The much-anticipated 10th studio album of acclaimed rapper/producer Kanye West has finally dropped after over a year of pushed back release dates and a string of in person listening events.
Almost all of it is well worth the hype.
Donda is West’s newest one hour 48-minute behemoth – his longest project to date. With a 27-song track list, it’s a massive album and at times can seem like a slog to sit through.
However, each time it drags, the next song kicks in and cements itself among some of West’s all-time greatest hits.
The album is dedicated to West’s late mother Donda West, and throughout the album West samples quotes from his late mother, creating a strong thematic link between all the tracks.
His song writing ability shines on this album, with tracks like Jail (feat. Francis and the Lights, and Jay-Z) and Pure Souls (feat. Roddy Rich, and Shenseea) standing out as showcases of his talent.
West returns to the hyper-religious themes of two of his previous projects in Jesus is King and The Life of Pablo, however this time around West’s production at times goes to a few more intense places similar to that of his critically acclaimed 2013 album Yeezus.
The more intense tracks are kept restrained in the first half of the album, with the track Donda acting as the interlude between the two halves.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album isn’t quite the same standard as the opening half.
While it has its moments of brilliance and emotion, like on the track No Child Left behind, many of the tracks in the second half feel like filler that adds to the project’s mammoth runtime.
The posthumous feature by Pop Smoke on the track Tell the Vision is an example of this filler; the entire track doesn’t feature West once and lacks any real thematic connection to the album as a whole.
The only real indicator of this being a Kanye West song is the production. However, Pop Smoke’s feature is one of many on this album, most of which are significantly stronger.
Only three of the 27 tracks don’t list a feature, and while some are only lacklustre adlibs or backing vocals, many of them are standout performances.
The Weeknd’s sole appearance on the album comes in the form of his scintillating vocals on the track Hurricane and is one of the greatest performances not only on the album, but in The Weeknd’s career.
Many fans of Kanye would’ve also been excited when the album opened with a feature from long-time collaborator JAY-Z.
The track Jail is a two-part track with JAY-Z appearing on the first addition, and more controversial picks Marylin Manson and DaBaby appearing on the reprise.
While there are many highs on this album and some star tracks such as Off the Grid and Junya that stand out as some of West’s strongest production work to date, the album is burdened by its run time
With any album, a lengthy tracklist runs the risk of including songs that feel like filler, and West has unfortunately done so on Donda.
West’s decision to separate several of the tracks into two different parts, the latter of all of them coming at the end of the album, leads to the last half of the album dragging out and feeling much like a repeat of the opening.
And although these reprises all feature new verses and features, the features on them generally seem to be on the weaker side compared to those earlier on.
West also came under fire prior to the release of Donda for featuring both Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, both being caught in major scandals, including sexual assault allegations and homophobic commentary respectively.
Both Manson and DaBaby featured in the final listening event prior to the release, as did West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian.
These listening parties also add to the spectacle of Donda; for the two months prior to the release West hosted events, showcasing the album and its creation in real time.
Many of the themes explored in the album were also showcased in great detail in these parties –maybe audiences will begin to see more of these conceptual pre-release listening parties for other artists.
The way West has rolled out this album out may be a way to show listeners they can create and listen to the album with a great deal of agency.
To the average listener, the repetition of tracks may be seen as a waste of time or excessive.
However, the combination of this with Wests “stem splitter’ – which allowed listeners to manipulate the tracks in real time while listening – may be Kanye changing the game in terms of the way we consume albums in the future.
Kanye has already achieved what many would consider to be musical greatness. While Donda may have some moments where it lacks variety or the major innovation West has been known for, when this album is at its peak, it highlights not only West’s musical genius, but the major musical talent of the feature artists as well.