Donda: Quantity, Quality or Both?

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Photo by Axel Antas on Unsplash.

Aug. 29 marked the day that sent Kanye West’s discography of studio albums into the double digits with his release of “Donda,” a 27-track behemoth of an album that doubles as his largest project to date. To some, this proves to be a welcome contrast to his previous album “Jesus is King,” which clocked in at just under 30 minutes in length. To others, it’s a bit too much to handle.

The album opens with self-titled intro “Donda Chant,” a 52-second long track bereft of rhythm or accompaniment beyond the repetition of the titular name. The late Donda West – the album’s namesake – was Kanye’s mother and has been cited as one of his most influential role models throughout his life. 

Lyrics paying homage to the West family matriarch aren’t exclusive to this album  – they remain present all throughout Kanye’s work on songs like “Hey Mama,” “Touch the Sky” and many earlier tracks. “Donda” itself is similarly laden with references to his beloved mother who West referred to as his day one manager, confidant and best friend.

What sticks out about “Donda” is that the album is still distinctly Kanye – though in a different light. Neither introspection nor discussions of faith are foreign topics in the context of 2018’s “Ye” or 2016’s “The Life of Pablo,’ although many wrote West off as an artist incapable of making an album centered around anyone but himself. 

Setting emotions and background aside, West distinguishes himself once again with a full-length release. Songs like “Off the Grid,” “Hurricane” and “Moon” maintain the same high-energy sound he’s become recognizable for since “Yeezus” and before.

His sound is bolstered by an all-star list of featured artists: Travis Scott; Pop Smoke; The Weeknd; Lauryn Hill; Kid Cudi; Playboi Carti; and about a dozen other artists lend guest verses scattered throughout the album with the majority knocking it out of the park. 

Admittedly, one of the album’s pitfalls happens to be its length. The “pt. 2” addition to some songs’ titles adds five songs and about 20 minutes to the end of the album, with many listeners finding the addition of such tracks unnecessary.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is “Jesus Lord pt. 2,” which goes on for a shocking 11-and-a-half minutes to close out the album amidst a backing choir. This, too, elicits a widespread complaint from some listeners: the religious undertones of Kanye’s music have grown to be a bit preachy.

Religion has taken a backseat for most of the time it was a subject in West’s music, as exemplified by “The Life of Pablo.” The extent of its influence was lent by occasional samples, whereas the topic takes up entire interludes on “Donda.” The polarizing content of the 2019 release “Jesus is King” implied that perhaps Kanye fans would rather get their sermons from a pastor rather than a prolific artist.

Yet and still, this release is distinctly Kanye. It may prove too early to offer a full assessment, but it’s safe to say that West’s 10th release holds its own in spite of the two-year wait from his previous album.

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