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Kanye West Donda

Released: 29 August 2021

After weeks of delays and listening party spectacles, Donda has finally landed. Initially billed as a tribute to Kanye’s late mother Donda West, the rapper's tenth release had, at least on paper, the potential to represent a return to form after a string of mixed releases.

Fans hoping for a tight concept album will be left sorely disappointed. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Donda is a sprawling collection of half-baked ideas that, despite moments of promise, sounds thrown together and lacking in focus.

It’s impossible to discuss Kanye's music without some reference to the theatricality and controversy that surrounds the man. In his latest on-stage antics Kanye emerged from a replica of his childhood home engulfed in flames, before re-enacting his marriage to Kim Kardashian. The pair filed for divorce in February, but Kim's close involvement with the Donda rollout suggests their relationship might still be hanging in the balance.

There are moments on the record where his heartache takes shape. 'Come to Life' and 'Lord I Need You' tackle his marital collapse head on.The title track juxtaposes recordings of Donda West with the vocal power of the Sunday Service Choir, while 'Jesus Lord' hears Kanye reflecting on his mother’s enduring influence. Kanye shines in his moments of reflection and doubt, but inevitably recourses to claims of being persecuted and misunderstood, never quite investing in the psychological work that this soul-searching album could have entailed.

Much of this reflection was overshadowed by his listening party antics, particularly the decision to invite accused abusers and public homophobes to the stage in a vague gesture about 'cancel culture'. Being a Kanye West fan has always been hard work, but his latest stunts leave a bitter taste, feeling less like the actions of an attention-hungry provocateur and increasingly like those of someone with genuinely reactionary views.

Kanye's religiosity continues to be expressed in bewildering ways. Following on from the explicitly evangelising Jesus Is King, Kanye's religious screeds on Donda seem to focus mainly on the ways in which God's glory is evident through Kanye's success, rather than promoting any message of charity or compassion. Kanye has been something of a 21st century Bob Dylan, both artists irritating and alienating ardent fans with musical left turns. This bizarre gospel phase only serves to solidify the comparison.

Donda morphed and grew over the course of Kanye's residency at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and many of the musical ideas in this 27- song saga sound incomplete. The sparse instrumentation harks back to the Yeezus era. Whether an aesthetic choice or a sign of a rushed release, this barebones approach sounds hollow and unfinished.

There are some more fleshed out compositions, such as 'Off The Grid', though this flirtation with a drill sound leaves Kanye chasing the zeitgeist rather than dictating it as he once did. It also telling that some of the best bars on the record are from collaborators, with Jay Electronica's verse on 'Jesus Lord' proving a particular highlight.

Far from fulfilling the trope of great art coming from times of hardship, this uneven collection of tracks sounds as scatterbrained and lost as Kanye probably feels right now.

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