Kanye West album ‘Donda’ finally arrives, claims music label released it without his ‘approval’
More than a month after Kanye West‘s long-awaited 10th studio album was initially scheduled to be released, “Donda” is streaming online.
The 27-song album, which arrived unexpectedly on Sunday morning, features West’s musings on his late mother (the album’s namesake), mental health and criminal justice. In early reactions, fans raved over the rapper’s new work.
“This album is the best thing to happen to me this year,” Twitter user @kaeelum wrote.
“Album of the year already,” @Juni_Millz added. “This one can’t be topped.”
“DONDA isn’t just an album, it’s a cultural reset,” @kanyeg1rl wrote.
‘Donda’:Kanye West joined by DaBaby, Marilyn Manson at controversial listening event, social media reacts
On Sunday afternoon, West claimed Universal Music Group, parent company to Def Jam, released the album without his approval.
“UNIVERSAL PUT MY ALBUM OUT WITHOUT MY APPROVAL AND THEY BLOCKED JAIL 2 FROM BEING ON THE ALBUM,” he wrote in an Instagram note.
A handful of “Donda” songs seemingly nod to Kim Kardashian filing for divorce from West this past February after nearly seven years of marriage. They share four children: North, 8, Saint, 5, Chicago, 3, and Psalm, 2.
“I pray that my family they never resent me / And she fell in love with me as soon she met me / We both got it bad mama, bag is more heavy / We have to start countin’, it’s gettin’ too petty,” West raps in “Off the Grid.”
But could the two still have it “bad” for each other? On Saturday, Kardashian confirmed that she joined West onstage Thursday night wearing a veiled Balenciaga Haute Couture wedding dress from the fashion house’s fall 2021 collection, though she stayed mum about what it meant for their relationship.
Throughout the album’s delays (it was originally slated for release July 23), West gave fans plenty to talk about. He hosted three listening sessions: two at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and one this week at Chicago’s Soldier Field Stadium. Each event gave fans a sneak peek at West’s latest draft of “Donda,” including guest performances from major artists and shocking moments (see: West and Kardashian in a wedding-esque scene, and the rapper appearing to set himself on fire).
Another controversial choice from Thursday’s show: West’s choice to feature DaBaby, who has faced backlash for spewing homophobic comments, and to invite the “Suge” rapper onto the stage with Marilyn Manson, the rock star who has been sued by several women who accuse him of sexual assault and abuse.
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Though Roddy Ricch, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Young Thug and Lil Baby are also among the album’s featured artists, West is the only one credited as a performer on streaming sites.
DaBaby and Jay-Z had both been featured on iterations of “Jail,” but only Jay-Z appeared on the track when it was first released Sunday. West shared on Instagram early Sunday morning since-deleted screenshots of texts supposedly from his manager that claimed DaBaby’s manager wouldn’t clear his appearance on “Jail,” which would further delay the release.
Jail pt 2,” a song that gives writing credits to DaBaby (listed by his real name, Jonathan Kirk) and Manson (Brian Warner), was on the track list when the album was released but only became available to stream hours later.
USA TODAY has reached out to West’s representatives for comment.
The complete “Donda” tracklist:
1. “Donda Chant”
3. “God Breathed”
4. “Off the Grid”
6. “Praise God”
8. “Ok Ok”
10. “Believe What I Say”
12. “Remote Control”
14. “Heaven and Hell”
16. “Keep My Spirit Alive”
17. “Jesus Lord”
18. “New Again”
19. “Tell The Vision”
20. “Lord I Need You”
21. “Pure Souls”
22. “Come to Life”
23. “No Child Left Behind”
24. “Jail pt 2”
25. “Ok Ok pt 2”
26. “Junya pt 2”
27. “Jesus Lord pt 2”
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Kanye West: Donda review
misfiring lyricism from a diminished figure
There is some sustained brilliance here, but unfortunately it comes from the guest stars – and at 108 minutes, this long-awaited album is in need of an edit
Chaotic preview events for Kanye West’s 10th studio album Donda have dominated social media feeds in recent weeks, each one promising a release date that never materialised. The coverage of the events has focused on Kim Kardashian dressed as a Balenciaga-clad sleep paralysis demon, $50 chicken tenders, potential Drake disses, levitation and cameos from alleged rapist Marilyn Manson and the homophobic DaBaby. Fans called West a genius capable of creating exciting theatre that evolves in real time; others saw him as an empty provocateur. Much like kindred spirit Donald Trump, West seems to instinctively know how to weaponise controversy to drive interest in a new project.
