Kanye West’s 10th studio album, one of the most anticipated albums of the last decade, begins with an impassioned chant of his mother’s name, Donda West, who died in 2007, just days after undergoing surgery.
After several elaborate and theatrical listening parties, West, undoubtedly one of the most important artists of our generation and a proponent of the philosophy that there is no such thing as negative publicity, launched the album.
This drawn-out series of three live listening events and unfulfilled promises of a mixtape on several occasions was reminiscent of “Yandhi,” one of West’s previous albums that never saw the light of day, but was kept alive through leaks and remixed tracks from fans.
When the news was released about a new studio album by Ye, fans salivated at the thought of a composition full of innovative and refreshing beats and bars. But was this delivered?
In the music community, it’s joked that West can release just about anything to a crowd of adoring fans with unwavering loyalty. Interestingly, the cult of West has only grown through the many controversial events that have transpired in the past years.
Starting in 2009, West interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. When Swift received the award for best female video, West snatched the mic and proclaimed that Beyoncé was more deserving. Many highlight this outburst as the beginning of West’s persona as a provocateur in the music industry and pop culture.
In recent years, after a decade of songs about money, women and fame, West went through what some described as a religious rebirth, turning his back on previous works in favor of less secular music. Because of West’s preceding episodes of eccentricity, such as his independent run for president in 2020 and his mental health struggles, many thought his change in style coincided with a fight with inner demons.
Although thematically Christian and incorporating gospel, “Donda” is not as saintly as it may appear. Tracks include features from Marilyn Manson on “Jail pt 2” who was recently accused of abuse and domestic violence by multiple women, and DaBaby, who is currently under fire for making homophobic comments during his Rolling Loud Miami set in late July. Chris Brown, who was recently accused of battery by a woman in Los Angeles, featured vocals on the song “New Again.”
By no means can these deeds be forgiven, but followers have proposed that West’s inclusion of these figures in his project is the first step to atone for past sins.
But don’t let the infamous distract from the talent. “Donda” includes verses from newer artists in the rap game such as Playboi Carti, Fivio Foreign, The Weeknd, Baby Keem and Travis Scott as well as veterans in the game such as Syleena Johnson, JAY-Z, Kid Cudi, Conway The Machine and Ty Dolla $ign.
If there is one thing that West is notable for doing and succeeding at, it is trend-setting. The 44-year-old has not been left in the dust as many older rappers have, transitioning from a standard hip hop beat to a drill beat on “Off The Grid” spitting heat along with drill star, featured Fivio Foreign. The East Flat Bush native has recently made big splashes in the hip hop industry along with other NY drill artists with drill anthems such as “Big Drip.”
A Lauryn Hill sample on the hip-house track “Believe What I Say” raised spirits from what had been a dark but hype beginning to the album. Roddy Ricch vows to never sell his soul on a heavenly hook, as a sea of organs cascade in the background. On “Pure Souls” Roddy Ricch showed both his development as an artist and his growth as a person from previous releases such as his breakthrough, “The Box.”
But after the first 10 songs on the album, along with a few exceptions, the remaining songs were nothing but filler. Nothing clicked in the latter parts of the record and there seemed to be little direction or focus. In the days following the release of “Donda” Toronto rapper Drake leaked a thrown-away song from the record called “Life of the Party” featuring Andre 3000, which has since been sweeping through social media like wildfire with fans scratching their heads as to why it was scrapped.
Is it possible that there is a message West is conveying? A recent NBC article states that while West was campaigning for President, “one person even admitted that she went to one of his campaign rallies only to ‘check out the circus.’” This makes sense, though. People ridicule what they don’t understand.
West is one of the last mainstream artists to make people think about the message he’s trying to say instead of spoon-feeding it to his audience. Every single release coming from the depths of West’s mind has held a mirror to his emotional, physical and social state and that of the world around him.