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While climate change and Covid are raging around the world, Afghanistan was the largest US military retreat Since Vietnam, a small portion of humanity has spent the summer on another matter. Would Donda ever be released?
Kanye West’s new album would have appeared in July. Subsequent dates were teased with spectacular listening opportunities in stadiums during which DondaThe songs were broadcast on a rippling volume while a masked and dumb Kanye hung in the air, setting himself on fire and repeating his marriage to his ex-wife Kim Kardashian.
These mass spectacles were the rapper’s equivalent of his ex-boyfriend Donald Trump’s rallies, megalomaniacal exercises in worshipers. But now his 10th studio album has left the Kanye verse, or possibly taken it out: the rapper claims that his label Universal released the album without his permission. In any case, a reckoning with reality has arrived. Finally available for everyone to hear, Donda is a dud.
Like the ego of its maker, the album is a big, turbulent, violent affair. There are 27 cuts, lasting a total of almost two hours. It is named after his mother, Donda West, an English professor of literature at Chicago State University who died in 2007. From the diverse messages that can be seen, she is meant to represent Christian virtues of mercy and love. Meanwhile, Jesus is repeatedly addressed, a continuation of the evangelistic direction of West’s last album, Jesus Is King.
The music fuses gospel and rap, religious and secular. Thomas A Dorsey, a songwriter and composer from his hometown of West Chicago, did something similar in the 1930s with his invention of gospel blues, emphasizing the role of the solo singer. There is an affinity here with the precedence of the voice in rap. But Donda, hampered by repetitive hooks, unimaginative measures and sketchy song structures, can not illuminate it.
There is a large group of guests, including Jay-Z, Travis Scott and The Weeknd. Despite the variety of voices and vocal styles (rapping, singing, spoken word, many computer processing effects), little is actually noticed. A pious but confused decision to get rid of all the swear words causes verses to be full of artificial hooks.
The album’s best track, “Jesus Lord,” finds that West associates his mental instability and sadness for his mother with racism in the US and the violence that tore so many black American families apart. It features West’s most consistent rapping, aided by a strong look by fellow rapper Jay Electronica. But there are slim choices elsewhere.
Donda West’s memory should give the album a powerful emotional core. But Kanye does not remember her with depth (“The woman rode with me like a Harley”), but rather prefers to talk about his breakup with Kardashian. Religious devotion is indicated by slogans or shallow beliefs: “I talk to God every day, it’s my best.”
The sinners who join Kanye on the album include Chris Brown, a convicted domestic abuser, who thanks God for the mercy on “New Again.” Marilyn Manson, who is accused of sexually assaulting a number of women he denies, plays a singing role on ‘Jail Pt 2’, alongside DaBaby, who delivers an unwavering rap about ‘canceling’ for a recent homophobic eruption. In West’s self-serving world, without his doubt in his presidential campaign, salvation is a right. However, his indelibly sloppy new album proves otherwise.
‘Donda‘is released by GOOD Music / Def Jam