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REVIEW: A Little Bit of Everything: Kanye West’s “DONDA”

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

By Calvin Dimmig | September 13, 2021

After years of waiting, Kanye West fans finally listened to “DONDA,” the highly anticipated album named after the rapper’s late mother. Stories across social media platforms were flooded with the all-black album cover as listeners streamed worldwide.

Before the album was released, ‘Ye hosted three listening parties. The Internet was set ablaze by the artist’s questionable decision to reside in the Mercedes Benz stadium--the location of his first private listening party. Pictures of ‘Ye fitted in all red with pantyhose over his head and videos of the artist curling dumbbells lit up the Internet, spurring suspicion and conspiracy. A metaphorically pious ascension towards the top of the stadium thru wires and pulleys stands out as one of the many odd or questionable moves by Mr. West.

The hype for the album rose swiftly if the hype wasn’t already high. Suspense set in. Release date after release date, all false. Then, on August 29, the wait was suddenly over. “DONDA” was available on all platforms. Fans reacted instantly, discussing their opinions on the project over in-class lectures, posting their thoughts online for all the world to see.

The project features a motley of artists and sounds from the rap genre while introducing us to a new Kanye: a provocative artist who, even in his controversial turn to higher meaning via God--a turn unlike any other in the rap industry, making fans question the importance of faith, sincerity, and artistry of famous rappers--dominates music charts across the globe.

Diverse Production

Fans of Kanye claim he is better at producing than rapping. The producer, as compared to a rapper, manages the elements and direction of a track or album. The producer must know the smaller components of creating music and bring these components together to give meaning and purpose to a song. In other words, a producer shines through their ability to construct a meaningful track: from beat to instrumentals to vocals. Kanye’s production creates a site for diversity in the genre and fanbase to be cherished.

Kanye’s “DONDA” is a melting pot of sound ranging from New York City drill, hymnal synths, and various voice recordings. “Off The Grid” goes hard with drill style early on in the album, which segues into transcending sounds from “Hurricane” and “Jonah.” This could be an acknowledgment of the mechanics used in the rap canon, or it can be a way for various listeners to connect or vibe to the album, especially for casual fans like myself. Either way, the production quality on “DONDA” elevates his producing ability.

Sounds from various songs share the same tone as some of his previous works (“Believe What I Say” gives off some serious “Graduation” vibes for me). Allusions to earlier works are explicit in the lyrics, “You the air that I breathe, the ultra-light beam.” These similarities and easter eggs add another dimension to the listening experience, especially for long-time listeners.

Features of the album could also be considered a melting pot. ‘Ye employs older rappers such as Jay-Z and Jay Electronica and top-selling rappers like Travis Scott, Lil Baby, and Baby Keem. Some are known for their rather angelic voices, like The Weeknd and Kid Cudi (those hums are holy), and lesser-known artists, like Shansea and Vory, are given a spotlight.

Multiple artists create substance in many ways, whether it be a homage to drill in “Off the Grid” or heavy-hitting geo-political commentary in “Jesus Lord.” Even the posthumous Pop Smoke gets a song all to himself.

These features, combined with various sounds previously mentioned, give meaning to diversity. Everyone from new fans to hardcore fans hears what the artist offers for rap as a genre, as an art. He provides the listener with a little bit of everything to enjoy.

Interesting Tidbits about “DONDA”

The album is Kanye’s longest--clocking in at 1h 48m which is 28m longer than his now second-longest project, “College Dropout.”

In “Jesus Lord” and “Jesus Lord Pt 2,” a voice recording of Larry Hoover Jr. details his father’s incarceration, Larry Hoover Sr. As the founder of the Gangster Disciples, Hoover Sr. was given multiple life sentences for conspiracy, extortion, etc. Hoover Jr’s voice recording is powerful in that it displays the faults in our justice system, the scrutiny of the public eye, and the struggle of dealing with the absence of a family member.

Due to close release dates, “DONDA” is compared and contrasted to Drake’s new release, “Certified Lover Boy.” Not only is it interesting to note the two industry leaders’ beef, but also that Mr. West has competed with another iconic rapper in a similar manner. 50 Cent’s “Curtis” released a couple of weeks before Kanye’s “Graduation”. The two kept close eyes on their album sales to see who would sell the most copies. Kanye won by a staggering margin of around 200,000 units.


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