After a litany of short LPs tackling his recent struggle with mental health, Kanye West’s Donda brings back the Kanye we saw on The Life of Pablo. The almost-thirty track record approaches 2 hours and shows off Kanye’s highest highs and disappointing lows, with some risky production decisions and an arguably bloated tracklist. So, for anyone not incredibly invested in Kanye’s recent work, I decided to do the hard work for you. Here are my top 5 picks for can’t-miss Donda songs.
“Jail (ft. Jay-Z)”
Behind hard-hitting, borderline-orchestral bass and elevated guitars, Kanye’s emphatic screams take over on this track. His hyper-enthusiastic delivery of “Guess who’s going to jail tonight” lays behind a slow but killer beat to create a hype introduction to this project. While my initial thoughts on Jay-Z’s verse were rather negative, the cleverness of certain wordplay makes up for a few cringe lines, and the beat’s tempo plays well into Jay-Z’s flexible, slow-to-fast flow. Worth it for the production alone, Kanye’s “Jail” is an energetic, unique track that revisits the gorgeous rapport between “Hova and Yeezus.”
“Off The Grid (ft. Fivio Foreign & Playboi Carti)”
The closest thing to a pure “banger” on this album, “Off The Grid” is a wonderful representation of trap’s current trends paired with Kanye’s unique production. With the help of Playboi Carti, Kanye brings the swagger, but once again, the production jumps to the front of the stage. Entering among the second verse, the additional, melodic bass runs circles around Foreign’s bars in rapid fashion. Despite a lack of lyrical focus, the quick verses establish a contagious rhythm that the bass plays with until it’s over. With the additional choral focus, “Off The Grid” proves religion isn’t a barrier for Kanye—it can be a tool.
“Moon (ft. Don Toliver & Kid Cudi)”
The short and subtle “Moon” is another track that plays to the strengths of Kanye’s featured artist(s). Kid Cudi and Don Toliver pair together for a heavenly singing duo, amidst luscious guitars and echoed questions. Repetitive, relatable, everyday questions like “How can I get through” highlight the lyrical content, pushing audiences to recognize the internal turmoil everyone deals with. In just over two minutes, the understated track is easily one of the most gorgeous to listen to.
“Heaven and Hell”
While the beginning to “Heaven and Hell” is curious and quiet, its impact doesn’t come until much later. Through various, subtle production choices, Kanye builds the song’s climax until the best potential moment. Following his “Devil, lay down, devil, lay down / This that level, make devils play now,” Kanye unleashes the bass and the choir, once again melding his hard-hitting music with his recent, religious identity. His final vocalization calls back to his percussion mimicry on Kids See Ghosts, perhaps reminding audiences of his intense emotional highs and lows, similar to the intense difference between “Heaven and Hell.”
“Come to Life”
The emotional peak to Kanye’s Donda, “Come to Life” touches the same gospel genius as Kanye’s famous “Ultralight Beam.” The candid choral samples create a religious community in your ears, as Kanye’s pristine voice drifts along simple organ chords. Also glancing at his familial relationships, much like “Family Business,” Kanye plays to familiar ground: “Sadness settin’ in again / Three, two, one, you’re pinned / Uncle right back to the pen’ / Tell me how auntie been / Thoughts, you had penciled ’em in / Probably should’ve wrote ’em in pen.” The eventual twinkling pianos harmonizes with gritty guitars, once again bringing attention to the juxtaposition between Heaven and Hell and what that means in our everyday lives. Deserving of your tears, “Come to Life” is arguably a top-10 Kanye track, ever.