New Again | Kyle Kim
Following months and months of listening parties, cryptic Instagram posts, personal turmoil, and shocking news headlines, Kanye West dropped his highly anticipated 10th studio album “Donda” on August 29th. The album is coming off of “Jesus is King,” Kanye’s first attempt at a gospel-infused hip-hop album, which was met with disappointingly mixed reactions. In fact, the album seems like a redemption arc for Kanye, with a similar energy and build-up to “The Life of Pablo” or “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy.” The album sports a similar length to the former as well, coming in at a whopping 27 songs and a 1 hour, 47 minute run-time.
Before the review, I want to make a couple things clear. First, this is not a discussion of Kanye as an individual, including his controversial statements or politics. In other words, I will be attempting to separate the art from the artist as much as possible. Also, it should be understood that I am generally a fan of Kanye’s work, and I went into the album expecting to enjoy the music, at least to some degree. Finally, all opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.
The first thing to note about the album is the production. Since “The College Dropout,” a primary part of Kanye’s appeal has been his production capabilities, as well as the ways his production choices and style have developed in every project. “Donda” is no exception, with the project showing a more minimalist, laid-back production style, with inspirations drawn from a variety of existing hip-hop subgenres. This minimalist style is reflected in the album cover as well, which has sparked a variety of memes over its absurd simplicity.
Another notable feature of the album is the vast features sprinkled throughout. Although Kanye has sported a variety of features on albums before, the features on this album often present their best selves through Kanye’s musical direction and production. For instance, newer artists like Roddy Rich and Fivio Foriegn give some of their best performances on “Pure Souls” and “Off the Grid” respectively. The sheer amount of features (31 artists, with some artists on multiple songs), also means that you could catch your favorite artist on one of the songs.
The album also contains some variety in song genres and styles, with a multitude of hip-hop styles represented in the album. There’s some drill, trap, gospel-infusion, soul samples, etc. This, along with the album’s sheer length, makes it likely for “Donda” to have something enjoyable for every listener. That is, if you’re willing to sit through all of it.
This leads into the drawbacks of this album, with the first and most obvious being the length. Personally, I have no issue with a long album, as I don’t usually listen to projects in one sitting anyway. After multi-year hiatuses from artists, I find it hard to understand people who complain about too much content from their favorite musicians. With that being said, I still have some issues with the extended length of this album.
First, in my opinion, the songs on the album are not distinct enough to warrant this length. With some exceptions, such as the guitar riff on “Jail” or the Weeknd’s emotional delivery on “Hurricane,” a lot of the songs on this album sound pretty similar, to the point where it’s often hard to remember what each song sounds like. This is especially true of the gospel-infused and distinctly religious tracks, which have similar titles, themes, and sounds.
An additional issue is the amount of throwaway content in this album. The most obvious contenders are the Pt 2 versions of songs on the album, which simply present the same production, verses, and hooks from Kanye, with a feature replaced or added. While features are an important part of the album, nearly twenty minutes of the album could be cut and reworked into the original songs, thus taking most of the meaning out of multiple parts to songs. Throwaway content is also present in the length of many of these songs, with four songs breaking the five-minute mark and two breaking seven minutes. Given that Kanye has been known to scrap entire project’s worth of material in the past, it’s hard to comprehend why he couldn’t cut a couple of verses from this album or remove any lengthy instrumental passages.
In conclusion, Kanye’s tenth studio project is a mixed bag, and an extremely large bag at that. The variance in styles, features, production, and themes across the album is impressive, but also contributes to the feeling of a bloated album. The highs of the album are some of Kanye’s best, but the lows hit hard. In general, however, I really enjoyed this album. In my opinion, the cons of the album are much more quantifiable and easy to understand than the more enjoyable aspects. In any case, remember that music is subjective, and we all derive meaning and enjoyment from art in different ways.