Kanye West’s tenth studio album, "Donda," comes loaded with more baggage than most and highlights Kanye’s continued evolution as an artist. His tendency to go toe-to-toe with his own ego creates some of Kanye’s best moments artistically, and the album highlights Kanye’s current mental state towards the 2007 death of his mother, Donda West.
Kanye's music has always thrived and flamed with his controversial nature, but his past transgressions now loom heavily with everything he does. His 2020 presidential run and divorce from Kim Kardashian inspired this album and influenced discourse between his mental state and musical output.
The album was released with three sold out listening parties in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and Soldier Field in Chicago. These events were marketing performance art in the highest order, with Kanye serving as its chief figurehead.
"Donda" is one of Kanye’s most collaborative albums to date, boasting features from The Weeknd, Westside Gunn, Swizz Beatz, Baby Keem and Ariana Grande. Kanye’s features come from many different musical spheres which highlights his current musical inspirations.
With its nearly 2 hour run time and 27-song tracklist, "Donda" is Kanye's longest album to date by a wide margin, but the album excels in its extreme highs and lows. “Donda Chant” is a hypnotic introduction track that repeats his mother’s name for its 52 second run time, and “Jail” is an energetic gospel track that immerse ourselves into Kanye’s gospel and excess-fueled world.
“Off The Grid” is a 5-minute drill cut featuring Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, and is a clear illustration of Pop Smoke’s influence on drill music and rap culture. Structurally, Kanye and Carti's verse creates space for Fivio’s extended penmanship.
For example, when he raps, “I don’t get too friendly with the enemy/You gotta move different when you in the industry,” these lyrics illustrate Kanye’s relationship with the media and how he conducts himself within his inner circle. Tumultuousness and exclusivity are two major facets of Kanye’s life and musical identity, and lyrics like these cement Kanye and his circle’s “aboveness” over regular people.
While most album cycles with Kanye previously included Twitter rants and public meltdowns, Kanye barely said a word about this project. He showed up to fashion shows wearing a mask, and even during the listening events, Kanye let the music do the talking. This purposeful silence allowed the art to speak for itself and it seemed like Kanye was relearning how to make his art become the central focus in his life again.
"Donda" as an album thrives in its excessiveness, and Kanye is given more leeway than most other artists in bloating his track list and commercializing his album releases. Kanye is a once-in-a-lifetime artist, and this project is a representation of Kanye’s Christian values and current inspirations. Kanye fans will not harp on the bloatedness of "Donda" — they will remember their experience that the listening parties and songs provide for them.
Kanye's life is unquestionably sewn into pop culture and historical events. His every move this album cycle is purposeful and planned, and "Donda" is Kanye’s best-selling commercial release in the past few years. His consistent retreat and re-emergence into the public eye keeps his fans intrigued and devoted, and his collaborations bleed life into his career and elevated his partnerships with different artists and brands.
Kanye exists precariously in the space between artist and provocateur. His art is an extension of himself, and his authenticity grows with each album release. "Donda" is Kanye’s return to form, and its beauty shines in its format and subject matter. His evolution as an artist is an experience we all get to witness, and "Donda" illustrates Kanye’s latest chapter in his artistic life.