Donda: A spiritual awakening

The man needs no introduction. Heralded as the catalyst for music’s biggest artists across various genres, Kanye West’s impeccable creativity and innovation into an era-defining sound have shaped modern music as we know it. With the release of his highly anticipated tenth studio album Donda, fans and musicians are delivered a unique masterpiece.

Since the release of his ninth studio gospel album Jesus is King, West has remained relatively under the radar, with fans questioning his return to the throne of the music industry. Followed by a series of cryptic tweets in 2020, a hint at another gospel album named after his late mother Donda West was up in the air. 

After his failed presidential campaign last November, conflicts with the media, and personal issues, West found himself stuck in a messy situation. With only one way out, West did what he did best: make great music. 

Regarded by many as the greatest album of the 2010s, West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy serves as West’s magnum opus, and, most importantly, what saved his career after his VMA incident in 2009. Following suit, the journey to Donda’s release garnered the attention of the entire music industry.

After delaying the album twice after two listening events, both at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the precedented hype for Donda grew exponentially. With features from music’s biggest names such as The Weeknd, Jay Z, and several others, his third listening event on August 26th served as the apex in this album rollout trilogy.

A testament to his mother and upbringing in Chicago, West roamed around a life-sized model of his childhood home with notable names as they joined him on stage.

A testament to his mother and upbringing in Chicago, West roamed around a life-sized model of his childhood home with notable names as they joined him on stage. West strutted around the stage adorned with his black mask and spectacularly set himself on fire while wearing fireproof armor. Despite the acclaim for the third listening event, West delayed the album yet again. No one knew when it would come out. With no promotion or official announcement, on the morning of Sunday, August 29, 2021, West’s label Universal Music Group released Donda on all platforms.

Even without official promotion and within a week of its release, Donda made history as the second-highest streaming album of all time on Spotify and sold 327,270 album units in its first week. 

“Kanye chose high risk, high reward; hype up the album with listening parties and delays, then have the album live up to the hype,” Sixth Former Judah Cannon said.

On Donda, West incorporates trademark sounds of all his previous albums into the themes that embody his album: faith, family, and fame.

Full of unique twists, every track shows quality yet minimalism in production. The chorus, ubiquitous throughout the album, closely resembles a Gregorian chant. Tracks such as “Jail” and “Junya” boast compelling guitar and synth lines along with West’s signature 808’s, coupled with accented ad-libs from artist Playboi Carti.

Other more faith-oriented tracks speak of West’s struggles and the loss of his mother. Tracks such as “Jesus Lord” and “Keep My Spirit Alive” movingly emphasize these aspects with a spiritual-like instrumental.

Juxtaposing gospel music and the genre that fans are so accustomed to from the artist, West innovates this into an entirely new sound.

Juxtaposing gospel music and the genre that fans are so accustomed to from the artist, West innovates this into an entirely new sound.

“Kanye is already solidified as one of if not the best to ever do it, and Donda furthers that argument. It’s amazing how 17 years after his first album was released, he is still making quality music that breaks boundaries,” Cannon said.

Silence and simplicity mark the moving vocals of Don Toliver, Kid Cudi, and the choir West uses in the background. Tracks that are not limited to “Moon,” “24,” and “Come to Life” are masterfully produced to seemingly make you “float.”

“Moon is definitely one of my favorite tracks because of Don Toliver’s vocals and the collective rave from Kanye and music fans alike,” Fifth Former Arnav Sardesai said.

Even after listening to all 27 tracks on Donda, listeners need to understand the meaning behind some of them. The opening track “Donda Chant” represents the last heartbeats of his mother before she passed. Track 22, “Come to Life,” questions the meaning and purpose of his and others’ lives with phrases such as “ever wish you had another life,” “I don’t want to die alone,” and “You the air that I breathe, the ultra-ultralight beam.”

A simple phrase or several words can’t encapsulate the theme or meaning behind the rollout and message behind Donda. While Kanye speaks about his life and the themes that are apparent in his, the listener must discover how Donda speaks to them. Even with the release of albums from acclaimed artists from genres such as pop, rap, electronic, gospel, and more, West breaks barriers again with Donda

It’s more than just a musical experience— it’s a spiritual awakening.