Review: Long-awaited release of Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ is finally here

Riley Platt, Reporter

There aren’t many public figures who are more polarizing than Kanye West. The artist’s latest album, and the preceding build-up, is just the latest example of this. 

When Donda, Kanye’s 10th solo studio album, was released early Sunday morning, the waiting had finally come to an end. It was a moment of joy for fans who had been eagerly awaiting the project. This was evidenced by its first-day performance, racking up nearly 100 million streams on its debut day. 

The build-up would have been considered absurd if it were anyone else, but this is Kanye West. The world watched on as three grandiose listening events took place throughout August in the home stadiums of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears.

After a Beats commercial featuring a snippet of the unreleased “No Child Left Behind” aired during the NBA Finals, many anticipated the album to be released on July 23. The date came and went, yet no album appeared. The same thought process would repeat with the same result: no album. This all changed on Sunday.

The project totals 1 hour and 49 minutes in length, featuring 27 tracks. While this makes the album longer than some movies, it’s not inherently a bad thing. After all, if you enjoy the music, why wouldn’t you want more? 

Donda begins with the eerie, yet meaningful “Donda Chant.” Donda, the name of Kanye’s late mother, is repeated at the rhythm of her final heartbeats. Any dark feelings are quickly shaken off by the powerful electric guitar chords of “Jail.” Listeners can almost see a smile on Kanye’s face as he belts the lyrics. West is then joined by longtime friend, Jay-Z, who raps a steady, yet effective verse.

Up next is “God Breathed,” an ominous track with deep bass and the smooth vocals of Vory. Track four, “Off the Grid,” is one that has garnered much attention, largely thanks to the features of Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign. Carti’s almost-whiny style and signature ad-libs fit well with the instrumental. The song soon turns to a Brooklyn drill-style beat, where Fivio Foreign takes over.

“Hurricane” is one that longtime fans will likely recognize, as it was one of West’s most popular tracks from 2018’s unreleased Yandhi. The angelic voice of The Weeknd paired with the rapping of Lil Baby and Kanye work to make this a star-studded effort that does justice to the original.

“Praise God” is highlighted by yet another powerful duo of features, Travis Scott and Baby Keem. This is one of the multiple tracks where a gospel sound is evident, with choir vocals layered over a powerful 808-ridden beat. The gospel vibes continue with “Junya,” featuring a church organ, along with another appearance by Playboi Carti.

One of the main highlights of the album has to be “Believe What I Say,” featuring a Lauryn Hill sample and a groovy bass line reminiscent of 2016’s “Fade” off of Kanye’s The Life of Pablo. “Moon” was highly anticipated even before release, largely due to Don Toliver’s contributions to the track. The addition of Kid Cudi makes this one of the more audibly pleasing songs on Donda.

“Heaven and Hell” is composed of an eerie beat, with the climax coming after a stretch of isolated vocals followed by the reentry of the ramped-up instrumental as Kanye says “Devil lay down, devil lay down.” The song closes out with what is known as scat singing, something West has experimented with previously on his collaboration project Kids See Ghosts with Kid Cudi.

Traveling down the tracklist a bit, listeners find the album’s longest song, “Jesus Lord.” Over the nearly nine-minute track, West tells the story of a teenage girl who finds herself responsible for caring for a child after an unexpected pregnancy. He does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of panic that those who find themselves in this situation feel.

“No Child Left Behind” wraps up the album, with different versions of existing tracks making up spots 24-27. A highlight of this section is “Jail, pt. 2,” featuring DaBaby’s verse that gained recognition at the Chicago listening event. Now that we’ve gone through the album, let’s analyze the project.

The Verdict

Overall, this is a great project. Many grew tired of waiting, and that will likely affect the opinion that forms. However, if a few extra weeks leads to an album being better in the long run, then so be it.

Finding positive aspects of Donda is not difficult at all. The mixing is well-done and this is an album that is pleasant to listen to. The numerous featured artists are something to marvel at. Sometimes it can feel like artists are piled onto albums as features and it can be a bit nauseating. With Donda, though, this feels more calculated and planned out.

It seems that West learned from 2019’s Jesus is King, which received less than favorable reception from many. He was able to retain the gospel themes that he sought last time around, while still producing a quality album that felt like a Kanye album.

Negatives from this album are not plentiful, but there are some valid criticisms depending on where one’s opinion falls. The length of the album is something that may bother some. 

A few pitfalls can be found with the ordering of the tracks. At times, the sequence of songs feels a bit disjointed, but this isn’t something that has a detrimental effect. The first half of the album seems a bit top-heavy, stacking some of the heavy-hitters early on. This is relatively common with albums of all kinds, though, so yet again this doesn’t derail the album.

Revisiting the topic of featured artists, this can be seen as both a positive and a negative. While the features ultimately add to the album’s quality, there are quite a bit at times and it can be a tad overpowering. This all depends on the listener’s feelings, though.

Kanye West’s newest product did not disappoint. It’s hard to say that it will unseat My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as Kanye’s highest-praised project, but Donda certainly has the potential to age quite nicely. This could easily be something fans find themselves listening to 5-10 years down the road. All in all, it’s safe to say that Ye has made yet another classic.

Spinnaker rates this album 4.5 out of 5 sails.


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