From Fame to Devout Christian

A Review of Kanye West’s Donda (Deluxe)

In+total%2C+Donda+has+received+over++33.4+million+streams+across+32+tracks+and+is+Wests+third+album+to+reach+UKs++No.+1+record.

Dazed (Press)

In total, Donda has received over 33.4 million streams across 32 tracks and is West’s third album to reach UK’s No. 1 record.

Amos Figueroa, Staff Writer

“Donda, Donda Donda Donda, Donda…” While scrolling through playlists or maybe searching the internet late at night, you may have seen the five-letter name Donda appear on your screen. While the name sounds simple enough, the meaning, connotations, and person correlated with it have become the inspiration for 44-year-old, 22 time Grammy Award winner, Kanye West’s newest album. 

The album in many ways represents a turning point for West. Offering audiences, once again, a totally new side of Kanye West.

The name itself acts as a clear homage to West’s late mother, Donda West, who passed away on November 10, 2007. In more recent times, West’s divorce from Kim Kardashian West which officially occurred on February 19, 2021, acted as a catalyst for Donda. The divorce was brought on due to West’s running for the 2021 United States presidency, and several comments West made regarding the birth of their children. The marriage did end on positive terms, however, with both parents agreeing to joint custody of their four children.

The album was conceptualized in July 2020, under the name God’s Country. Several months later, the album was set to release on July 19, 2021, with a live listening event occurring in Mercedes-Benz Stadium Atlanta, which followed with another event on August 5, and his final listening event which occurred at Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago on August 26. These three events were the biggest Apple Music listening parties ever, with choirs singing, musicians playing, and West himself descending into the stadium on a silver wire.

The music featured in the 32 track album is a whole other beast, however. Whether subconscious or deliberate, West succeeds in creating a musical experience reminiscent of the Hero’s Journey plot structure found in literature and film. While listening to the album, I couldn’t help but root for West as if he was some type of underdog in this massive story.

The first track opens with an almost minute-long chanting of the name, Donda, properly titled Donda Chant. While repetitive, and somewhat jarring, the track acts as a warning to audiences, telling listeners that this will be a different West, a far more personal version of himself.

The next four tracks (2-5) – Hurricane, Moon, Life of the Party, Off the Grid, and Jail – are all loud party songs with several features. These radio-friendly hits seem to appease casual audiences while also basing the album upon traditional West-style music. If Donda was based on the hero’s journey, then this is the hero (West) in his normal state of life, nothing but good times and soul beats. The track Jail, slows down the album, offering a sound reminiscent to that of a previous West album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With a repetitive guitar rhythm and a feature from Jay-Z, the song breaks down and leads to what I can only describe as a devout Christian Kanye.

The tracks (7-9) Praise God, Come to Life, and Believe What I say, can all be described as soul beats regarding West’s relationship with God and Christianity in general. I would consider  No Child Left Behind (10) to be the defining sound of Donda, with a mellow yet potent synth raging throughout the entire track, the words, “He’s done miracles on me,” play while the track continues to grow. Tracks No Child Left behind, to Junya (10-16) all feature dark synths with heavy 808 rhythms, and of course rapping with the occasional singing or samples. These tracks represent a dark descent, leaving parties, leaving the church, leaving even God himself to expose the true suffering in which West finds himself.

Track 17 opens with a speech given by the late Donda West, sharing her father’s life lessons. The track is entitled, Never Abadon Your Family, and those repeating words haunted me upon my first listening. This is what I believe to be the saddest, most emotionally gripping song on Donda, with Kanye singing, “I’m losing my family”. The song ends with Kanye vowing to never leave his family; continuing with the same sample of Donda West echoing.

From here, tracks 18 through 27 show Kanye in a triumphant tone once more. Songs like Keep My Spirit Alive allow West to come to the realization that nothing matters except God. It is then in that revelation, that Kanye learns to free himself of previous burdens and the weight of his sins. West finds himself at a crossroads, learning that nothing satisfies him except for the continued creation of music. Track 27 entitled New Again, seems comical at first, yet offers a proper closure to this massive album. “Thank you, for your mercy” is sung by both West and a choir, leading into the chorus where West asks – who we can assume is – God, to “Make me new again, I repent for everything that I’ma do again.” For the final time, West embraces his faulty human nature, trading in the pain of living a rich fast life, for a spiritual family man in love with music. New Again is a praise unto God, giving both thanks for the gift of music while also humbling listeners by asking for mercy. 

From here, the track simply ends. The music doesn’t end but instead leads into subsequent versions of previous tracks, or remixes, Jesus is Lord, Ok Ok pt 2, Junya pt 2, Jail pt 2, Keep My Spirit Alive pt 2 (28-32). While the music does continue, I believe New Again to be the most logical, and powerful end to this massive album. 

 I do feel that the length of the album could have been shorted, and certain song choices were changed for others in position. While common listeners may write off the album for being over 2 hours and 11 minutes long, I do believe that under all of that raw music, there is a great musical journey to be had. I in no way feel that Donda was a waste of time, I just wish the messages of Donda could have been stated in far clearer and simplified terms. However, much like West’s own life, the album feels messy. At times, I found myself empathizing with West, while in other situations I didn’t understand a word anyone was saying. The more and more I listened to the album, the more and more I realized the beauty of West’s message. Beyond the loud rhythms, blasting synths, and sometimes confusing samples, there is a broken man trying to repair his marriage. Beyond all sound, there is West himself, dedicating his life to family, music, and of course, God.

Overall, I found Donda to be quite inspirational in the long run. The structure of tracks gave an extra storytelling element that few artists tend to utilize in this microwave era of music. Moreover, the samples, beats, vocal performances, features, and overall production value are extremely high as with any West album. At times, I found myself almost levitating while listening to the calming synth harmonies. 

On a personal note, my top five favorite tracks were as follows, No Child Left Behind, New Again, Never Abandon Your Family, Life of the Party, and 24. My least favorite was Jail, Up From the Ashes, God Breathed, Tell The Vision, Ok Ok.

I truly applaud West for his ability to present himself and his music in a – once again – new and fresh way. Whether a long-time listener or curious spectator, I believe Donda offers something for everyone. Donda is the tragic yet inspiring, sometimes self-defeating, but always interesting, life of Kanye West.