Full Circle: Donda Review
"I just want you to be proud of me."
On November 10th, 2007, Kanye West was changed forever with the tragic passing of his loving mother, Donda. Since 2007, Kanye West has become more polarizing than he already was, and the eccentricity of his controversial career since late 2007 mostly stems from this moment. From the infamous Taylor Swift incident, misguided Trump support (albeit in order to get people out of jail, which wasn't made public for obvious reasons), to the rant on TMZ, West has become a walking controversial headline. In the past couple of years, Kanye has become a born again Christian, continued beef with Drake (he's still only a man), and finally, he's released an album dedicated to his beloved mother. This album didn't come without controversy though, and with its release, he's made history...let's get into it.
The album rollout was unlike anything we've seen, but Kanye is someone who isn't afraid of pushing limits or trying new things. For the Donda album, Ye would have a live show in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Following this concert was supposed to be the album's release, however, this didn't happen. Kanye West's albums have been 139 days late on average (via Hip Hop By The Numbers on Twitter), so a late album wasn't out of the ordinary. The true issue here was the shows. Not only did we have one show, Ye would announce another one at the stadium on August 5th, after renting out the stadium to live there and finish working on the album. The show would go on to sell out, and fans again expected the album to release following the show...still nothing.
Fans and music critics alike would begin their theories on the album immediately following the second pushback of the album. Was Kanye crazy? Yes, we have leaks of the show, but will this music ever officially drop? Is this going to be Yandhi all over again? I began to wonder myself, until Kanye announced a third show, but this time in Chicago, his childhood home, where he spent the most time with his mother. To me, it would make sense to have a final show there and then release the album, given the album's name and dedication. However, after the third show, there were even more theories, as this show would show fans verses removed from songs, new songs being added, and controversially bringing out Marilyn Manson, who currently has sexual harrassment cases against him (which I was unaware of until the Twitter outrage truth be told), as well as Da Baby, due to his insensitive comments toward the LGBTQ+ community during Rolling Loud. While the show was enjoyed generally, fans began to speculate whether West was self-sabotaging the album before release, or if the show was just a little bit different this time. During this concert specifically, West had his childhood home rebuilt inside of the stadium, and would appear to "remarry" Kim Kardashian as well. It was all very weird, as most Ye-related things have been in recent years, but everyone's main focus was Donda. It was reported that he had turned in his masters to streaming services, and the people were ready to listen in master quality for the first time. However there wasn't any concrete evidence of it releasing anytime soon...but as things go with Kanye, it's usually the opposite.
Donda would release the morning of August 29th to hysteria, as the Sunday was filled with happy fans, angry haters, as well as confused/intrigued critics. The album's gospel roots were there, reminiscent of Ye's last album, Jesus Is King. The introduction may seem weird on initial listen, however, the repetition of her voice is actually following the final heartbeats that Donda had in her life. This was something that I had to learn through research, but its a very interesting/genius way to intro the album in tribute, Kanye is a producer at heart after all.
Jay-Z lends his voice on a Kanye solo album for the first time in over a decade on "Jail", and also hints at the return of The Throne. On the part 2 version of this record, Da Baby has a verse, but in my personal opinion, it wasn't anything special. I had this opinion about most of his verses after a while, they've got pretty repetitive and I didn't listen to him much even before the Rolling Loud incident. This verse was more introspective than most of his verses, but I still obviously prefer the version with Hov.
When I first heard "God Breathed", I instantly thought of Ye's Yeezus era, given the more abrasive production and Kanye yelling in the background of the record. Kanye does tap into the drill scene on this album with two songs, "Tell The Vision" and "Off The Grid". I especially enjoyed Fivio Foreign's verse on the latter record, as he coasted over the beat, delivering one of his best verses in his career in my opinion.
Songs like "24", "Jesus Lord", & "New Again" show Ye's skill when it comes to the placement of a choir chorus. The Sunday Service Choir has become one of the premier choirs in music in recent years, and they showcase this flawlessly on those records. Specifically on "New Again", I enjoyed the choir over the choir over the almost Graduation era synths, a very experimental sound, as Kanye has been known to try to push sound forward this past decade.
Diehard Kanye fans have been waiting on "Hurricane" to release officially since the Yandhi era, and while we didn't get the original version, this new version is still strong. The Weeknd does what he does best, and Kanye raps a decent verse over this beat. To me, Abel carries this record over the production. When it came to "Ok Ok", I actually enjoyed the second version a lot more, as Shenseea rapped her ass off, her accent goes very well with this beat as well. Kanye honestly should have had her on the "original" version of the record, but I'm glad we got both so that we could choose which one we liked more personally.
I feel like "Moon" and "Heaven and Hell" were made in the same session just given how similar the production styles on the records are to me, and not in a bad way at all. "Moon" is a great track showcasing vocal layering, while "Heaven and Hell" is the follow up with Ye rapping and yelling over the a similar production style. Obviously on the latter, there are less vocals making up the production, and synths and claps take over, but given these tracks are back to back on the album, they flow perfectly just the way Ye intended. After the "Donda" interlude, Kanye recruits Griselda's Conway and Weside Gunn, while Royce Da 5'9 makes a short appearance as well. The group raps about keeping their faith in the Lord no matter the circumstances. Being a Christian, the reason behind this record is very important, as keeping your faith in God will definitely keep you grounded if you let yourself trust in Him fully.
The production of "Jonah" reminded me of 808s & Heartbreak Kanye, as the beat had a sound that was present on "Say You Will" (if you listen to both records, you'll hear the exact sound I'm talking about). The beat was a lot more open though, and Ty Dolla Sign lends background vocals to the record as well. Lil Durk makes his first appearance on a Kanye West record, as he continues his strong feature run that began last year.
The best record on the album in my opinion is "Believe What I Say". I wasn't sure if we'd ever get the record after the 40 second leak came out months ago, but thankfully, it actually came out. To me, this is Kanye West at hist best, taking a sample and mixing it into a beat, as he takes Ms. Lauryn Hill's timeless "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and breathes new life into it with 808s and a strong hook as well. I really enjoy the way he layered her vocals from different points in the record all together and then harmonized on top of them as well. I think the "purist" in me truly appreciated the simplicity of the sample on this record in comparison to the rest of the album, and to be honest I think this track also has the most replay value.
I didn't cover every record in this review due to the album being so long, not in a disrespect to any record in particular. This album was very experimental for Kanye, despite pulling a little bit from almost every era of his work up to this point. I believe that Kanye is at the point in his career where he can do whatever he wants to musically, and still get the attention and notoriety from it. Whether it's good, bad, clean or explicit, Ye will sell records. I also believe that the beef with Drake will play a role in what we hear musically from West, as well as in the media. This album obviously isn't his best work, given the albums we've received over the past 16 years of his solo career, but it's not a bad album by any means, just isn't the best by Kanye's GOAT standard as far as hip-hop goes. Honestly I don't believe this album was supposed to be looked at as a hip-hop album, because nothing on this album would fit into that box. The production on the album however, is top tier, as Kanye has continued to showcase what made him famous in the beginning of his career. I don't know when we'll receive more music from Kanye West, but I do know that this isn't going to be his last album. I hope that Ye continues to pioneer music with his experimentation while making sure not to alienate his core fans. And to circle back to the history I mentioned in the beginning of this, Donda has become Ye’s 10th straight album to top the Billboard 200 chart, the most in this milennium.
Final Verdict: 7.5/10