Review Summary: And lately, I been swimming on the deepest end.
Long intro incoming for the next two paragraphs, but one that I think needs to be said.
Increasingly delusional stunts, problematic views, and too many musical low points over the course of his career - all of these things don't exactly push me to call myself a Kanye fan. I've been following his work on-and-off, intentionally or otherwise, ever since I was a kid, and it's like Kanye *enjoys* testing his audience and forcing them to stomach everything he forcibly spoon-feeds us. His uniquely irritating blend of overwhelming arrogance and an inferiority complex, his tendency to fluctuate between being hilarious and being grating, his overbearing Christianity, and the long, long list of controversial sh*t that Ye just loves
adding to - it was all a bit... much for me. Kanye is stupidly entertaining, but for me, he's entertaining in the "ohhhhh f*ck, what's this crazyass homie gonna do next??" sense, not because he's a particularly brilliant creator. His outlandish personality makes it impossible to take him seriously, and after the back-to-back garbage of ye
and Jesus Is King
, I almost decided I was done with even trying
to follow a man that revels in his unpredictability.
But then Donda
dropped out of nowhere a couple days ago, and I remembered how fun and inventive Kanye used to be in his strongest moments as an artist. I always enjoyed hearing "Gold Digger" on the radio, "Power" is a banger single, and I loved both "Stronger" and its supporting, AKIRA-inspired music video. And when I recently learned about Kanye's mental issues, which reportedly started flaring up around 2016, that humbled me (to an extent) and brought some much-needed clarity to the man. It doesn't excuse all of his actions (far from it), but it did provide some context and justification. So I decided to give Donda
a chance, because I can respect the audacity behind a surprise release, and because I wanted to listen to a Kanye record with no preset bias (or lack thereof). I never thought that Kanye walked on water, I don't enjoy everything he puts out... but I never despised his music, and at his best, Kanye is absolutely essential. And I wanted to see if Donda
could finally break Kanye out of his long-standing funk and bring him back to being funky again.
Well, uh, you read the album rating already. No, I don't think it did - not just yet. Instead of being a return of form, Donda
is more like an inside-out exploration of all of Kanye's quirks, flaws, and graces as an artist. It's Kanye's Silent Hill. In spite of its ludicrous amount of guest stars, this is a Kanye record through and through... warts and all. Donda
is essentially a messier sequel to Life of Pablo
, and you can feel it. It's got all the classic Pablo
traits, for better or for worse - scatterbrained setlist of songs that range from less than a minute to a whopping eight minutes (although Donda
takes the cake by having an eleven minute closer
), dumbass skits that break up the flow of the record, an overwhelming amount of guests, an experimental sound throughout, and a bloated runtime.
That last part is particularly damning - whereas Pablo
was a long but somewhat feasible sixty-ish minutes, Donda
is almost two hours long
. And you can feel it. Practically every song over the three-and-a-half minute mark goes on for way
too long, which winds up hurting a lot of the promising material on hand. "God Breathed" is a really cool track on paper, with its harrowing, minimalist beat of dark, minor-key bass and a droning male choir, but five-and-a-half minutes is way too long for a song with no variation from this already stripped-down template. Then there's the most conflicting song on the record, "Jesus Lord". This curio of a track is an initially wonderful
song with its etheral, heavenly atmosphere and reverberated bass striking a perfect yin-yang balance between bright and dark, but-- holy sh*t, nine minutes
??? This has some of the best lyrics on the record, with shockingly sad lines like "And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life? / And if I die tonight, will I see her in the afterlife?
", but, no disrespect intended, I just can't f*ck with "Jesus Lord" after five minutes of its' runtime.
's meandering, unreasonable runtime really hurts the consistency of the overall record, so it's not surprising that its' best songs tend to be on the shorter side. "Jail" is a wonderful opener with its blood-pumping guitar, lush synth-string pads, and soaring tenor vocals. The midsection of Donda
is particularly delightful. "Moon" is a legitimately beautiful synth ballad. The flow present on both the sinister, aggressive "Heaven and Hell" and the blend of old-school and modern-day hip hop that is "Keep My Spirit Alive" keeps your head bumping from start to finish. "Believe What I Say" is an astounding throwback to classic Kanye, its smooth, strutting electronic funk given lush texture by dreamy synths and heavenly gospel harmonies. Speaking of gospel, I'm a fan of the organ-dominated "24", and both Roddy Ricch and Shenseea's colorful vocals add a ton of nuance and texture to "Pure Souls". There's also the gorgeous, dynamic "Come To Life", a simultaneously insane yet comprehensive ballad that navigates between haunting, synth-drenched ambience and weepy, Marianas Trench-esque musical number pop with surprising emotional finesse.
These highlights are just so good
, it makes the low points of the record stand out like a sore thumb that
much more. "Off The Grid" is an obnoxious, superficial demonstration of garbage trap music tropes, and the forced trap stylings on the monotonous "Praise God" further reinforce that trap is just not
Kanye's strong suit. There's this blaring, annoying grocery-store-scanner synth on "Jonah" that permeates throughout the whole song, "Remote Control" has this utterly random, childish sample of the f*cking Globglogabgalab
at the very end, because that's obviously still a relevant meme, the only saving grace of the monstrously chintzy and dead-eyed nadir "Tell The Vision" is that it ends quickly, and then there's the fact that Kanye just gave up at the end of the record and decided to throw in some barely
-altered versions of four of Donda
's previous songs to cap it all off, including a completely unnecessary eleven-and-a-half-minute version of the already-overlong "Jesus Lord"
. This feels like borderline filler, and it's at the very end of the record! What the hell was he thinking??
Well, only Yeezy would know, wouldn't he?
There's not much else to say here. Much like Pablo
, the production quality ranges from utterly superb ("Moon", "Jesus Lord", "Believe What I Say") to complete and total trash ("Tell The Vision") at completely sporadic intervals, but it's decent more often than not. The guest stars of Donda
are a lot like the album's production - sometimes they add a lot, like the aformentioned "Pure Souls" and the Weeknd's trademark gorgeous vocals on "Hurricane", and sometimes they just soil the track, like Playboi Carti's f*cking awful verse on "Off The Grid", the ill-advised Young Thug feature on "Remote Control", and the hilariously bad, immersion-breaking Lil Baby autotune on... "Hurricane", go figure.
All of this adds up to an album that perfectly represents Kanye West as an artist, but maybe not in the way that Kanye truly intended. Donda
is exactly as strange and inconsistent and preposterously ambitious as Kanye West himself tends to be - Donda
's patchy, erratic quality makes for an interesting and entertaining experience, but not a satisfying one, especially when you factor in its low points, obnoxious length, hit-or-miss ideas, and its propensity for filler bullsh*t that adds minimal substance at best. The saving graces of Donda
are so good
that I almost feel guilty ranking this album as lowkey kinda mid, but if it was a little more cognizant of its accomplishments and good ideas and less aware of its grandiosity and jacking off, then perhaps it could've been 2021's My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. But instead, Donda
doubles down on being over-the-top and messy at the expense of being truly satisfying. Just like Kanye himself.