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Kanye West’s Donda album is here, and like the rest of his most recent projects, its journey to streaming services was as interesting as the music itself.
Preceded by three listening parties attended by nearly over 100,000 fans; the project is one Yeezy had been teasing since last summer. Checking in at 27 songs — close to two hours in running time — the LP has a little of everything fans have come to expect from the Chicago multi-hyphenate, whether it’s self-mythologizing, spurts of gospel, passionate rhyming or any number of other things from his expansive repertoire.
Let’s take a look at seven takeaways from the project below!
1. The album rollout was revolutionary
Since he dropped The Life of Pablo album a half-decade ago, Kanye’s revolutionized the way albums are released, and he continued doing so with Donda. Before the project finally dropped last Sunday (Aug. 29), he hosted three separate public listening parties attended by close to 120,000 people. At the events, fans could hear different incarnations of the album, effectively getting to see Kanye work that could — in some cases — be left on the cutting room floor.
On the creative end, this was more like a suped-up version of the Madison Square Garden listening party Kanye threw back in 2016. On a commercial level, he might have leveled up even more, as he was able to sell a ton of merch as well as tickets to the events, all of which earned him what Vice reports is likely millions of dollars. This could lead more artists to trying out his approach. However, because Kanye is one of the only musicians in the world to earn a net worth of over $1 billion while maintaining near-peak relevance, it’s unclear how many people can take this route.
2. Kanye can make pretty music forever
While his bars don’t always hit with the intensity or self-aware wit of his first six solo albums, Kanye’s music remains gorgeous. With a sprawling palette of sounds ranging from BK drill (“Off the Grid”) to soul-inflected electronic (“Believe What I Say”), Donda renders his favorite genres into his own glowing stadium status gospel. It’s not what you call cohesive, but it’s got slappers, a virtual guarantee for any project ’Ye puts his name on.
3. The whole thing is an experiment
Kanye stopped taking a linear approach to album-making a long time ago with every LP he released after Graduation being a mosaic of left-field features, disparate sounds and thematic hyperactivity. Donda is something like the logical extreme of that experimental system, one that stems from an instinct to make every release a time capsule of the era. Listening to the project and watching his process, you get that ’Ye was trying to capture every relevant sound in all of hip hop. It spans across eras, too. On “Jesus Lord, Pt. 2,” he connects with Jadakiss and Styles P, who flew to Atlanta to record with Kanye in just one day after their Dipset Verzuz battle in New York City. For “Praise God,” he links up with a current rap superstar (Travis Scott) and an emerging one (Baby Keem). He even grabbed some vocals from the late Pop Smoke (“Tell The Vision).”
Kanye’s new album is all over the place, and that’s probably an understatement. It has collabs with everyone from Don Toliver to Westside Gunn, and his braggadocious raps (“Ok Ok”) are as present as gospel songs (“Jail”). Its experimental nature trickled down to the way it was recorded and subsequently presented, too. Through his three live listening parties, Kanye gave fans a front row seat to his laboratory, giving them snapshots of his experimentation by playing various iterations of the same LP. He’s even outsourced some production duties; Mike Dean took suggestions from fans on Discord when putting together the project with Yeezy. When you combine the varied features with shuffling release dates and last second additions, the LP sounds like a work in progress, an intermittently controlled chaos guided by Kanye’s mad genius.
4. He’s still an unpredictable curator
It’s a little bloated, but Donda shows that Kanye knows how to put songs together. On the project, he curates a variety of collabs fans didn’t know they wanted. Putting The Weeknd on a song with Lil Baby — the hottest rapper of the last year or so — seems obvious, but Ye was the one that had to make it happen (“Hurricane”). Lacing a BK drill beat with a stellar verse from Fivio Foreign, the current face of the movement, and spastic shouts from Playboi Carti makes more sense than most things in the world, but no one saw it coming (“Off the Grid”). Jada and Styles haven’t had a Billboard Hot 100 hit in over a decade, but because Kanye was tapped in enough to be aware of their epic Verzuz moment, and his apparent agnostic view of release dates, he made sure to get them on a track (“Jesus Lord, Pt. 2”). Few people have the inventiveness, cross-generational appeal, and industry presence —aka clout — to make these collabs happen, but Yeezy used all of those factors to their fullest effect to deliver some electric moments. Most impressively, he landed perhaps the best verse of Fivio’s career. Bow.
5. Yeezy dives into gospel, but Donda is still pretty secular
Kanye ventures into gospel, and his new project doesn’t have any curse words, but it’s still not the stuff you’d hear on a Take 6 album. Despite being a born again Christian, ’Yeezy’s got no problems mentioning hyper-secular topics like “throat goats” and his billion-dollar empire. When he’s not getting into those things, explaining societal issues or his personal problems — there are allusions to some tumultuous moments he endured with his wife, Kim Kardashian-West — he’s traveling into the vanity that helped make him famous. For “Jesus Lord,” Larry Hoover Jr., the son of Gangster Disciples founder, gives him a shout out for advocating for the release of the incarcerated former gang leader. While it’s easy to see why Larry Sr.’s son would give Kanye props for that, it comes across as a conspicuous self-pat on the back for someone wading in the waters of gospel, a genre that’s ostensibly about humility. Jesus might be humble, but Yeezus isn’t quite ready to make that transition, as his emotions and attitudes are as expansive as his palette of sounds.
6. It’s his maximalist extreme
For Donda, Kanye didn’t color outside the lines as much as he scribbled on top of them before drawing some new ones. Rendered through his hyperactive creative impulses and a ton of resources, the new LP is basically anything and everything. There are introspective gospel raps with features from Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine (“Keep My Spirit Alive”) and majestic ones laced with electric guitar and a feature from JAY-Z (“Jail”). A frenetic banger about going ghost (“Off the Grid” with Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti) can be found just before “Hurricane,” an ambient, gospel-tinged track with features from Lil Baby and The Weeknd.
Having features from every relevant rapper of the moment is one thing, but including alternate versions of multiple tracks is another. On the album, there’s a version of “Jesus Lord” with just Jay Electronica and one with Jay Elect, Jadakiss and Styles P (“Jesus Lord, Pt. 2”). Then, there’s also a version of “Junya” with Playboi Carti and another with Carti and Ty Dolla $ign (“Junya, Pt. 2”). There are two alternate versions of the songs on the album that help the project reach its whopping 1 hour, 49-minute run time. All of this and its 27-track total reflect someone who wasn’t willing to sacrifice any aspects of his vision — or maybe someone who didn’t have a choice…
7. This might not be the end of Donda
Shortly after the release of Donda, Kanye claimed that Universal released the LP without his permission. If that is the case, that might explain why there are alternate versions of four songs on the new album. It could also mean that Kanye plans to either release a new iteration of Donda or continue editing it as he did with TLOP. Considering a rap climate that encourages the release of deluxe albums, fans could also be getting a deluxe version that includes even more collabs Kanye’s worked on over the years. Nothing about Donda has been all that typical, so anything is possible for the LP — even after it’s already dropped.
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