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Friday September 24th

Column: "Donda" delivers ... sort of

Kanye West is seen at "DONDA by Kanye West" listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Courtesy of Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Music Group.
Buy Photos Kanye West is seen at "DONDA by Kanye West" listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Courtesy of Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Music Group.

After multiple missed release dates, listening events in Atlanta and Chicago and an Instagram post stating that Universal Studios released the album without his approval — Chicagoan artist Kanye West finally released his 10th studio album, "Donda." 

While any drop from West starts a conversation, the 27-song album is a representation of the logistical hell he’s put fans through getting to this point. 

I will say, I’m a little tired of adjusting my expectations; to say Kanye’s had a fall from grace in the last few years would be an understatement. Even taking his pro-Trump antics out of the picture, the quality of his music hit rock bottom with "Jesus Is King." It seemed like making any sort of return to true stardom was downright impossible. 

Kanye will always sell records, and he’ll always have a horde of unyielding fans at his back, but anyone with working ears and any sense of objectivity will agree that Kanye hasn’t lived up to his name since “I Love It.” 

But "Donda" is the return of Kanye as one of the most dynamic and curious names in music. Clocking in at one-hour and 48 minutes, it’s a weird mix of wonderful and underwhelming. 

Simply put, "Donda" is basically two albums: one good and one really bad, which I’m taking as a win. 

Yet, I find myself disappointed I have to make this concession. I’m disappointed that Kanye will likely never reach the heights he did in 2018 with his Wyoming sessions. And I’m disappointed that I have to sift through 10 (or so) less-than-quality songs when many Kanye albums are close to perfect. 

Songs like “Junya pt 2,” “Off The Grid,” “Pure Souls” and “Believe What I Say” are some of my favorite Kanye songs since 2010. But songs like “Jail,” “God Breathed” and “New Again” are a reality check that he’ll never get back to his top form. 

Kanye has always been a production-first artist, and "Donda" is perhaps the strongest example of this. While he gets carried by features on certain songs, and has some of his trademark cringe Jesus bars littered throughout, the production is next level. There’s a different intensity West finds with drums and bass on the project, showing his work with Playboi Carti on "Whole Lotta Red" in 2020 paid off. 

Organs, choirs, pianos and synths are drapes that frame the rest of the songs, giving a backdrop to the layered vocals on each track. But Kanye hasn’t been an above-average lyricist since "The Life of Pablo" in 2016, and there are many verses on the project that make you raise an eyebrow. I used to be excited for Kanye verses, and now I’m just happy he’s trying again. 

And that’s why I say I’m tired of adjusting my expectations. 

With each new Kanye album, with each new Kanye headline, I feel like I have to defend my enjoyment of music that I really wish was better in the first place. I generally love albums that look like song dumps on the surface ("The White Album," "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," etc.,) and "Donda" is no different. 

But with missed release dates, the Marilyn Manson and DaBaby association and the general hysteria that surrounds a Kanye release, is it selfish to expect more? If it’s an album coming from the man who made "Late Registration," "Yeezus" and "808s & Heartbreak," the answer is no. But will I still listen? 

Of course. It’s Kanye.

@leo_culp

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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