DONDA - Kanye West

A perfect reflection of its creator in 2021, DONDA is incoherent and infuriating, with frequent flashes of brilliance.


"Thank you Kanye, very cool."


Matty Healy sarcastically spat the words of Donald Trump in West's face as he furiously held a generation to task on 'Love It If We Made It' while Lana Del Rey declared Kanye to be ''blonde and gone'' on the seminal Norman Fucking Rockwell! at the tail end of the 2010s.


Taken from potentially the defining song and album of the decade respectively, these two moments were symptomatic of a growing feeling in recent years that has come to represent the general populaces consensus on arguably the most influential musical mind of the 21st century.


Somewhere along the way, it turned - the culture disavowed one of its foremost leaders.


Anger gave way to concern for West's mental health this past year amid reports of his family attempting to have him sectioned before a seemingly inevitable divorce filing, with a bizarre presidential run along the way only highlighting the 44 year old's worrying state of mind - but any sympathy towards West must have been dispelled once again in the run up to the release of this tenth studio album.


Arriving on the back of a bungled roll out comprising repeatedly missed release dates, a curious residency in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta where a ski-mask toting figure could be seen menacingly roaming crowds during sporting events throughout summer, and the frankly unforgivable support shown for the blacklisted Marilyn Manson, it’s safe to say that Kanye had once again left a bad taste in fan's mouths before we could even press play.


Yet while West has never been a more vilified figure in the music industry and wider world than he is in 2021, what about the music itself?


As he finally drops this oft rumored and long awaited album for his late mother (whose tragic passing many attribute the deteriorating shift in West's personality since 2007), can this behemoth record live up to the towering maternal figure of its creator? There's no shortage of music to dissect, with a staggering (and quite honestly daunting) near two hours of new material on offer.


The good news is that the highlights of these 27 tracks easily surpass anything on Jesus Is King, if never quite approaching pre-2018 levels of greatness. The Throne reunite in style to kick off the record with long lost brother Jay Z showing up for 'Jail' as Kanye gets strikingly introspective about his divorce and ever worsening public image on a genuinely emotional and cathartic opening anthem, while Abel Tesfaye makes another fantastic guest turn on the soulful chorus of 'Hurricane' which saw over ten unreleased versions before making it to DONDA.


'Believe What I Say' is driven by a filthy bass groove a la 'Fade' that ingeniously samples the Lauryn Hill classic 'Doo Wop (That Thing)' and gives Kanye a funky platform to deliver some of his best bars of the album, while the always phenomenal partnership of Kid Cudi and Kanye strikes gold on the reflective 'Moon' with its calming synths providing a moment of tranquility amidst the surrounding chaos.


It's the phenomenal three track run of 'Keep My Spirit Alive', nine minute sermon 'Jesus Lord' and 'New Again' that sees DONDA peak at the midway point though, with a trio that argue in favor of Kanye's polarizing embrace of Christian rap. There's plenty of reasons found throughout DONDA to argue against Ye's often alienating fixation on Christianity, but these songs manage to balance the theme of faith with sobering self-examination, gorgeous gospel beats and West's best lyrical game in years (on spectacular centerpiece 'Jesus Lord' in particular).


The bad news is the rest.


The majority of DONDA seems to amount to a glorified data dump – a gigantic file sitting on Kanye’s laptop that shouldn’t have seen the light of day before a massive editing process was undertaken.


As it is, we are left with a massive excess of the manic electro gospel that has unfortunately defined West in recent years (see 'God Breathed', 'Jonah'), pointless and indulgent filler ('Junya', 'Remote Control') and the baffling inclusion of four alternate versions of album tracks at the end of the record which make for a totally underwhelming conclusion to DONDA. While there is nothing wrong with pt 2's for 'Jail' and 'Jesus Lord' (the less 'Junya' the better for all of us), these tracks should clearly have been labelled as outtakes for a B side compilation rather than what they stand for here - a lengthy and uninspired rolling of self congratulatory credits that adds an unnecessary epilogue to an already overstuffed album.


The result is the paradoxically incomplete and overbloated feeling you may experience as you emerge from this wild 108 minutes. There's enough clutter here to almost lose sight of some of Kanye's better creations in the post Pablo era ('Jail', 'Jesus Lord'), but look through the cracks of this vast chronicle and you may glimpse just enough of the old Kanye - straight from the 'go Kanye, chop up the soul Kanye - to fill the void left by recent times.


Ultimately, DONDA is a perfect reflection of its creator in 2021 – incoherent and infuriating, with frequent flashes of brilliance.


6.0 / C


Best Tracks: 'Jail'/'Believe What I Say'/'Keep My Spirit Alive'/'Jesus Lord'/'New Again'


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