Review Summary: The Black Album
It's only fitting that an album as anticipated and hyped up as Kanye West's Donda randomly releases on a Sunday morning with no prior warning and a black square for cover art. This album has gone through so many countless names and iterations it's hard to keep track. Jesus is King II, God's Country, Yahndi, Donda: With Child to name a few. Three listening parties have taken place with different versions of songs being featured. An infinite number of tweet, memes, leaked tracks, scrapped tracks (RIP Alien), divorces, drama, chik fil-a and controversy. Kanye literally lighting himself on fire and then re-marrying Kim Kardashian on stage not ten minutes later. The buildup to Donda and Kanye's career in general since 2019 has been a complete clusterfuck. Through the fire and the flames, Kanye delivered when we least expected him to. This is an album with beautiful moments, memorable tracks, and energetic production. Donda emphasizes Kanye's greatest strengths as musician, but unfortunately suffers from his greatest weaknesses as well.
The final version of DONDA is pretty similar to Life of Pablo in structure. Lots of loose singles with no real flow or bridge between them, complete with a handful of short tracks and skits. However most of the music here is actually better than Life of Pablo, which helps the incredibly long runtime pass easier. "Off The Grid" is one of the best singles here, featuring some of Kanye's best vocal work in years, with a captivating beat switch that showcases Kanye flow on both a traditional rap beat and a Brooklyn Drill Beat. "New Again" is absolutely electric, the beat blends the sounds of Graduation with Yeezus. "Believe What I Say" is funky and catchy, and showcases the radio-hit charm from Kanye's older work. Another track that stood out was "Come to Life", a proggy, overwhelming ballad. This song captures the grandiose magic that made albums like My Beautiful Dark Fantasy so iconic. Kanye's choice to bring on a variety of featured artists helps keep the album fresh and engaging. The Weeknd's hook on "Hurricane", combined with the Sunday Service Choir, is beautiful. Lil Baby delivers one of his strongest vocal efforts here as well. Kid Cudi and Don Toliver bring passionate vocals on "Moon". Roddy Ricch's verse adds a lot to "Pure Souls", and Shenseea's outro is equal parts haunting and enchanting. In terms of thematic and lyrical content, Donda is a massive step up from Jesus is King. The religious themes, church organs, choir, and Jesus refrences are still there, but in a much more subtle and engaging way. There's an upbeat energy here that was sorely lacking on Jesus is King and ye. The highlights of Donda are extremely memorable and showcase some of Kanye's best work in a long time.
As much of a genius Kanye can be on both the mic and in the studio, he sure has his flaws. Kanye repeats plenty of mistakes he's made on prior albums. The over the top, leviathan of a runtime that plagued Life of Pablo? Check. Corny and pointless skits, from the old Kanye era that serve to just waste the listener's time? Check. Unfinished and unpolished demos that somehow made it into the final cut like on Jesus is King? Check. Barely audible autotune that just sounds like a 4th grader trying to do kareoke on a broken mic like 808's & Heartbreaks? You got it. Despite the amazing singles here, there are a couple that are just absolute trash. "Tell the Vision" is maybe the worst song Kanye's ever dropped. It's not meant to be funny or a meme, it's an unironic attempt at making a banger that just sounds horribly unfocused with lazily and mundane production. Half the song is sloppily censored with extremely low production value. The exploitation of Pop Smoke needs to stop, this is pathetic, disrespectful, and barely constitutes a song. "Donda Chant" is the most embarassingly trash interlude of all time. It's annoying as fuck, is stupid, sucks ass, and is about 50 seconds too long. Oh yeah, it's also the opener to the album, so this is what listeners will hear FIRST. Opening with a skit works if it's entertaining or helps lead into the intro track, but neither applies here. Also, a lot of people seem to like "Remote Control", which surprised me since this is just another example of a stereotypical overthought Kanye trainwreck. Kanye doing a poor daft punk vocoder ripoff, a repetitive and stuttering Young Thug feature, a lazy and unfocused hook, topped off with a poorly mixed sample from the fucking Globglogabgalab for some reason. I don't even mind the idea of putting a sample here but it's literal youtube to mp3 quality and kinda tarnishes the song. Can't wait for obnoxious 17 year old Kanye stans to say "it's for artistic value". Come on Kanye, you're better than this.
Donda is a collection of great songs that just completely falls apart when you try to piece it together as a whole. It's versatile, sure, but it sorely lacks structure or big-picture composition. The tracklist might as well have been picked at random out of a hat, especially the opening few songs. The one stretch that works is towards the end. "Pure Souls" to "Come to Life" to "No Child Left Behind" would work fantastic as an outro, but the "pt 2" tracks that follow it just serve to clog up the runtime. Trim this album down to the best 10 tracks and it could easily be Kanye's best project and a 5/5. A lot of the individual tracks seem thought out and have delicate care, but as a whole the album seems to be just a complete mish mash with sloppy demos and skits sprinkled in between. Donda is ultimately a challenging album, although sometimes it challenges the listener's patience only to be "rewarded" with a censored and poorly mixed Pop Smoke verse or a globglab sample. Perhaps that is just on brand for Kanye as an artist at this point, but it's amazing we can get that trash on the same album as something like "Come to Life" or "Off the Grid". It would be like if Metallica put 3 or 4 tracks from Lulu on Ride the Lightning and then shuffled the tracklist. Thankfully we live in the streaming era where we can just listen to the 12 or 13 good tracks and forget the rest ever existed. This is based and confirmed a fact. This is the word of the Biggle Boys.