Within the first glance of “Donda”, Kanye West’s tenth studio album, the intention is clear—the entirety of its one hour and forty-nine minute runtime will be dedicated to his late mother, Donda West, who passed away recovering from of her plastic surgery on Nov. 10, 2007. The album’s opening track, titled “Donda Chant”, is a haunting 52-second repeat of her name in unique, ever-changing characteristics. The track fills the void of silence that was present before pressing play. 

Pitch black screen for Kanye's "Donda" cover.

Album Cover for Kanye West’s “Donda.”

Immediately after “Donda Chant”, Kanye sends you to “Jail”, the second track of the album. “Jail” is created with a textured bass resembling that of a strong march, and features heavily-filtered verses that are then followed by a verse of collaborator Jay-Z. 

Simplistic but difficult to forget, “Jail” sets the stage of the album’s sonic abilities before immediately throwing you into the unexpected, chaotic nature of tracks “God Breathed”, “Off The Grid”, and “Hurricane” (which stunningly features artists The Weeknd and Lil Baby). These tracks are relentless and present Kanye’s reliance on religion in relation to his career, his personal life and the untimely death of his mother. 

The following tracks “Praise God”, “Jonah”, “Ok Ok”, “Junya”, “Believe What I Say” and “24” all include distinct differences in their inspirations, production, features and meaning. Some songs represent the media’s dismissal of Kanye, while others send stronger messages, such as Kanye’s perception of God’s intention for humans on earth. 

Kanye puts his mind to words in this collection of tracks. Humorously, “Remote Control” closes out with a sample of the meme “Globglogabgalab” before cutting to the emotionally riveting track “Moon”, which features Don Toliver and Kid Cudi. This track is a welcoming and adored highlight within the album.

The most eccentric songs take form in “Heaven and Hell”, the title track “Donda”, “Keep My Spirit Alive”, “Jesus Lord”, and “New Again”. The track “Keep My Spirit Alive” begins with the beautiful voice of KayCyy and the tracks “Donda” and “New Again” include the easily recognizable and beautiful Sunday Service Choir. These elements easily make these songs among the most heavenly tracks on the album. Each one is truly a blessing to hear and highly addictive.

Closing out the album’s main side, “Tell The Vision”, “Lord I Need You”, “Pure Souls”, “Come to Life” and “No Child Left Behind”, each song put Kanye in his most raw and reflective state. By collecting his emotions and throwing them all on the table, Kanye’s lyrics in these tracks become the most important words said throughout the entire runtime. Their existence leaves you with an understanding of why this album is so important, and why it needed to be in Kanye’s discography.

Getting to the point of having “DONDA” in our music streaming libraries was a journey in itself. In July 2021, listings for a listening party appeared on Ticketmaster in Atlanta  at the infamous Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the new Kanye album. 

During the event, fans were frantic when Kanye appeared with no social media promotion on the ground of the filled stadium, presenting numerous tracks from the album with a black mask wrapped around his entire face. 

The tracks were unmixed and unfinished when they were live streamed to the entire world through Apple Music. Kanye proved that his history of chaotic album rollouts would continue yet again. To fans’ surprise, the album didn’t drop that night in July—rather, Kanye hired a chef and rented a room within the stadium so he could live there until the album’s completion. 

Kanye live streamed his living situation within the stadium via Apple Music while he slept and finished the album, on Aug. 4. That night, Kanye presented another unfinished version of “DONDA” before levitating above and out of the stadium to the song “No Child Left Behind”. 

The album was, again, not released. 

After eager fans expressed their annoyance on social media, the status of the album went quiet, leaving behind “Now Streaming” billboards in Times Square and all around the globe.

A third listening party would take place at Soldier Field in Chicago, come Aug. 27. This time, Kanye’s team had rebuilt his childhood home and would bring along controversial figures such as DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Their participation on the album and other album alterations can be heard in the “part 2” tracks of “Jail”, “Ok Ok”, “Junya” and “Jesus Lord”, which sit as the last four tracks of the album. Of course, chaos formed at the listening party when the house burned down. Kanye was lit on fire and a dressed up, divorce-ridden Kim Kardashian joined Kanye to the final beats of “No Child Left Behind”, according to PitchFork.

By listening to “DONDA”, you can immerse yourself on the wild ride Kanye’s creative intelligence brought with this release.

This album was unique, transitive and innovative, and it’s hard to think of another artist willing to go the extra thousand miles Kanye did to blow his fans out of the water. He deserves credit for every second that he did exactly that. 

Gabriel Kanae can be reached at jaedynyoung@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.