The artist soon-to-be formerly named Kanye West returns with 10th album, Donda. After three years of delayed releases, here we finally have the record – all 27 tracks of it, clocking in at a hefty hour and 48 minutes.
Donda is named after his mum who also provided the name for his creative company, and you can feel the impact his late mum has on his work throughout. Obviously, we can’t know the exact nature of their relationship but religion and having a connection to God has left an indelible mark.
The album flits between ideas of what constitutes Heaven and Hell throughout while contemplating mental health. Much of West’s musings are unfortunately lost in contrived, messy lyrics. Nothing against artists embracing their religion but there has to be something that connects the divine and reality to make the music feel relatable. Too often, the lyrics feel more like we’re listening to someone with a messiah complex completely detached from reality. This iteration of Kanye is very far removed from The College Dropout.
The vigour and cheeky raps of his first couple of records is gone. The darker introspection of 808s… and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are replaced by what feel like confused streams of consciousness. The list of writers and featured artists on each track’s credits hints at a mind in need of harnessing. However, this inevitably leads to songs mostly lacking any individuality.
And where you do feel like West has a grip on what he’s trying to convey, it only feels like an overlong sermon by a preacher who’s lost the audience. You can hear more convincing arguments from the guys on their soapboxes up Sauchiehall Street.
The album does have its moments. The backing tracks are masterfully produced, which you’d expect when artists including DJ Khalil and The Weeknd feature. Pulsating beats are complemented by minimalist synths. On tracks like New Again and Moon, the bare and repetitive melodies really support the nu-gospel approach he’s bringing here. But just when you think a corner has been turned, a wall of filler awaits on meaningless tracks like Tell the Vision.
Away from the bible-thumping rhetoric on most tracks, we perhaps get a glimpse into the mind of a man struggling with his mental health. These moments are more telling. On Jesus Lord:
“Suicidal thoughts got you wonderin’ what’s up there (Lord) / And while I introduce the party, you say it’s up there / Too many pills, so much potions, so much pain, too many emotions”
While earlier, on God Breathed, he couches his mental or human conflicts within his religious desires:
“Devil on my shoulders, I can’t let ’em breathe / Brush ’em off my sleeve, I’m filled with memories”
Donda hasn’t been without controversy, particularly with the inclusion of DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. On Jail pt 2, which Universal apparently kept off the initial release of the record, it feels like the artists featured are finally confessing some truths:
“Priors, priors, do you have any product? / Well, that one time, I’ll be honest / I’ll be honest, we all liars, let it go”
In reality though, it simply sounds like three guys with a bitter complex over women who can’t stand their BS anymore.
There’s no denying Kanye West is a master at his craft, at least in regard to the technical aspect of delivering his lyrics. The list of collaborators on Donda is also impressive and potentially the key cohesive elements across the record.
However, at 27 tracks, the only conclusion is that the quality control button malfunctioned here. Two-thirds of Donda is self-indulgent introspection. No real conclusions are reached. West’s inner turmoil and quest to be a more righteous man doesn’t feel any closer to being resolved. Perhaps this is the art in itself but for casual listeners, the investment of your time is better spent elsewhere.