With excellent production, wildly varying quality control, and some decidedly dodgy guest appearances, Kanye West’s tenth studio album is finally here. Spanning 27 tracks over 109 minutes and no less than 29 features, there were bound to be some ups and downs throughout this epic ride, but is this monumental musical rollercoaster more filler than thriller?
The album opens with the repetitive acapella vocal chant of ‘DONDA’ Kanye’s late mother’s name. It is repeated 59 times in a variety of ways, and although incredibly meaningful to him, for the casual listener, this intro is a grating throwaway noise and serves as an awful introduction which will surely be skipped upon hearing. We are then launched into ‘Jail’; a half-decent Kanye cut over a slow rock guitar synth melody. Here he is joined by Jay Z at his most recent best, sneering into the mic with a cockiness that is unmatched even by Ye himself.
‘DONDA’ ups the ante with appearances by Fivio Foreign, Lil Baby, The Weeknd, and Playboi Carti. before really bringing out the literal big guns with Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn, Kid Cudi, and Roddy Ricch. But before we reach these mostly memorable highs, we first must experience the lows.
The first tipping point of the album (not including the awful intro) is ‘24’: a track that sees West breathlessly singing over gospel inspired beats before taking centre stage in a church choir. He repeats the mantra "we're gonna be OK" until it becomes annoyingly off-beat, whilst a steadily overpowering church organ (that sometimes sounds as if Kanye is hitting the keys himself,) plays in the background. The album momentum then seems to dwindle with a series of forgettable, subsiding tracks that would be better off left in the studio.
But all is not entirely lost. Kanye picks up the pace with ‘Jesus Lord’, a reflective nine-minute track featuring Jay Electronica, building up the anticipation with a series of 808 beats and claps before reaching the crescendo. ‘New Again’ brings the bafflingly popular Chris Brown into the mix, combined with a synth-heavy Daft Punk vibe. ‘Tell The Vision’ - the eagerly-awaited Pop Smoke cut - lasts 104 seconds and is over before you know it; the menacing, dark piano beat promising much but delivering nothing in the way of content. Then ‘Lord, I Need You’ brings back the nostalgia of the ‘College Dropout’ era, and the assurances of a Kanye persona I miss.
The final four tracks on 'DONDA' are remixes of previous songs. The standout track, although not for any of the right reasons, is ‘Jail Part 2’, which features vocals from Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, both of whom are enormously controversial figures in music due to recent allegations both on and off stage. Why Kanye decided to include an accused sexual predator, a homophobe, and a convicted domestic abuser (in the case of Chris Brown) on his self- proclaimed magnus opus is a mystery. One can only assume his ego overshadows any sort of critical judgement on his behalf.
Ultimately, ‘DONDA’ is almost impossible to come to any kind of an objective conclusion on. To Yeezy stans, the highs are evidence of his continuing genius, the sparks of positivity worth ploughing through the negative headlines to absorb. But on any moral level, ‘DONDA’ is nigh-on unlistenable – its creator has built a platform for individuals who have behaved in an unconscionable way, without yet enduring any of the most basic consequences for their actions.
Amid its evangelical filler and overly long run-time you’re left with a decent album. But its lack of moral core means that many will rightly shun Kanye West’s message from the mount.
- - -
Clash will not be providing a mark for this album review.
Words: Mike Milenko
- - -