With the eventual release of Donda (named after West’s English professor mother, who died in 2007), there is a nagging sense the spectacle has overshadowed the actual music, with this bloated 108-minute album rarely sure of what it is trying to say. The intro, Donda Chant, a sequence of eerie recitations of his mother’s name seemingly designed to send you into a sunken place, is arresting, giving you the impression you’re about to undergo an immersive religious experience. But too often the songs that follow are built on half-baked ideas from a West more concerned with self-pity and martyrdom than confronting his contradictions.
Over the slightly flat dad-rock riffs of Jail, West is reunited with his Watch the Throne partner Jay-Z, who boasts that he convinced his longtime foil to give up the red Maga cap. But the song’s melody meanders and West’s lyrics feel blunted. In the past, he had sharp punchlines – “Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon” he rapped in 2010, deftly highlighting racial inequality in the US justice system while also getting a laugh for using racial stereotypes to do so. Here, he lethargically repeats the question “guess who’s going to jail?” without ever really landing on what he’s implying; it could easily be read as a moan about cancel culture.
Kanye West – Jail (Official Audio)
He does the same thing on God Breathed, a trap anthem to prosperity (“I don’t care about the lawyer fees … God will solve it all for me”) that marries Christian transcendence with the rush of a rave. West repeats “I know God breathed on this” like he’s running through potential $350 T-shirt slogans with his marketing manager. Like a lot of West’s post-Life of Pablo work, these songs feel stitched together and rushed.
Hearing this billionaire wallow in self-pity (“Everything that you do good, it just go unnoticed,” West complains on Jesus Lord) or claim he’s anti-commercial (on Keep My Spirit Alive) reveals his lack of self-awareness, and means the big emotional moments – such as pondering whether death will finally reunite him with his mother; or buckling under the strain of divorce (“Cussin at your baby mama / guess that’s why they call it custody”) – don’t fully connect. West is lacking in the things that once made him so compelling as a songwriter: self-deprecation (“I ordered the jerk / She said: ‘You are what you eat’” went a wry line on 2010’s gorgeous Devil in a New Dress), and a sense of humour to cut through moments of tension (2005’s Roses disrupts a deathbed vigil with auntie jokes, for instance). The atmosphere here is solemn – aside from the odd dad joke here and there: “Some say Adam could never be black / ’Cause a black man a never share his rib”.
One undeniably excellent moment is Believe What I Say, which utilises Lauryn Hill’s healing coos from her classic Doo-Wop (That Thing) for a more uptempo soul song, on which West reminds himself not to be dragged down by fame. It’s the record’s most restorative moment, just like Ghost Town was amid an otherwise uneven Ye (2018). Meanwhile Hurricane, which features Lil Baby and the Weeknd, contains a massive hook from the latter that projects walk-on-water confidence. “There’s a lot to digest when your life is always moving,” West spits, reflecting on progressing from school dropout to guest speaker at Yale. On this track, he feels more like a human being and less like someone delivering the doctrine of a corporate superchurch. Similarly, Lord I Need You has intimate details of his collapsing marriage and is an affecting moment of frailty, even if a memory of “we used to do the freak seven days a week” has him sounding like Jim’s dad in American Pie.
