Kanye West’s Donda has finally arrived after a distressingly protracted release and apparently against West’s permission. The tribute opus is packed to the brim with 27 tracks that compulsively fixate on his penance, Kim Kardashian and his never-ending feuds. While the overwhelming record struggles to appease the insatiable appetites of his fanbase, it is a glaring revelation of the fraught relationships in West’s life.
Grief & Healing
On “Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda,” Syleena Johnsons recites on the opening track in a trance, making way for the project’s monotonous terrain. It sets the album up with the expectations of divulging the throes of mourning and healing from the death of his late mother. In “Jesus Lord,” he laments the loss of his mother and wrestles with the ideation of eternal life and the existence of torment in the present. “And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life?” he pleads. “And if I die tonight, will I see her in the afterlife? (Jesus) But back to reality, where everything’s a tragedy (Lord).” And while the mentions of his mother anticipate a grand full-circle climax, West’s delivery implies the reality of never-ending healing. These endearing glimmers of humanity, however, are overpowered in the end.
The Controversy Never Ends
“Jail,” an unexpected reunion with former frenemy Jay Z, West reckons with the shock of his single life while Hov interjects with a moment of reconciliation. Seeming to position the olive branch for West’s affiliation with former President Donald Trump, Hov spits, “Told him, “Stop all of that red cap, we goin’ home / Not me with all of these sins, castin’ stones.” Even this supposed return of the Throne falls into the shadows of the album’s unnecessary facets. The project itself is unmistakably pockmarked by two personae non gratae: DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Despite his seeming enigmatic stature, West has repeatedly leaned into his proclivity to align with the most controversial social figures. “Jail Pt. 2” welcomes DaBaby, who recently was under fire for his homophobic Rolling Loud comments, and Marilyn Manson, who is facing a slew of assault allegations. Does Ye’ have any redeemable qualities left?
On this revised version of “Jail,” DaBaby’s verse replaces — and nearly overshadows — West’s lauded The Throne reunion. Manson, whose voice seems to enter on the chorus, is credited as a co-writer (with his real name Brian Warner) on both “Jail” and “Jail Pt. 2.” Manson’s and DaBaby’s appearances on the record feels both intentional and inexcusable. Many fans even suggest it distances the project into the sacrilegious territory. Moreover, West leverages his platform for DaBaby to once again avoid accountability and victimize himself against cancel culture. “I said one thing they ain’t like, threw me out like they ain’t care for me,” DaBaby spits. In an attempt to evoke empathy from his critics, whose uproar canceled a host of his upcoming festival sets, “And that food that y’all took off my table. You know that feed my daughters, huh?”
“God Breathed” introduces the listeners to West’s faith in his salvation, despite his public faults. It’s the sort of firm conviction one needs in a career engulfed in controversy. The lurching track emphasizes the inexplicable miracles in his life with the biblical allegory of God’s breath. The repetition of “I know God breathed on this,” a thematic pattern throughout the project, lands as an effort of manifestation — convincing himself that he is absolved of his past. Even in this element, West still seems to not have forgiven himself. On “Jesus Lord,” he insists that he’s been wrongfully convicted of his stature in cancel culture: “Everything that you do good, it just go unnoticed.”
Although in other tracks he hints at grappling with his newly-divorced lifestyle, in “Lord I Need You,” West appears to almost make peace with his former marriage. Reminiscing on their romance, he says the pair was the “best collab since Taco Bell and KFC.” While noting Kim’s pent-up anger and an embattled custody agreement, he continues to put his faith in his religion (“God got us, baby, God got the children / The devil run the playground, but God own the buildin'”). Much like Kim’s eagle-eyed decision to maintain West as her last name, Ye’ also seems to confess his yearn to maintain a remnant of the past, saying, “But you came here to show that you still in love with me.”