Written Before Listen
Kanye West….the dude needs no introduction. One of the most celebrated and talked about musicians of modern time. Personally, no other artist has resonated or stayed with me other than Kanye West. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is my favorite album and Kanye’s discography is easily one of the strongest of all time. I would say that he never missed but 2019 came. Jesus Is King is easily his worst release and DONDA is the follow-up to it. I come to this album with mixed expectations because on one hand, he is Kanye, on the other hand, he dropped his worst album not too long ago. With that being said, let’s see what Donda has in store.
This album is loaded with features from some of the biggest of the game. The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Don Toliver, Chris Brown, Pop Smoke, and DaBaby just to name a few. Out of the 27 tracks this album holds, 23 of them have feature credits. With those 23 tracks, 15 of them have rap features. How are these features? Fantastic. The first feature to appear is JAY Z as he kills his verse on “Jail” with nice wordplay and flows. On “Off The Grid” both Playboi Carti and Five Foreign deliver some of their best verses. Playboi Carti brings un-humanlike energy while Five Foreign brings his inner beast with awesome flows, crazy rhyme schemes, and thoughtful lyrics. On “Hurricane”, The Weeknd’s atmospheric crooning fits perfectly with Kanye’sbravado and Lil Baby’s conscious trap music. On “OK OK”, Lil Yachty brings one of his best verses too as he doesn’t sound super childlike but nothing uncharacteristic. On “Moon”, both Don Toliver and Kid Cudi both bring trance-like vocal performances as their vocals are less like features and more like soundscapes for the beat. On “Keep My Spirit Alive”, we have Westside Gunn and Conway surprisingly fitting perfectly over a Kanye track. In “Jesus Lord”, Jay Electronica delivers one of his best verses as well as he matches the skill of Kanye’s strong 3-minute verse. A lot of features from these big names are impressive but none are as impressive as the 3 tracks that Vory appears on. Before this album, I had no idea who Vory was but his very melodic and spiritual delivery fits extremely well toward the aesthetic of DONDA. Surely people like Baby Keem, Travis Scott, and Roddy Ricch should be mentioned, but that just shows how loaded the features are on this album.
There’s no Kanye album without an infamous rollout. The 50 Cent battle on Graduation, the Good Friday series for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the continuous editing of Life Of Pablo as well as the far-right politics of “Ye” & “KIDS SEE GHOSTS”. Kanye promoted this album for over a year before it dropped. It wasn’t until a month ago when people took the release seriously. I did the “Written Before Listen” segment of this review before the first release party on July 22. The reason I say “first release party” is because Kanye moved to Atlanta, to finish the album. He spent millions and millions of dollars with listening parties, house building, and stadium rentals. We saw the ever-changing structures of songs and the adding and dropping of songs. With the release we got, we still have a lot of the songs but also a lot of songs we somewhat forgot about. Songs like “Believe What I Say” and “Hurricane” has been promoted, snipped, and leaked for a while now. This just comes to show that Kanye didn’t keep anything in the vault for this album. He just gave it all away for us to listen to.
Now, let’s talk about the Artist himself, Kanye West. How does He do on this album? He does pretty well, at least for most of the time. His flows on “Off The Grid” are amazing, his singing on “24”, “Jail” “Come to Life” and “No Child Left Behind” is passionate and seriously heartfelt. His rapping performances on “Jesus Lord” and “Keep My Spirit Alive” show that he can still stand alongside some of the strongest lyricists of the game. On the other hand, there are some times where Kanye doesn’t stand as strong as the features. I think “Hurricane” is like that to an extent, I think “Pure Souls” is kind of like that to an extent and “Jonah” is like that too. Those are just exceptions though. For the span of 27 tracks, Kanye does his strongest on nearly all of these tracks.
If you don’t know, Kanye didn’t start as a rapper, he was a producer to begin. Over time, he brought multiple producers in the studio around the Dark Fantasy era. He has continued to do that and this album is not an exception. There are a lot of high-level producers on this album. Boi-1da, Gassefelstein, Mike Dean, Ronny J, Swizz Beatz, and Wheezy all make appearances on this album. How is the production on this album? Pretty minimal. The first real song doesn’t have drums until the very end and even then, they are after the vocals end. I do like a lot of the beats on here. “Jail” has this sustaining guitar alongside these distorted bass hits that are very suspenseful and epic. “God Breathed” is this techno-inspired beat with distorted bass, sinister choir, and industrial one-shots. “Jonah” has this atmospheric melody and drum pattern reminiscent of 808s & Heartbreak era Kanye but with modern approaches. “Ok Ok” is mainly atmospheric choir and hard 808s but I still enjoy it. “Junya” is carried by crispy organs, hard 808s, and raw claps and despite not being one of my favorites, the beat is hard. “Beleive What I Say” flips a Lauryn Hill classic backed by a four on the floor kick, melodic bassline, and progressive sequencing. “Keep My Spirit Alive” has these atmospheric pads alongside a Graduation like Boom Bap pattern that is very contagious. “Jesus Lord” has a very repetitive structure but the choir vocals and booming drum pattern are just super desirable. Some beats are more accessible and full. The beat for “Off The Grid” is a full-on banger with a nice drum switch too. “Hurricane” has these hard-hitting 808s with soulful organs and heavy-hitting rim knocks. “New Again” is an Electropop beat with Synthwave inspired synth sounds and a heavy side chain. What I’m trying to say is that the production like usual is memorable, legendary and done to its best abilities. Kanye strikes again.
Not all Kanye albums have notable weaknesses, but this album unfortunately does. I don’t think a lot of the Pt 2 tracks on this album are completely necessary (except for maybe the Jail Pt 2). I also think “Tell The Vision” was a throwaway and a half. I do respect the thought behind it but it sounds more like a deluxe edition remix on the 25th anniversary of an album. I also think tracks like “OK OK” and “Junya” would’ve been fine in the vault as well. Other than that.....KANYE IS BACK!!!!!
Kanye has returned with his best solo album since Life Of Pablo. This avoids the cohesion of his previous two albums and over-performs for the audience. Despite some weak spots and some incomplete spots, this album delivers in a great way