ALBUM REVIEW: Kanye West, Donda 2
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
There is an interesting scene in the new Coodie & Chike documentary Jeen-yus that I don’t think enough people are talking about. As the camera follows a meager, early ‘00s Kanye West through the streets of New York amidst business, he covertly stops for a moment at a street magazine vendor to buy a porn magazine. It seems like a non-sequitur bit that doesn’t impact the overall story, but I think it deeply speaks to who he is as a person considering everything that came next for him. Three years ago, he attempted to cleanse his lying, cheating and drug-using image that shined bright on albums like Yeezus and The Life of Pablo with the album Jesus Is King. It was his first album since 808s & Heartbreak that had no cursing, and was all about God simultaneously forgiving him and working through him. His album press is always very odd and interesting, and a quote that came out of that cycle was something to the tune of “porn addiction influenced every decision I’ve ever made from 5 years old until now.” That might be what caused him, in his late aughts horny phase, to drop a song abut fucking all his sister-in-laws. Let us also not forget about his creative directing of the PornHub Awards, making Yeezy shirts that said things like “Mia Malkova - Best Ass”.
In my personal opinion, Ye thinks with his dick entirely too much. Now imagine that mentality, with over a billion dollars. The temptations are higher, the opportunity to have an NDA-protected affair is there, and he has direct access to any woman he desires. Is any of this an excuse for his insane online behavior, his borderline harassment of his ex-wife or the cheating that likely led to his divorce? Fuck no, but like he said on “FML” with The Weeknd in 2016, his mission was to “give up the women”, and he failed majorly. He tried to shroud it all in religious talk with Jesus Is King, but it kind of just made him more dishonest and pompous. I mention this all because this one-sided expressive dynamic Ye has with his ex-wife is kind of like the polar opposite version of what Jay-Z and Beyonce did with the infidelities in their marriage. They worked it out over three albums, one from each of them and another as a duo, The Carters. Kim could never really make a Lemonade response, and therefore it was just years of Ye inviting her entire family to listening parties where he’d just rap about fucking other women. I think the real peak was when he lit himself on fire and then made Kim come out in a wedding dress to “re-marry him” post-divorce just for the cameras at the Donda premiere.
As a self-professed “man of God”, he kind of put his wife through Hell for years. I think that’s what made the Donda premieres so deeply fascinating. With hundreds of extras in robes and hoods walking around him, F-150s blaring in the background, on fire, music was playing about his familial drama. Whether it was the sad reminiscence about his ex on “Lord I Need You” or him going off with a “new chick” on “Hurricane”, the listening parties combined real life events with fantastical and religious elements. It was like Star Wars On Ice but the audience was eating shrooms instead of cotton candy (I’ve been to two of these events by the way.) This was all very triumphant, with lots of organs, gospel choirs and life-affirming braggadocio. He was doing push-ups in the stadium for fucks sake! However, this all changed after Kim’s SNL performance. When she kissed Pete Davidson on screen and Chris Rock made a cameo in a sketch where he was one of Kim’s many suitors, I think Ye felt cucked, like he lost his stranglehold on the relationship and pop culture at the same time. It explains a lot of his recent actions like running Pete Davidson off of Instagram by calling him “Skete” and “dickhead”.
I think he intended to make Donda 2 in a Future-style toxic, uncaring effort to dunk on Kim. Hell, I was rooting for him. That picture of him post-threesome on a hotel balcony hours before his date with the divine Julia Fox was legendary, honestly. Just like MDBTF wouldn’t have been possible without dating Amber Rose, and TLOP is a Kardashian album through and through, Julia Fox was Ye’s muse on Donda Taaewwwww. Just like their short, questionable fling of a relationship, Donda 2 is cold, vapid, full of wild celebrity cameos and it’s styled by Balenciaga from start to finish. This is without a doubt his second worst album, but it didn’t have to be that way. As an adamant Yeezus defender, I will always contend that it’s his best album. It’s also cold, vapid, filled with cameos (Frank Ocean, Chief Keef, Bon Iver, Arca), fashion-adjacent and very cool. The key difference between his industrial detours Yeezus and Donda 2 is that the former is finished and the latter is missing pieces. Yeezus is a perfect record with everything in its right place, Donda 2 is a fucking mess.