The harsh fact is that the best verses on Donda don’t come from Kanye. Brooklyn drill rapper Fivio Foreign lights up the stirring Off the Grid with lyrical grenades about his face tattoos being a marker of truth. Baby Keem mixes worship with the dark carnality of the mosh pit with his Auto-Tune-driven verse on Praise God. Jay Electronica knits Aztecs, Ottomans, the Nation of Islam, Wakanda, Thelonious Monk and modern imperialism into a cryptic worldview on Jesus Lord, while surrealist thug Westside Gunn floats over Keep My Spirit Alive with raps about flushing cocaine down the toilet as cops encircle. Chicago’s drill bluesman Lil Durk talks about the recent murder of his brother on Jonah, powerfully referencing a niece and nephew now without a father. West clearly inspires frank admissions from all of the featured artists on Donda, who treat him like a priest they’ve visited for a group therapy session.
Kanye West – Jesus Lord (Official Audio)
It’s disappointing that West is unable to match their clarity of thought. He coasts by with gospel fragments that don’t really go anywhere, something particularly evident on Come to Life, with a piano line that pulls the heartstrings in the manner of a cancer charity TV commercial. It’s hard to tell a billionaire what to do, and the lack of a self-edit means Donda often sags. A record that is a tribute to a powerful Black woman also lacks much female perspective, beyond old audio clips of speeches by Donda West and an eventual strong guest spot from Shenseea on OK OK Pt 2.
On his 2004 studio debut, The College Dropout, West was, at times, an anti-consumerist who joked about our obsession with material things and brand affinity. Years later, he’s come full circle, a venture capitalist trying to talk to God through gold ceilings. On most of his albums he has used a brain trust of guest stars to have a conversation with contemporary culture, but he was never outclassed by them as he is here. At the heart of Donda’s crowdsourced music is a diminished figure, one at odds with the witty rulebreaker of the past.
Kanye West: Donda released by Universal without my say, artist claims
Kanye West has claimed his label, Universal Music Group, released his much-delayed 10th studio album Donda without his approval.
West made the allegation shortly after the album was finally released on streaming services on Sunday.
He also claimed Universal had “blocked” a song featuring DaBaby and Marilyn Manson from being on the record.
“Universal put my album out without my approval and they blocked Jail 2 from being on the album,” he wrote.
Universal has not issued a comment.
The track in question includes contributions from DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, both of whose involvement in Donda has caused controversy.
Manson is currently facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse, which he denies. In February Manson was dropped by his record label following claims by actress Evan Rachel Wood that she was “horrifically abused” by the musician.
‘Moments of wonder’
Critic reviews for Donda have so far been mixed. The NME said there were some “gems” among the 27 tracks, highlighting how the album has a spiritual focus and provides glimpses into struggles with mental health.
“Nobody needs all 27 of these tracks, but dig deep into its contents and you’ll find enough gems to make his 10th album worth your time,” said Rhian Daly.
Writing for i News Kate Solomon said: “At its best, Donda is brilliant: West’s vocal abilities are as good as they’ve ever been and his vulnerability has never been so pronounced.”
Solomon also highlights the focus of religion on the album but says “these moments of wonder are dragged down by a mire of intentionally difficult tracks, be that musically or thematically.
“It’s a long and frustrating listen, a warning to all about the dangers of focus grouping and overthinking.”
While Ed Power from The Telegraph said West’s Donda “perfectly encapsulates the man himself: ego-driven, brilliant, and utterly exhausting”.
“As an unspooling piece of conceptual art it’s fascinating. As pop, though, it is a thoroughly mixed bag,” Power continued.
“Like a sermon that goes on too long, Kanye’s stream-of-conscience observations on Jesus, Kim Kardashian and the importance of being Kanye suffer for an absence of breathing space. Full of sound and fury it may be – but West’s latest ultimately lacks direction.”
Chris Willman from Variety said: “On a purely musical level, Donda is close to unassailable; any time spent tarrying on its release has been time well-wasted… it’s a collection that never comes close to wearing out its welcome, alternating the brooding and the banging with a well-honed sense of dynamics.”