ALBUM REVIEW: Ye (fka Kanye West), DONDA
It’s been a long and tumultuous road to get to where we are now: Kanye West’s Donda has officially surfaced on streaming services. This journey started in late July with an event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and subsequent live stream. In this massive stadium made for football games, he stood alone, adorned in a red Yeezy Gap jacket, red leather jeans and a tan stocking mask. He basically previewed the new record, which was not finished. There were lots of bare bones demos with filler singing and looping chord progressions; if this is the album we got, I would’ve been pissed. Him and his posse regrouped, living in the stadium and working on the album every single day until they had a second event, which Anti actually attended. The visuals were much more impressive on the second go around: hundreds of extras flooded the stadium, surrounding Kanye who was in the center hiding, making calls and doing pushups. Beyond that, the album sounded like it was finished. We had new features from Westside Gunn, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi and others as well as needed adjustments to the bass and general structure of the whole LP. I was able to get a good recording of the performance, and probably listened to that 30 times throughout this month. In my review of this version, I called it “sonic steroids”, because it was music made for pushing past the pain.
But alas, this dream version of Kanye’s new album, that had Kid Cudi saying “fuck” on it, never surfaced. The album still didn’t drop, and at this point, everyone on the internet started to make their memes. Donda was the new 16*29 (Carti & Uzi album) or Detox by Dr. Dre, constantly being hinted at but never officially surfacing. That was until a few nights ago, when the album premiered for a THIRD TIME, this time in his hometown of Chicago rather than his birthplace (Atlanta). My hope was that the album would be excised of fat (a small verse from Conway, “Donda Donda Donda”) and beefed up production-wise. I thought the order was nearly perfect, going from light to dark and telling a story in the process. I don’t know what happened, but someone must’ve gotten in Kanye’s head, because the album that played in Chicago was drastically different. There were some new tracks, which I fuck with, but the ordering doesn’t really make sense. For example, I think “Hurricane” with The Weeknd and Lil Baby was perfect for the latter half of the album, feeling like a cleansing track after a lot of Hellish cuts like “God Breathed” and “Praise God”. Placing it earlier in the record takes away some of it’s impact for me, especially after experiencing it live. I have other issues with this version but I’ll get into those in a minute. For the most part, the version on streaming services is what everyone heard on 8/26, screwed up order and all. The two differences are that DaBaby is back off “Jail” and relegated to a bonus track called “Jail pt. 2”, and there is absolutely no cursing. I feel as if the cursing, usually done by the features, adds a lot of character to the mix that was sorely missing on Jesus Is King. In my opinion, a version with the sound quality of version 3 with the tracklisting of version 2 would’ve been an A- for me, his best since Yeezus. I have that version on my phone, so that’s what I’ll be listening to. However, I am a music critic and I have to be fair and grade what’s out, so here we go.
The record starts with the most insufferable track from version two, now called “Donda Chant”. DONDA DONDA DONDA DONDA DOOOONDA DOOOOOONNNNDA DONDA DONDA DOOONDA. That’s how we are introduced to what was almost the album of the year. We move forward to the Jay-Z version of “Jail”, one of the album’s stronger tracks overall. I love the way Kanye’s vocals are mixed, with small cameo pop-ins from Francis and the Lights, he sounds like he’s performing live from MB Stadium again. The chorus feels extremely powerful and overwhelming, and Jay has a really solid verse and disses AntiArt, “Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus/You are not in control of my thesis/You already know what I think 'bout think pieces”. Following this is “God Breathed”, one of the more industrial tinged tracks on the record. I love Kanye’s speedy flows amidst these echoed out, lightning strike moans and Vory’s soulful singing. I will always see the color red and a roaring fire whenever hearing this song after seeing it live in Atlanta. “Off The Grid” was one of my top three favorites originally, although this new version feels overlong. The one that popped up on version 2 was mixed better and the beat felt geared towards Fivio’s verse. On streaming the bass is lessened, Fivio’s vocals are mixed lower, the sample is less strong, and there’s no cursing, it’s just shittier. Many of the songs on this project are amazing still, but there are just stupid choices made last minute that really affect the overall experience.
“Hurricane” is definitely one of the best songs on the whole record, I feel like it hits wherever it appears. The Weeknd’s vocals were such a genius last minute inclusion when Kanye was doing nothing but sleeping, lifting weights, and texting women in early August. “Eighty degrees, warm it up for me/Finally free, found the God in me/And I want you to see, I can walk on water/Thousand miles from shore, I can float on the water” is a set of lines that feels like a blanket of safety, like nothing can hurt me. Lil Baby fairs really well on this track too, matching Kanye’s religious and one-liner heavy energy with lines about losing his friends and moving forward. The next four songs all fit perfectly next to each other. On “Praise God'', you can almost see a crowd of 500 people dressed in all black swaying back and forth, there is this great sense of force being conveyed here, with Travis Scott and Baby Keem pulling up with slowed-down but unique contributions. I really love the ethereal production from DrtWrk & Audi, with Durk and Vory spitting pretty solid verses surrounding riches and putting on for Chicago. “Ok Ok” is the weakest of the four by far, with a do nothing beat and a mediocre feature from Lil Yachty. Now, “Junya” is that shit. Those organs, that bass and Kanye being goofy as shit “Mmm mmm/Extra strippers/mmm mmm/ Chi ______ tell ‘em!”. Even Carti duets with him at certain parts, mirroring lines like “Excuse my manners!/I got standards!” and then riffing on it. This is probably my favorite track on the record as it currently exists, “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY OF MY RELEASE!!!”
