Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ Is Not Your Typical Album Drop

The rapper’s much-anticipated record is packed with heavyweight collaborations – but does it live up to the hype?

This is not a drill: after over a year of waiting, Kanye West’s much-anticipated tenth studio album, Donda, is finally out. Following a series of delays and spectacular listening parties, the album dropped unannounced on Sunday and begged the question: does it live up to the hype?

Over the past few weeks, Kanye made headlines with his series of Donda preview events at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium (where he set up temporary residence to finish the album, with his routine being livestreamed to millions on Apple Music) and Chicago’s Soldier Field. At each party, the rapper presented a slightly different, sometimes more refined version of what the album could be. 

The performance arc saw Kanye asking for mercy on his knees and ascending into the light, with the most controversial show being the third and final act in Chicago, which featured guest appearances by DaBaby and Marilyn Manson – the former coming fresh from his homophobic remarks at Miami’s Rolling Loud festival while the latter carries multiple accusations of sexual abuse. 

Fashion also played an important role. Throughout the three parties, Kanye wore full-face masks paired with a red version of the Yeezy Gap Round Jacket at the first event and Balenciaga’s Autumn/Winter 2020 black spike jacket and leather jacket at the second and third, respectively, which he sported as he set himself on fire at the end of the Chicago act. 

Kim Kardashian joined the second Atlanta party – which was creative-directed by Demna Gvasalia – in a tight all-black Balenciaga outfit complete with a matching face mask. But it was at the Chicago party that she took everyone’s breath away by joining her ex-husband onstage in Balenciaga’s wedding dress from the label’s latest Haute Couture show

Shortly after the album release, Kanye’s official website made Donda merch available, with a lineup of shirts, a hat, and a face mask, all “Engineered by Balenciaga.” The most fascinating offering, though, is the “Donda Stem Player,” a palm-sized Bluetooth device that allows the bearer to customize any song from the album by isolating vocals, drums, bass, and samples. 

Suffice to say, the album release was surrounded by increasingly high expectations, which weren’t exactly met for many fans when it finally materialized for the world to listen to. The 27-track record clocks in at one hour and 48 minutes and features guests like Jay-Z, The Weeknd, Jay Electronica, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Kid Cudi, Lil Yatchy, Lil Durk, Baby Keem, Playboy Carti, Ty Dolla $ign, the late Pop Smoke, and many more. 

Donda pays homage to Kanye’s late mother, the English professor Donda West, whose voice is featured mid-album praising her son for his cultural impact. “I got a chance to share not only what he has meant to me,” she says, “But what he has meant to a generation.” 

Other recurring themes include forgiveness, redemption, religiousness, and love, including a track that fondly addresses his relationship with Kim Kardashian.

Highlights include Kanye and Jay-Z’s long-awaited reunion that points to a friendship rekindling and future collaborations in “Jail”: “the return of The Throne,” Jay-Z raps, “Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus.” It’s also surprising that Kanye left Jay-Z’s verses in the “final” (more on that later) record, considering they explicitly condemn ‘Ye’s MAGA hat and Trump-meeting days. 

“Hurricane,” a reworked track from Kanye’s shelved Yandhi project, is elevated with Lil Baby and The Weeknd’s contributions, and “Jesus Lord” brings a moving moment with a speech by Larry Hoover Jr. on his father’s incarceration, which Kanye tried to plead for clemency in a meeting with Donald Trump; “No Child Left Behind,” which first appeared on a Beats ad featuring track and field superstar Sha’Carri Richardson, and “Ok Ok” also make up some of the album’s best moments.

Overall, Donda is a fine record, with names like 88 Keys, Swizz Beatz, Boi-1da, Mike Dean, Wheezy, E.Vax of Ratatat, and Gesaffelstein responsible for delivering a clean production. On Sunday afternoon, Kanye took to Instagram to claim that Universal Music Group, parent company to Def Jam and GOOD Music, dropped it without his approval, hinting that there was more work to be done there. 

It turns out that the road leading up to the release was, to many fans, more revolutionary and exciting than the album itself. Often criticized by his impulsiveness, on Donda, Kanye seemed to suffer from the complete opposite: overthinking. Still, it is one of the most impressive works he’s put out lately, and definitely worth a listen if you have a couple of hours to spare. 

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