By Nick Sligh
Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Kanye West: “Donda” (Aug. 29, 2021)
One of hip-hop’s all-time greatest figures, Kanye West, has returned with the long-awaited “Donda,” a powerful and sentimental collection. Dedicated to Kanye’s late mother, Donda West, who passed away in 2007, Kanye’s tenth studio album is one of the most foundationally personal and soulful efforts of his career.
Kanye’s mother was very important to his personal development and his life as a whole, a fact he has made public numerous times. The death of Donda West greatly affected Kanye’s life and mental health, taking him on a journey of growth, reflection and self-discovery. “Donda” serves as a key piece in Kanye’s journey toward accepting life without his beloved mother.
As controversial as he may be, Kanye has made some amazing music and is responsible for some of the most iconic moments in the history of hip-hop. His impact and legend status are undeniable, and his newest effort helps him continue to build his case as one of the greatest musical artists ever.
As is common for Kanye, “Donda” showcased his skill as an ultimate curator. Although the album has some faults, such as unnecessary songs and spots of poor structuring, the good heavily outweighs the bad. Bringing together the best producers and rappers possible, the tracklist serves as a timestamp of what is current in hip-hop. There are a handful of moments that are genuinely grand, and their extravagance will stand the test of time as iconic moments in his discography.
The first full track of the album, “Jail,” brings the “return of the throne” and the reuniting of an iconic duo — Jay-Z brings a phenomenal and emotional verse to make the song a standout hip-hop moment. The Weeknd and Lil Baby join with Kanye to create “Hurricane,” another notable song of the album and of Kanye’s entire career. The song’s chorus could not have been better executed, with The Weeknd’s vocals and heavenly touch setting the perfect tone. Lil Baby offers an amazing verse, well-written and perfectly delivered, followed by a Kanye verse that was one of the best across the whole project. There are also a couple of times where the guest on a track steals the spotlight — in “Praise God,” Baby Keem absolutely takes over. Kanye and Travis Scott make contributions to the track, but Keem’s extended verse absolutely overshadows the rest of the song and becomes one of the highlights of the entire album. The energy and delivery could not have been better. “Off The Grid” includes an electric and atmospheric beat, which holds the stage for an unreal feature verse from Fivio Foreign, but on this one Ye holds his own with his greatest rapping since “The Life of Pablo.”
Lauryn Hill samples are always going to be amazing, and “Believe What I Say” completely meets expectations, lifted along by West’s powerful production skills. Kid Cudi and Don Tolliver enter as the perfect feature duo for “Moon,” a peaceful and uplifting slow anthem in the middle of the tracklist. On “Jesus Lord,” Jay Electronica brings his A-game with his pen, complementing Kanye’s soulful verse with a miraculous, ridiculously complex and lyrically intricate verse. “Pure Souls” gives Roddy Ricch the chance to shine with a stellar vocal performance. Finally, “Lord I Need You” and “Come To Life” help to close the tracklist with deeply soulful and reflective efforts, allowing Kanye to authentically express his recent personal troubles and triumphs.
Tha album is not perfect by any means. “Donda” has some structural elements that make very little sense. The “part twos” of tracks were unnecessary, with only one of them being better than its “part one” version (“Junya”). Another handful of tracks ranged from very bad to mediocre and added little: “Tell The Vision,” (the decision to include this one on the album blows my mind — I have no idea what Kanye was thinking here) “God Breathed,” “Ok Ok,” “New Again” and “Heaven and Hell.” Without some of these tracks, the album would have been a higher-quality work at a more appropriate length.
Despite some of its flaws, “Donda” is a wonderful collection from an all-time musical legend. A few of the tracks genuinely stand out as some of the best of Kanye’s career. To me, “Donda” was nearly the greatest that it could have been, given the point that Kanye is at in his career as an artist and a person. Coming after the musical low of his career on “Jesus Is King,” it was great to finally see him return to his accustomed levels of musical greatness. His production has never declined in quality, and it was certainly amazing from start to finish on this record. His lyrical ability has never been his top strength, but he still provides impressive penmanship at times and heartfelt deliveries throughout. The production and emotional potence, as well as the personal and soulful narratives help to make this album a truly great work and a beautiful compilation.
Favorite Songs: “Hurricane,” “Off the Grid,” “Jail,” “Praise God,” “Jesus Lord,” “Believe What I Say,” “Moon,” “Junya pt. 2,” “Lord I Need You,” “Pure Souls,” “Remote Control”
Album Score: 83/100
Check out this Spotify playlist, and like it to follow along with some of my favorite songs of 2021 as the year progresses!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.