“Donda” by Kanye West Review: I Mean…

“Donda” by Kanye West Review: I Mean…

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“Donda” by Kanye West Review: I Mean…

Does "Donda" live up to the hype, the likes of which we've never seen before? Well...

Does "Donda" live up to the hype, the likes of which we've never seen before? Well...

Text: Ahad Sanwari

It’s good, I think?

One thing I’ve always prided myself on in my long, illustrious, 24-year-long life is my memory. I’ve always been able to remember obscure details about the past and every time I’ve been wronged. This doesn’t mean you test me if you see me on the streets, but I would say I’m generally quite good at remembering things.

Which is why I can say with complete confidence that I can barely remember any of the songs off of Donda, and that’s not a good thing. For Kanye, or my self esteem.

The two that I can recall most distinctly are the opening two tracks, “Donda Chant” and “Jail” featuring Jay Z, and that’s primarily because they’re my introduction to the record.

Okay, let’s zoom out a little bit, before going all in. The premise for Donda is simple, as it serves as an homage to Kanye’s mother, Donda West, whose voice even makes an appearance mid-album. But it was the build-up leading to the release that really got everyone hopped up for the record.

Listening parties, apparent vow renewals, bridal couture, face mask couture, lots of merch, there were all kinds of machinations at work to create the expectation for Donda that it was going to change the face of the Earth in a way, or at least change our perception of the artist.

The entire systematic rise in the level of interest surrounding the album is quite honestly one of the most intriguing, extravagant, and entertaining that we’ve ever seen in the music industry. And it’s only logical that it took the beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy of Kanye West to come up with. It makes the Met Gala look like a high school dress rehearsal in comparison (if you’re reading this, Anna Wintour, please invite me).

As a result, expectations were always going to be astronomically high, and it would’ve been tough for anyone but Kanye West to live up to. I say “anyone but” because the eccentric and twisted genius of this man has birthed some of modern hip-hop and music in general’s greatest records, as recently as The Life of Pablo, so the hope was there.

The end result, ultimately, is slightly like a shrug. Not because of the record itself, but more so because of the promotional cycle that birthed it.

On its own, when extricated from everything else, Donda is really quite a fascinating record, offering more of a personal insight into Kanye as a human with feelings and emotions than a lot of his recent work do. He’s not trying to be a messiah for the masses, he’s stripping away the grandeur for a deeper connection with his innate sensibilities and insecurities.

But even as a standalone, the record suffers under its own weight. Like I mentioned up top, it’s the sheer length of the album that really makes it a slight drag. Donda comprises 27 original songs and clocks in at a run time of about one hour and 48 minutes. That’s about double the length of your average mainstream LP.

In an age where songs are skewing shorter and shorter to fit the streaming and TikTok era of music, Donda is a refreshing change. But it takes it too far. It’s one thing to acknowledge that Kanye makes some absolutely inspired choices for collaborators on the record, ranging from the aforementioned Jay Z and The Weeknd, to Kid Cudi and the late Pop Smoke. But it’s another for me to not remember which of the 27 songs they featured on.

Taking a look at the album on Spotify should give you an idea of what I’m talking about. The opening track, “Donda Chant,” clocks in about 3.6 million streams, while the first song proper right after that, “Jail,” has a cool 7.2 mil. But the numbers keep decreasing as you move on, to the point that the closing track, the 11 and a half minute long “Jesus Lord pt 2,” only has about 1.4 million streams as of writing.

It’s overwrought and overworked, and honestly just cutting off the last four tracks alone would do it some good. Granted, Kanye did claim on his Instagram that Universal dropped his album without his approval, so there’s a good chance that this wasn’t really his final vision to begin with. 

It sounds like I’m really just trying to trash Donda, but that really isn’t the case. It just frustrates me to see a record with the potential for such absolute brilliance and vulnerability be reduced to an underwhelming hype machine.

There are snatches of much of his manic genius spread out all over the album, from “Jail” and “Hurricane,” to “No Child Left Behind” and the title track. But it all gets a little lost. As an overall sensory experience, Donda is a great record. But if your intention is to listen and really pay attention, it could start wearing you thin pretty quickly. 

Stand outs/Personal recommends: “Jail,” “Hurricane”

Credits: Image courtesy of Kanye West

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