Donda Photo Illustration

(Photo Illustration by Darius Johari)

Kanye West is back with his highly anticipated 10th studio album, “Donda.” Following a chaotic rollout that included several delays and strange listening parties, the album was unexpectedly released  on Aug. 29 by Universal Music Group. 

The release surprised everyone — even Kanye, who moments after, posted on Instagram his feelings about the album being released without his permission, writing, "Universal put my album out without my approval, and they blocked jail 2 from being on the album." 

The song “Jail pt 2” refers to track 24 on the album that features Marilyn Manson, who is facing multiple allegations of abuse, and DaBaby, who made homophobic remarks earlier this year. The song eventually did end up on the album, however, unlike the other features on “Donda,” the contributions seem unnecessary and more of a controversial move by Kanye in an attempt to garner more attention.

“Donda” is a tribute to Kanye's late mother, Donda West. This album is also the longest album released by the artist to date, with nearly two hours of runtime and 27 tracks. The album features artists like The Weeknd, Lil Baby, Jay-Z, Travis Scott and many others. 

The opening track of the album is a skit that features Syleena Johnson, who also contributed to Kanye's 2004 hit "All Falls Down.” In this track Johnson only says the word, “Donda” over and over again with no music in the background, something that would be strange for most artists, but not for Kanye who is no stranger to making odd and nonsensical decisions on his projects in and out of the studio. 

Track two, “Jail,” is a heavily distorted orchestration with Kanye singing in a harmonic autotuned voice. Jay-Z is the second feature on the album and produces one of the worst verses in his career, making him an outlier among the other features that help carry Kanye through the rest of the album.       

This brings up the album’s biggest downfall: the verses lack substance throughout the project. From the second song to the 27th, Kanye seems to rely on his features to provide lyrical substance to the album. 

There are moments of brilliance that are shrouded by Kanye's inability to refrain from joking or saying something completely ridiculous. Kanye’s lyrics will confuse and frustrate listeners as he swaps between his old style and his new style; a feeling that fans have become all too familiar with. 

Kanye only shines with his hooks and his production, not his lyrics. The production is one of the more substantial aspects of the album. He collaborated with some of the best producers in the industry, including 88 Keys, Mike Dean, 30 Roc, BoogzDaBeast and Swizz Beatz. 

Unlike Kanye's verses, the production is purposeful, well-polished and original. The common thread in every Kanye album is the sampling: a production style that made the artist famous — or infamous, depending on how you feel about sampling. 

“Donda” is no different; the samples vary from beautifully curated inclusion of his late mother’s reciting of KRS One's "Sound of Da Police" to a strange and unexpected clip of “Globglogabgalab,” from the German animated film “Strawinsky and the Mysterious House.” Donda's production is top-notch and creates a well-structured backbone for the album even with some odd samples thrown in.

Throughout his illustrious career, Kanye has created some of the greatest albums in hip-hop history. However, his more recent releases have unfortunately missed the mark and lowered the artist’s bar. 

“Donda” is another album that does not match the level of craftsmanship and originality that lifted Kanye to great heights as a rapper. The album relies heavily on the production and featured artists, which can be uninspiring for someone who wants to enjoy the lengthy album from start to finish. On the bright side, it is already fully censored, and the features will make it perfect for radio rotation. 

Ultimately, “Donda” lacks the nuance and originality that once made Kanye stand out among other rappers, leaving listeners feeling like the wait may not have been worth it after all.

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