“Believe What I Say” doesn’t fit on this part of the record at all, but it’s a hard track to be mad at. Imagine a Calvin Harris Funk Wav Bounces track but mixed with ‘08 Graduation Ye. On top of that, it features a very tasteful flip of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop” It’s full of life, rhythm and funny lines like “Free Throat Coat for the throat goats!” and “celebrity drama only Brad would know”. “24” also doesn’t fit here whatsoever, it’s this Southern-Fried, 110 degree gospel track with the Sunday Service Choir. It’s another one of the best tracks this record has to offer, but it would work so much better as the second or third to last track, to really drive the point home that “we gonna be okay”. Still, just like “Hurricane”, it is strong enough that I’m never upset to hear it. Ok, they really fucked up “Remote Control” badly. Kanye’s chorus being too polished is what I really hate about it, I far prefered the messiness of version 2. I love when he would say “WHYYYY YOOOOUUUU SOOOO MAAAAAAAAD?!!”. I liked Cudi’s verse a lot too, and I wouldn’t have been mad at them getting rid of it but, why Globglogabgalab? I mean I think he’s a pretty strong MC but I don’t know if his distinctive “shwabble-dabble-wabble” flow was the proper fit here. All in all, I feel bad for anyone who hasn’t heard the original version, it’s far superior.
The next four tracks are hit-or-miss for me, and a lot of that also comes down to ordering. I do like the track “Moon” a lot, but it doesn’t belong here at all. It’s this emotional little electric guitar track that should be in the beginning of the record. “Heaven and Hell”, by comparison, fits perfectly where it’s at and goes hard as Hell. The additional chipmunk vocal sampling and bassier mix benefits the track so much, with Kanye rhyming in this staccato flow to some handclaps. “Donda” is a pretty good opener, but in the middle of the album with no Pusha T verse? No, there it sucks and drags the record down. “Keep My Spirit Alive” is a great track and it’s where it belongs too, my favorite part is without a doubt Westside Gunn, he’s so sacrilegious. “Yo flushed the dope just in time then they raided/Thank God, thank God…Hundred round drum didn’t jam when my shooter tried to spray it/Thank God, thank God”. They could’ve done without Conway, but I’m not complaining much. “Jesus Lord” is a powerhouse of a track, with some lyrical features from Jay Electronica and The LOX, the beat is one of the album’s best and Kanye has one of his most powerful verses in a while as well. Jeeeeesus, Lord! Electronica is the clear winner though, with bars like “Earthquakes will strike this nation for what Bush did to Rwanda (Facts)/What the Clintons did to Haiti and Downing Street did to Ghana” Very ballsy.
“New Again” was one of the best songs on the original version of the album, but it should’ve been before “Believe What I Say”. Why is it in between a backpack rap song and a badly edited Pop Smoke verse? They also extend the track out unnecessarily at the end. Even so, the pulsating house beat, basketball court skirting and vocals from not Chris Brown make this song powerful as hell. “Last night don’t count! This morning don’t count!!” “Tell The Vision” sounds like shit and needs to be removed, R.I.P to Pop, just listen to the version on his album. “Pure Souls” fits well amongst the final gospel cuts of the record instrumentally and lyrically with lyrics like “Jesus saved my soul” and “Devil get behind me I’m loose, I’m free”. I could really do without the extended outro that seems to go on forever, though. “Come to Life” is an incredibly inspirational track that sounds like a mix between 808s and Heartbreak and a Pixar movie, “Ever wish you had another life?/Don’t you wish the night would go long/I been feeling low for so long”. The grand pianos and stadium ready guitar chords make this song one of the best on the record as well. And finally, after he ascended to the top of a stadium (sort of), lit himself on fire, and got fake married, “No Child Left Behind” does finally feel appropriate as the closer. Something about those long organ chords and Vory’s vocals feel like ending credits, and make me want to run the record back. It’s like “Donda’s Theme” or something
It sounds like I’ve said a lot of good things about this record and the grade for this review might really confuse you. Well, as I said before, I had an A- locked in for a bootleg cut of the album I made myself. I think there is a near immaculate album within the ruins of this very, very good album. The big factors for me were track ordering, cutting certain verses, leaving songs like “Donda Chant” and “Tell The Vision” in and burdening 10/10 tracks with fluff to make them 8/10 tracks (i.e. “Remote Control”, “New Again”, “Pure Souls”). I also hate to be that guy, but I think my version plus a dope album cover would’ve sent this thing all the way up. This would’ve been within breathing distance of Yeezus, my favorite Kanye record. Now, I see it as just slightly above Ye and slightly below Kids See Ghosts. This is such a weird record to review because even with all the fuck ups, I still love it. I’ll just be listening to my ideal version in my Library that is better, that’s all.