Kanye West: Donda Album Review
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Is Kanye's Latest Album Hit Or Miss?
There isn’t anybody within the realm of pop culture who can hold our devout attention quite like Kanye West. Kanye is a cataclysm, an alien dressed in Margiela furs. He’s erratic and genius and comical. He is both an unattainable entity and our best friend.
And every so often, by his own volition, he comes bearing the gift of music. His latest? Donda.
Leading up to the release of the album, which oftentimes felt as though it would simply unravel before we would even get the chance to hear it, there were three listening parties. All of them were streamed by millions via Apple Music. Three times, I tuned in with the rest of the world, switching back and forth between my own stream and chatrooms watching the live stream together.
During the first listening party in Atlanta, the camera spent hours focused on what appeared to be a back-room in the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Kanye slept and rose. As the event grew nearer, the room would fill and empty with a revolving door of people. Sometimes a blonde model would sit silently as though praying, big glasses on her face, and sometimes a man went in to press something on a keyboard.
When the event finally began, Kanye presented himself as a lonely red-blood-cell on a seemingly never-ending white stage. He walked around on the stage, listless and speechless as songs played overhead.
After the event, nobody knew what to think. Fans expressed vehement disappointment at the drumless trap beats, the unfinished, mumbled verses, and the disheartening features. Some of the verses, namely one by Jay-Z, were reported to have been written mere hours before the event.
Back to the drawing board. During the second listening party a couple of weeks later, this one also held in Atlanta, there was a much higher sense of theatrics, one that had been missing entirely in the first party.
Before the show began, the camera rested on a bed lying on the floor surrounded by items -- weights, sheets of paper, Kanye’s infamous, black Balençiaga jacket, and a melting candle. The precision with which these items were presented made Kanye appear almost monk-like, cleansed by his worship of music, and of God.
This performance was precise and brimming with energy. Fleets of people in bullet-proof vests ran in fervent circles as Kanye glided around his own space. This event ended with what appears to be Kanye ascending into the air as the entire stadium watched, awestruck and dumbfounded.
In one of the live streams I was watching, a comment appeared like the first snowflake:
Did we just witness a historic pop-culture moment?
With everyone still speaking about the second event, when a third one was listed it was met by both surprise and apprehension. What could he possibly do next? How would he make the rabbit vanish this time? Glamorously.
Kanye’s final Donda listening party played out like a film, with the setting an exact replica of Kanye’s childhood home, and the cast a strange gaggle of Marilyn Manson, standing out on the porch. In the last few minutes, Kanye set himself on fire and proceeded to marry a veiled woman later confirmed to have been Kim Kardashian. All of the spectacles ended abruptly, the lights there, then gone.
So, what became of the anticipation? A beautiful, focused, and ardent album.
Donda begins with the aptly named Donda Chant, a fifty-two-second piece in which a female voice, reported to be singer Syleena Johnson who was similarly featured on Kanye’s 2004 track "All Falls Down," repeats the word Donda. This chant reads like a sliver of spoken word with the same timing as a heartbeat. Sometimes Donda is a question, sometimes a demand or a glittering moan depending on what you are listening for.
At the height of the album, Donda is the biggest, shiniest clear-cut gem in Kanye’s crown. It is elated and grandiose in the way the best pop songs are. Grizzling electric guitars run through the anthemic "Jail" while an ethereal chorus pleads alongside The Weekend in the near-perfect, moving "Hurricane." Autotune soars, synths loop and vacant, solo blips guide verses like stray stars.
Where Donda fails is often a matter of preference and patience. An outro goes on for a bit too long, resulting in a skip to the next song, a piano tinkles a bit too far into the territory of being dowdy. But for every skip on the album, there are many, many replays.
Every time Kanye gives us a peek into his brain, all we can do is infer his intentions, make guesses as to what he meant. Perhaps he wanted to use Donda as a way to unveil the dark recesses of grief, the dark mouth of the undertow. To propose faith as both the question and answer to our culture.
Regardless, Donda is what you need. It is a well to dig into, a pool of gilded vulnerability, rhythmic bravado, and the distinct sound of absence.
Our favorite tracks: Hurricane, No Child Left Behind, Jail, Praise God
What are yours? Share below!