Review: Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ is his musical rebirth

By Michael Yu, Sept. 7, 2021

Exactly 401 days after its original release date, Kanye West’s 10th solo studio album, “Donda,” has finally arrived. Despite missteps, like its inconsistent track list, “Donda” manages to be a captivating glimpse into its creators troubled mind and a powerful piece of art to its listeners. 

To say that the last year has been tumultuous for Kanye West would be an understatement. From running for president to getting a divorce from wife Kim Kardashian, there was no telling what was going to happen next. So, when West announced that he would be previewing his new album at the Mercedes Benz Stadium millions tuned in. 

Throughout his three listening events, West didn’t say a single spoken word to anyone; he was going to let the music from his new album speak for him. 

Released on Aug. 29 by Def Jam Records, “Donda” is a masterful blend of gospel and hip hop. With 27 songs, the album comes to a runtime of one hour and 49 minutes. Throughout this lengthy runtime, West touches on subjects such as his family, spirituality, and most importantly his mother, Donda West. 

The album begins with the bizarre “Donda Chant,” where singer Syleena Johnson repeats the name Donda with different tones and cadences for one minute. 

The album picks up quickly with the next song, “Jail,” which sounds like an anthem played at concert stadiums. Featuring rapper Jay-Z, the song is also the reunion of The Throne, Kanye West and Jay Z’s collaborative group that last worked together over 10 years ago. The song’s brash guitar riff is contrasted with the softer background strings causing the two to combine to create a beautiful harmony. 

When the track “Hurricane” was first previewed in 2018 on West’s Instagram, fans immediately latched on to its minimalist trap sound and West’s autotuned vocals. Now, three years later, Hurricane is finally released and it’s an entirely different song that features The Weeknd and Lil Baby. The minimalistic sound is gone and in its place is a more majestic and refined sound. Seeing this song evolve over three years is a rare glimpse into West’s creative process. 

“Jesus Lord” is a standout emotional core on the album. Set over a somber beat that repeats the mantra, “Jesus…Lord,” West and Jay Electronica both deliver very personal verses about Donda West, mental health, religion and gang violence. The song ends with Larry Hoover Jr. making a call to arms to help free his father, Larry Hoover Sr., controversial former gang leader, from prison. 

The album closes with the song “No Child Left Behind.” First previewed in a commercial starring athlete Sha’Carri Richardson, the song is symbolic for Kanye West thanking Jesus for what he has. Accompanied by artist Vory, West sings, “He’s done miracles on me,” reflecting on his life and re-affirming his faith. 

Of course, this album isn’t without its faults with certain songs not reaching their full potential.  Songs such as “Junya” and “Ok Ok” sound like half-baked attempts to catch onto the recent wave of minimalist rap. The song, “Tell the Vision,” is a poor and messy attempt at a tribute to late rapper Pop Smoke. 

The album’s overall flow is damaged by its purposeless song sequencing. The abrupt changes from song to song are jarring for listeners. Going from the emotional “Jesus Lord” to the upbeat synth-driven “New Again” creates a tonal dissociation that makes it difficult for the heavy moments of the album to feel as impactful as they should be. 

With “Donda,” Kanye West faces his demons, both old and new, and finds purpose in his faith. Coming to peace with his mother’s passing, West has created a sprawling and beautiful album about forgiveness, love and justice that is hard to put down. “Donda” is messy, chaotic, and yet also a magnificent album that will be remembered far into the future.  

Graphic courtesy of Sharon Wu. 

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