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Kanye West returns to peak performance on ‘Donda’

Long-awaited is an understatement when describing the anticipation for Kanye West‘s tenth solo studio album Donda.

While you are likely aware of his polarizing antics, anxiety-inducing delays, extravagant listening party performances and the years of work and material that have gone into this project, there is one item of ultimate importance: the music. And it is finally here. As Pop Smoke proclaims on his interlude “Tell The Vision,” it looks like we made it after all.

If you’ve ever at one point in your life been a fan of Kanye, you would have noticed he loves his late-mother Donda very much. Whether it be the jovial sixteenth track “Hey Mama” on his 2005 sophomore effort Late Registration, or the gut-wrenching performance of his 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak in response to her death, Donda has always been an impactful muse for Kanye’s work. That inspiration has now reached its peak, as his latest album is essentially dedicated to her, while oozing the newfound Christian lifestyle ‘Ye has boasted since his 2019 album JESUS IS KING.

As if to simulate a holy gathering on the Sabbath, Donda was released on Sunday morning (Aug. 29), bringing along with it a whopping 27 songs lasting an hour and 49 minutes.

The album’s opener “Donda Chant,” at face value, could be seen as a pretty basic way to start the project, with her name recited numerous times. But, the context behind it reveals that the repetitive proclamation of the album’s namesake follows the rhythm of Donda West’s final heartbeat before she left Earth, which should send chills down the spine of any listener.

The rest of the album is quite the ride, filled with god-fearing praises, divinely constructed instrumentals, long-winded verses, collaborative reconciliations, recalling turbulent times, post-divorce reflection and an overall feeling of salvation. Although there are 27 songs, the end of the album thematically comes at the 23rd song “No Child Left Behind,” with songs 24-27 serving as bonus tracks with additional features.

The highs absolutely outweigh the lows on Donda, and astonishingly an album of this length contains little-to-no filler. The first half is full of powerful standouts like “Off The Grid,” “Hurricane” and “Praise God,” all with potential to battle for the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 slot. Most of the album’s marquee features also land on this first half.

‘DONDA’ set to debut at No. 1 with over 327k units sold

JAY-Z dramatically reunites The Throne on its second song “Jail” with awe-inspiring wordplay about blindness and direct addresses to Ye’s mother. Fivio Foreign churns out a verse-of-the-year contender about becoming a better version of himself on the second half of “Off The Grid.” The Weeknd‘s angelic choir-assisted harmonies see him at his most powerful on “Hurricane.” Vory creates a heavenly atmosphere on songs like “God Breathed” and “Jonah.” Baby Keem launches into a trademark off-the-wall, erratic verse for the cherry on top of “Praise God.”

These contributions continue to demonstrate Kanye’s ability to pluck out the best talent in the rap landscape of any era, with them certainly showing out for Kanye putting on some of the best performances of their career.

However, with this surplus of talent on the feature roster, it is emblematic of the stage Kanye is at in his career. He has the vision and ability to create impactful music, but tends to lean on other artists to execute that vision more than he would earlier in his career. Specifically on “Moon” with Don Toliver and Kid Cudi, another song to make you feel like you are being greeted at heaven’s gates, Kanye merely assists in harmonies on the track as Toliver and Cudi handle a majority of the load.

Speaking of his prior work, there are inklings of a great deal of his prior albums riddled all over Donda. Other than the obvious examples of evangelical motifs and Sunday Service Choir appearances found on JESUS IS KING, Kanye also delivers a show-stopping, angsty sung performance on “Jail” reminiscent of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era. “Off The Grid’s” aggressive, in-your-face production is particularly Yeezus-esque.

Kanye sheds the weight of his dramatic past and looks to greener pastures on “Heaven and Hell,” with “grrat grrat” shouted ad-libs at the song’s climax which he first introduced on his Kid Cudi collaborative album KIDS SEE GHOSTS. He also went and found youthful, vibrant voices to fulfill hooks and outros similar to 070 Shake‘s role on his 2019 album ye, evident on “Keep My Spirit Alive” with KayCyy‘s performance and “Pure Souls” with Shenseea.

Kanye West can also never create an album without silly, quirky bars to provide comic relief in earnest moments. He does so again on Donda with his Taco Bell-KFC restaurant collaboration lyric in the middle of the sentimental recap of his marriage on “Lord I Need You” — rapping about how it shaped who he is today and made him relinquish his selfish mindset.

‘Ye loves to release his inner rebel on albums as well, usually with either political stances or statements against the music or fashion industry. But, as previously stated, he allows his feature guests to unleash their power, as Jay Electronica fires off a stunningly epic verse, calling God to deliver karma on the United States for its history of war crimes on “Jesus Lord.” Roddy Ricch also lashes out on the social media era and the fake-ness that surrounds him with his gripping, wonderfully sung hook, “The truth is only what you get away with, huh?,” which is matched by an equally compelling bridge by Kanye. The track also sees Roddy address a supposed beef between him and Ye from when Roddy called him out for urinating on his Grammy, explaining that he was misunderstood and that he wanted Kanye to see that disrespecting the Grammys also means disrespecting the dreams of young rappers.

They said I was mad at the Grammys

But I’m lookin’ at my Grammy right now

Pulled up on ‘Ye, and I said, “They don’t understand me”

I just want my dawg to pipe down

’Cause when you really came from the trenches

You was raised in the trenches (Mm)

You feel like you trailblazed for the trenches (Mm)

Roddy Ricch on “Pure Souls”

Nevertheless, there are some shining examples of brilliant lyrical performances by Kanye himself, such as the opening verse on “Jesus Lord,” his best on the album, where he essentially has a direct conversation up to Heaven where Donda and God reside. He raps how his life has been tumultuous at times with drugs, drama with friends and living life without his mother’s guidance, but has stayed resilient with bars like “I’m light years ahead of those nightmares.”

Our Generation’s favorite lyrics on ‘Donda’

He also shows his most optimistic side over the Lauryn Hill sample on “Believe What I Say,” first previewed last Sept., with a cathartic performance about not getting wrapped up in the media’s portrayal of him.

With all this in mind, it’s evident Kanye is still who Kanye has always been. He has not lost his ability to make some of the best hip-hop music in all of the genre, while still being his bold, boundary-pushing self, even after his fervent dedication to his faith.

While no one can truly speak on Kanye’s exact religious beliefs and practices, it’s undeniable he feels God’s overwhelming presence on this album. He fully immerses the listener to it on the album’s two final tracks “Come To Life” where he uses God as a silver lining to power though his relationshiship troubles. On its finale “No Child Left Behind”, Ye, Vory and Ty Dolla $ign come together to show the ultimate reliance on God’s mercy as Kanye feels reborn again — gloriously singing “He’s done miracles on me.”

Overall, Donda reflects Kanye as an artist with a limitless stash of song ideas in his mind, and a much more positive outlook on life than his previous self, regardless of the validity of his assertions. His eye for talent and reliance on assists from artists still does not render him vulnerable when needing to put on a solo performance. After all, this is the most Kanye has rapped since his 2016 masterpiece The Life Of Pablo.

He is undoubtably still the once-in-a-generation artist he has always been, and can still excel at crafting quality, innovative music, no matter what the subject matter is.