Before getting into what I like about the album (which is a fair amount), let me just address why I need to give this a C. “Keep It Burning” is by far his second worst song of all time (the first being “We Made It” from Donda). He cops this annoying cadence where he’s not even saying real words, just mapping out a flow. It’s not on purpose, it’s a rough, unfinished sketch of a song that he should’ve completed before premiering it. The beat is boring and towards the latter end, completely unlistenable. This incessant Talking Heads sample keeps playing off beat, adding nothing but more confusion to the cut. “Get Lost” was kind of cool at the premiere itself, but is a throwaway in headphones. There’s no beat, it’s just a half-baked autotune hymn that goes on for far too long. On top of the many technical issues that plague even the best songs, there is a healthy heaping of mid, namely “We Did It Kid”, “Selfish” and “First Time In A Long Time”. Tracks like this pop up way too frequently to be acceptable, even for someone like me who spent over a thousand dollars to see him perform this.
There is a lot missing from this record, and a lot that I wish would be missing. There are also some incredible ideas on here and within the stage show that bring his art to new heights. For one, he is more direct than ever when addressing beef. Back-to-back, “Flowers” and “Security” feels like both sides of his bipolar personality making separate tracks. The first is a horny escapade that sounds like an AI generated Future song, with dozens of quotables like “I am a flex”, “your life finna change right now”, “don’t bring friends around I wouldn’t f*** behind your back” and “Balenciaga for all your friends, Hermes for the arguments”. He was just on Instagram giving Julia Fox and all her model friends Birkin bags and new fits, this is his “I just fucked your bitch in some Gucci flip flops” moment. “Security” by comparison is clearly about him being banned from his daughter’s birthday party. As a response to that event, he is charging the Kardashian residence with a thousand Balenciaga-styled soldiers. The beat is hard as fuck, sounds like a runway Death Grips instrumental and Ye’s performance is unhinged and perfect. If this album was just 15 of this, it’d be an A+. “Louie Bags” is slightly messier, but is a deeply memorable and oddly fitting tribute to his fallen friend, Virgil Abloh. The chorus is kind of repetitive, there are some lyrical gaps, but the beat is out-of-this-world and Jack Harlow drops the second best feature on the album. Who is the best, you ask? Future, it’s Future.
Future makes three separate appearances, with my two favorites being “Pablo” and “Happy”. Both of these tracks have these dark trap beats that sound like a military drill. The Wheezy production on “Happy” with its repeating vocal and explosive drums is especially Hellish. Future fits into the aesthetic of this tape perfectly, talking about covering his face with a ski mask and flexing about drugs, cars and women. He does his job magnificently, whereas I think Migos did it corny earlier on. I feel as though Ye has this spiritual alignment with sinful figures like Future and DaBaby on the low end of things, and Marilyn Manson on the gross end. It leads to him opening the door to some really amazing ideas and features, but also to some terrible sound design and damning associations (MANSON MANSON GET RID OF HIM.) Fivio Foreign and Alicia Keys do a really great job on “City of Gods”, which reminds me of something that would’ve been on the G.O.O.D. Music comp Cruel Summer. “True Love” with a posthumous XXXTentacion feature ends up being a heartfelt highlight, despite X being another bad association.
There are also some goofy brained ideas on here. “Sci Fi” is half-genius half-stupid as fuck. Opening it with Kim’s voice is bold and daring and the stringed score sounds like it’s out of Dune. It’s really epic, but in service of what? “Welcome to the Sci Fi, make a choice, oxygen or WiFi?” Stupid as fuck. “I feel free like a homeless person” on “Broken Road”? Insanely stupid. But I guess when you try to make your totally preventable divorce and raging midlife crisis into a Star Wars film, this is the result you end up with. Sparks of what could’ve been his best album never fully manifest into a raging flame. However, it’s deeply impressive that he put this together in such a short amount of time. In between having sex with women that he dressed like his ex wife, bringing his kids to the Super Bowl and doing his cult-like Sunday Services, he managed to cobble together a pretty cool commercial trap and industrial rap mixtape. Like most mixtapes from artists like FKA twigs or Blood Orange, Donda 2 will never stack up to the studio records. It’s a mess, but one that I’m happy to be listening to.