Review: The whirlwind surrounding 'Donda' fell flat

The conversations and controversies surrounding the album are more interesting than the album itself

"Donda," Kanye West's 10th studio album, reads as a desperate attempt to stay relevant by using controversy and big names to create suspense over an ultimately forgettable record.

The billionaire's most recent album, the namesake of his late mother, was released on Aug. 29, 2021, a month delayed from its expected date.

West uses "Donda" to reflect his current state of mind — from his Christianity, to his relationship with Kim Kardashian West and, namely, the death of his mother in 2007.

Although the 27-track record was delayed by a month, it was slowly released to listeners through the form of three "listening parties," or performances where the Chicago-raised rapper would either reveal songs and collaborators on the then-upcoming album or create elaborate art pieces.

West used these listening parties as a means of creating conversation around the album by bringing in a variety of guests.

Kardashian West, for one, was present at all of the listening parties, and even donned her wedding dress to recreate the couple's wedding at the Aug. 26 event in Chicago. The couple has four children together, and are currently in the middle of divorce proceedings.

At this same event, West also presented a replica of his childhood home accompanied by Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, both of whom are artists with a history of controversy.

Manson has a history of abuse allegations, and DaBaby recently came under fire for homophobic remarks at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami in July.

This is West's second album since the inauguration of his "Sunday Services" in 2019, an off-and-on promotional/religious event for West's fashion brand and music as well as a part of his renewed faith in God.

With "Donda," West takes the opportunity to reflect on his personal relationship with Christianity, what God does for him and what he takes from the Bible's meaning.

This is seen in the track "God Breathed" where West raps about how his album has been divinely blessed, and on "Heaven and Hell" where he discusses how he feels divinely protected when he says "Know the Lord my bulletproof vest." This album also explores themes of redemption, specifically in the song "Jail," where the rapper sings "Guess who's goin' to jail tonight/God gon' post my bail tonight."

"Jail" also marks the first time artist Jay-Z has collaborated with West since the duo's 2011 album "Watch the Throne." West and Jay-Z have had a rift between them for many years, but with the artists' reunion, this could be a part of the redemption West sings about.

He references his relationship with Kardashian West multiple times, specifically on the track "Lord I Need You," where he says "When you said give me a ring, you really meant a ring, huh?/Turned out to be more than just a fling, huh?"

West pays homage to his mother on the opening track "Donda Chant," a tribute to her with artist Syleena Johnson chanting her name at varying tempos for 52 seconds, as well as "Donda," which is a spoken word interlude of his mother's voice followed by his Sunday Service Choir singing.

West takes advantage of his industry connections by filling the album to the brim with features from notable artists including Lil Baby and The Weeknd on "Hurricane," Kid Cudi and Don Toliver on "Moon," and Playboi Carti on "Junya" and "Junya pt 2."

However, for as much hype as there was for this album, it fell flat. 

The nearly two hour runtime seemed entirely too long, and having four songs with a second part felt excessive.

West shined in the middle of his career, churning out consistently good albums from 2004 to 2016. Comparatively, "Donda" felt reminiscent of what the artist could be capable of, but it was just slightly out of reach.

For as dramatic as the moments following up to the release of the final record were, it felt as though the musician ultimately had nothing to say. 

If anything, "Donda" makes for a much better cultural moment than an album.


Reach the reporter at sbalas44@asu.edu and follow @sophiabala1101 on Twitter.

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