I remember it like it was practically yesterday. I was on vacation with my family in late July of this year, at the beach with fairly poor cell service, when I caught wind of some interesting news: Kanye West would be hosting a live listening party for his year-long delayed album, titled “Donda” after his late mother.
As a massive fan of West and an avid fan of music as a whole, I felt as though missing this event would be off-brand for myself. Multiple reports led to the album dropping immediately after that listening party in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which put me over the moon with excitement. After the first listening party on July 24 wrapped up, I waited until midnight for the album to drop.
Nothing. I accepted my first defeat and went to sleep.
Rumors circled about a second listening party, and two weeks later on August 6, that rumor became a reality. This time, me and my friends got together to watch it, as it seemed like more of an event; there was more marketing and buildup, so naturally, I could not miss this one. Surely the album would drop after this one, right?
Wrong. Defeat number two was even more disappointing than the last. While I began packing up my things to move back onto campus for the new school year, rumors began to circulate about a third and final listening party in Chicago as opposed to Atlanta. After the album did not come out after the third listening party, I had given up all hope.
In the early morning of Sunday, Aug. 29, the album finally came out; it felt like a whole nightmare of getting let down again and again was over. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more, but the majority of people were left feeling extremely upset at the final product that hit streaming services.
I am part of the small group that feels extremely satisfied with what we have, and here’s why.
To begin, the album is one of the most introspective pieces of art that I have ever had the chance to hear. In the earlier songs like “Jail” and “Hurricane,” West sings about his feelings about his recent split with his wife Kim Kardashian. Calling himself a “genius gone clueless” on “Hurricane” was one of the deepest moments on the whole album, where he feels as though he let his work consume him which took away from his time with family.
Another great example of the depth of the subject matter on this album is where he paints the dark picture of his grief over his mother, with lyrics like “And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life? And if I die tonight, will I see her in the afterlife?” It is clear that West’s method of dealing with this pain is rapping about it, so that it can help others going through similar trauma.
Next, I feel as though this album has a new, interesting and completely inventive sound. This unique-sounding project is created by West’s use of the organ, which is an instrument commonly employed in religious services. Through this creative spin on the classic nature of the organ, West effectively creates an album that not only feels faithful, but fun.
This is an idea that feels especially present on the song “Junya,” which features fellow hip-hop artist Playboi Carti. By mixing in elements like claps and extremely heavy bass around a fast paced organ beat, the song feels almost reminiscent of a song you would hear at church that was also a hit on the Billboard charts, if that makes any sense.
It is always important to be experimenting with new styles and themes in the music world, which now more than ever is beginning to run dry in terms of unique and differentiated content. Rarely any hip-hop artist has gone this far in terms of experimentation with new instruments, and for West, I believe that it truly pays off on this album.
Another massive aspect to this album that puts it above the competition is the artists that are featured on the album. Whatever West does in his recording studio seems to be working for him and his fellow collaborators, as he brought out the very best of every artist featured. With standout guest performances from Jay-Z, The Weeknd and Travis Scott (just to name a few), the quality of each song is greatly improved, even though most songs are nearly perfect anyways.
The final reason that I believe Kanye West gifted fans with the best album of 2021 is due to the fact that there is an unreal amount of variety. On this album, there is simply something for everyone; whether you are seeking out a feel good song like “Junya” and “Believe What I Say” or maybe a deeper, more thought-provoking track like “24” and “Lord I Need You”, there is no lack of variety to be found on this 27-song project.
I should mention that many people may not agree with my argument, and that is alright; the beauty of music is that it is completely subjective, and everyone is able to create their own opinion about it.
In my opinion, though, “Donda” by Kanye West is one of the most creative yet thought-provoking albums of our generation, and is, to people like me, the best album that has been released this calendar year due to those very reasons.