Review: ‘Donda’ is a godsend

After several rounds of editing and an expected series of delays, Kanye West’s “Donda” is finally out.

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Manasa Gudavalli

“Donda”, the tenth studio album by Kanye West, was released on August 29, 2021. This album is composed of twenty-seven tracks, approximating a two-hour runtime altogether. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Nico Pedrero-Setzer, Abroad Arts Editor

Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda Donda. Through mantric divination, Kanye West introduces us to “Donda,” a work of hard drums and heavy tears.

Listening to “Donda” is a revelatory experience. Composed of 27 tracks that run between two and 11 minutes but approaching a two-hour runtime altogether, “Donda” reveals itself as an epic of unearthed wonders, brilliant collaborations and soulful declarations.

Following the opening mantra, “Donda Chant,” West immediately propelled you into a soundscape of brash basses before mellowing out into a more soothing vibe and, eventually, an ethereal finale. Bolstered by a repeated riff, “Jail,” the album’s first real song, acts as the perfect primer for the album, tackling Kanye’s struggles with faith in a manner that feels honest.

Where “JESUS IS KING” saw him experiment with the stylings of a traditional gospel album, “Donda” showcases a reimagining of what a gospel album could be. With “Donda,” Kanye seems to have found a sound of his own, one that veritably reflects his relationship to spirituality in all its flaws and glory. He’s escaped the trappings of boring, clerical tunes and offers something new, something strangely personal, modern and as enrapturing as it is danceable.

In an era of exacerbated agnosticism, Kanye has accomplished the impossible by making religion sound cool. The blasphemy behind trading DONDA’s two conflicting styles — one that calls bodies to bow in worship, the other carrying them to thrust to the beat — is all too apparent; but it’s exactly this blasphemous reimagining of what a spiritual album could be that makes “Donda” such a wonder.

This rap-heavy revision of gospel music continues into “God Breathed,” where Kanye praises all that God breathes on over fast, heavy drums and spurts of screeches that hearken back to Arca’s production on “Yeezus.” And then he goes off the rails on “Off the Grid.”

 It’s that through-line from “Off the Grid” to “Praise God” that can truly be dubbed archangelic, as Kanye’s production wizardry comes to the surface in a series of bass-busting songs that will surely be repeated ad nauseum until Kanye releases his next project. He’s rapping about Dover Street Market, dropping out of school and fighting the Devil. He’s braggadocious and it works, he’s a genius and it shows, achieving a perfect rhythm that plays off the blend of biting lyrics and bumpin’ beats.

When he states, “I got this God power, that’s my leverage / I got this Holy Water, that’s my beverages,” it’s resoundingly triumphant and stimulating atop a Pop-Smoke-esque bass. But that’s just one snippet from a single song; what’s incredible is that he’s able to maintain that rhythm song to song, generating a mythic beast of sound and fury, a perfect synchronicity that fulfills the promise of “Yandhi.” 

There is a certified number of bangers on this album . By the time “Junya” hits, a glorious tribute to Japanese fashion designer Junya Watanabe, it’s evident that Kanye is back — fully in control of his sound and positively tapped into the pulse of the world, delivering harmonies it never knew it desired and will never be able to part ways with now that they exist. And, as if he were cognizant of the fact that he could overwhelm the minds of many through an overload of sonic spectacles, he flips the switch and settles into a groovier mood that allows him to transition perfectly into the album’s grandiose finale. 

“Believe What I Say” marks that transition into a more mellifluous groove, or as he puts it, “somethin’ that is very, very vibe-worthy.” The following tracks have fun with said vibe, integrating whistles, robotic voice-effects and even sampling Tony Halstead’s freak song “The Globglogabagalab,” alongside playful lyricism, before the album looks upward and lands on a greater sense of solemnity.

From here on out, the album devotes itself to the grandiose, to personal perils and biblical dilemmas. On “Heaven and Hell,” Kanye raps “No more promos, no more photos / No more logos, no more chokeholds.” He’s fed up and ready to enact change, grouping all that he deems wrong under the moniker of the “Devil” and demanding that it “lay down.” He seeks to save his people through music and vows to leave no child behind. Hopefully, he’s changed, hopefully he’s arrived at a renewed sense of being and can channel the wild brilliance of his song-making prowess into life itself.

Whether Kanye lives up to his promises or not is up to him. It is blatantly evident to the world that he continues to make one amazing album after another.. In “Donda,” Kanye wrestles with angels and demons and comes out victorious, delivering an original composition of balanced brilliance, a genuine triumph.

Contact Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]