a great album. My top recommendations would be “Jail,” “Hurricane,” “24,” Moon,” the original “Remote Control,” if you can find that version on YouTube, and “Come to Life,” if you don’t have time to listen to all 27 songs. If you do, though, do it; it’s worth the near two-hour runtime.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Variety.