Donda delivers despite doubts
“Donda” is much like Kanye West himself: both the album and the artist can be easy to hate. From the year-long delay since the announced release date to the controversy surrounding West before the album’s release, doubts over “Donda” are understandable. Is it worth holding out hope for an album promised on six different missed release dates? Is an album that changed in production and features after every listening event going to be any good? At 44, is West still capable of showcasing his genius?
Yes, yes and yes.
The opening songs of “Donda” — well, maybe not “Donda Chant” — resolve any uncertainties over West’s competency. Like previous albums, it is not only West’s verses that make the project great; rather, West’s ability to fuse an eclectic range of features with meticulous production results in a diverse showcase of sounds and artists. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti on “Off the Grid” or the ethereal feeling when listening to Don Toliver and Kid Cudi on “Moon,” West’s now-legendary versatility is on full display.
Many of West’s greatest strengths shine in “Donda,” but his worst qualities are also evident. In a career marked by poor decisions and self-indulgence — the Taylor Swift VMA incident, a bizarre presidential campaign, urinating on his own Grammy award on Twitter — West diminishes the album by doing too much. Of the 27 tracks on “Donda,” the four “pt 2” tracks that close out the album are entirely unnecessary. When has DaBaby ever made a song better? Certainly not on “Jail pt 2,” where West’s decision to alter “Jail” by substituting Jay-Z with DaBaby borders on heresy.
This is not to say that all “pt 2” tracks are bad. On “Junya pt 2,” for example, Ty Dolla $ign’s verse adds a melodic dimension to the somewhat bare “Junya,” but that doesn’t mean that both variations should be included. An artist of West’s prestige should be decisive enough to determine which versions fit his artistic vision. Instead, West’s absence of self-control overextends “Donda” with a redundant ending that detracts from the genius of the album’s first 23 entries.
However, West’s restraint issues aren’t enough to change the fact that “Donda” is his best work since “The Life of Pablo.” With tracks like “Hurricane” representing the pinnacle of West’s ability to unite the music industry, it’s hard to imagine that anybody will release a better body of work in the near future. Similar to West himself, the antics and lack of moderation that surround “Donda” are easy to criticize, but the sheer brilliance of the artist and the album is ultimately undeniable.