Kanye West – Donda
Release: 29th August 2021
Producers: Kanye West, Mike Dean, boi-1da, 88Keys, Swizz Beatz and more
Features: Jay Z, Jay Electronica, DaBaby, Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, Lil Durk and more
Label: GOOD, Def Jam
Kanye West’s long-awaited tenth album finally dropped last week, after months of backs, forths and cult-like listening parties. Long teased, long anticipated and with perhaps the longest list of collaborators on a Kanye album, Donda itself was also long, and ‘a lot to digest’ as Ye professes on Hurricane.
We’ve had a questionable six years of Kanye West, represented best by four mixed-to-inconsistent-to-underwhelming solo albums, and a litter of controversies and limelight-grabbing antics. With the hype and publicity surrounding Donda, one would think West was about to right all those wrongs, or at least deliver something to silence some of us.
One would assume this, but in reality Donda captures the continuation of Kanye’s creative lull, one that echoes the fading popularity and output of contemporaries like 50, Eminem and Lil Wayne.
Up until now, Kanye’s songwriting and production in particular has always deflected from bleached assholes and slights at those who suffered in slavery. Ghost Town, Ultralight Beam, Use This Gospel, Kids See Ghosts; as questionable as Kanye’s views and mental state have been, the quality, craft and concept has always shone out amongst the slander.
Donda is lacking in all of the above, completely absent of thematics, purpose or direction. Above of all things the tone is off, with darker connotations becoming all the more apparent without the guidance Kanye has normally provided. Case in point Jail pt 2: despite respective homophobia and sexual harassment charges, DaBaby and Marilyn Manson’s co-feature is just a flex of complete disrespect and disregard. It’s a boundary that Kanye’s always pushed, but may have finally reached and exceeded beyond return.
Eyebrows remain raised with devoted muslim Jay Electronica’s feature on a song titled Jesus Lord, who cannot help mention the Rothschild family, following the antisemitic tones of his debut album. Convicted murderer, conspirator, extortioner and money launder, Larry Hoover Jr, makes his way onto the album too, with a bizarre appreciatory plea for support from prison. The consistently abusive Chris Brown chimes in for good measure too.
Kanye enlists just about every rapper with a Billboard plaque for Donda, from Lil Yachty and Playboi Carti to Roddy Rich and Lil Durk, who each contribute flat, forgettable features, with Baby Keem the only takeaway contributor. It feels like a poignant torch-passing mixed with pettiness, with Kendrick and Drake the only worthy recipients, whose absence is made all the more obvious.
As the album meanders by without much to note, Cudi’s solo cut provides an oasis of quality in a substance-lacking slog of a project, with Come to Life plus Shenseea and Conway the Machine’s features the other moments of merit.
Alongside its floor-to-ceiling identity crisis, Donda’s inconsistencies and contradictions are its biggest flaws; swapping and switching between God-fearing changed man, to controversy-thriving, straight up asshole. The intent is unclear, the direction is flawed, the production is the poorest of his career, the contributors do nothing of the sort, and the structure and execution decays with mind-numbing tedium.
Kanye’s albums have [nearly] always been definitive. Either for hip-hop as a whole or Kanye as an artist. And for the first time in his career a Kanye album has done that in the wrong way, with Donda a metaphorical final straw, after years of patience and understanding from fans and the hip-hop community. Donda seals Kanye’s fate as a misguided, flawed and tone-deaf rapper in today’s landscape, and the man himself couldn’t have put it any better. ‘Genius gone clueless, it’s a whole lot to risk.’
Over to you Drake.