Kanye West’s DONDA does not live up to the hype

Christopher Reitwiesner, Staff Writer

World renowned rapper, singer, and songwriter Kanye West returns with his latest project, Donda. A follow up to his 2019 album Jesus is King, Kanye seems to once again be leaning into his gospel, trap, and pop influences, and if you listen close enough you might be able to spot some drill influence as well. 

A lot of marketing hype went into backing this album’s release, from listening parties to random live streams of himself living in the Mercedes-Benz stadium, all of it seemed like a way to materialize shock value. In retrospect, that seems to be all it was, as the album itself doesn’t seem to have much structure or cohesiveness. In its entirety of 1 hour and 48 minutes,  Donda does not deliver structurally, compositionally, or narratively. That’s not to say the album is inherently bad, because there are some highlights worth noticing. 

Opening the album, the track “Jail,” featuring Jay Z, was a catchy, easy to listen to pop riff overlaid by Kanye’s anthemic chants was a fun start to the album. Jay Z’s feature was average at most, although his implementation was well executed. Narratively, this track addresses what a number of future tracks do as well: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s divorce and Kanye’s newly presented religious values.  Through what can be described more closely to spoken word than rap, Kanye describes actions such as changing of his phone number or (blank) to symbolize leaving the past.     Most tracks on this album are mainly about three things, his ex, God,  and his ego. Alas, this is a shame because when Kanye does break away from these repetitive topics, he explores some interesting things such as mental instability and addiction. 

Following “Jail,” we get the two tracks “God Breathedand “Off The Grid,the former being an incredibly boring track. A little more than 5 minutes, it’s an incredibly average bass track with a synth chorus played over it.  Along with a startling noise that’s been put through a Digital Audio Workstation a few times, overall it’s forgettable. “Off The Grid” was a pleasant surprise, mainly because of Playboi Carti’s feature, in which he brings a noticeably attractive energy. It’s unfortunate his feature was so short,as the rest of the track is pretty average with previously explored themes over a simple beat. It’s the bare minimum, perfectly serviceable.  

“Hurricane,” however, is easily one of the highlights on the album. Kanye’s pop influences expose themselves, and phenomenal features from The Weeknd bring an angelic sound to life with the occasional gospel synth. Accompanied by well written lyrics about becoming closer to God, Kanye explores how different aspects of his own life have intertwined with his Faith. 

The following track, “Praise God”, follows similar themes regarding God and self improvement, but compositionally falls short. Unfortunately, this peak is short lived as the next few tracks, “Jonah,” “Ok Ok, Junya,” “Believe What I Say,” “24,” and “Remote Control,” seem to be a poorly rendered jumble of Ideas that have no real direction or purpose. Jonah, with lackluster performances by Vory, Lil Durk, and Kanye. Junya, with it’s fanfare-ish organs and overly compressed bass. and Remote Control, with an ending that can only really be described as “doing something just for the sake of doing something”. The track Moon, famed mainly for being one of the first leaked tracks off of Donda, is underwhelming. As pretty as the melody and vocals are, the track doesn’t go anywhere and sounds the same the whole way through. Heaven and Hell was a nice short and enjoyable track with a very fun and almost “classic kanye flow”, throwing back to albums like Graduation and Late Registration. The track Keep My Spirit Alive, seems to have been rushed, with a surprisingly abrupt ending, and effects overlaid over versus that have no merit or sense of cohesion. The next track, Jesus Lord, has two parts, the first part being nine minutes and the second part being just over 11. Jesus Lord part 2, does absolutely nothing to remotely differentiate itself from the first part, the composition is the same, the flow is the same, the themes are the same, and the spoken word at the end is the same. The only real difference was that the second part had a slightly extended drum track toward the end. The biggest offense these tracks commit, are their lengths, they are combined runtime of around 20 minutes for absolutely no reason, as stated before, it’s the same thing throughout the entire track. Which I find to be a bit baffling, but more of a shame, as I do think there is a relatively large amount of opportunity for hip hop and rap in general to expand and experiment in longer, more progressive tracks. 

 “New Again?” is a very confident, fun track that I think will age relatively well. The synths are well implemented, kanye sounds confident and crisp, unfortunately, the gospel choir repeating the line “make me new again” for the last minute of the track is unnecessary and annoying. Gospel in general up to this point in the album has become less of an interesting motif and more of something that it seems Kanye feels the need to implement in almost every track, making its impact ultimately unremarkable and fall short. 

“Lord I Need You” and “Pure Souls” are not inherently bad track’s, but I feel they are great examples of displaying the fatigue of most of the ideas on this album, from “heavenly” choruses, gospel choirs, spacey synths, it’s everything you’ve heard before, for some people that’s exactly what people want, for me, it’s just old and uncreative. No Child Left Behind, falls under a similar case as Moon, it’s pretty, but it doesn’t go anywhere, nothing else to say regarding that track. Finally, “Jail pt 2,” “Ok Ok pt 2,” and “Junya pt 2,” follow in “Jesus Lords’” footsteps of being a pretty much an exact carbon copy of the first part, and doing very little if anything to innovate. 

Overall Kanye’s latest record Donda is bloated, messy, and repetitive. A jumble of ideas thrown together and crudely stapled to some album art. That’s not to say they were bad ideas, some of those ideas are intriguing and I believe could have gone somewhere, the execution was it’s downfall. Certain tracks like Hurricane I do think will stand the test of time, but as for the rest…not so much.