Kanye West releases album as a tribute to his mother


Caden Lorenzo

Student Matt Lesnik listening to the second track on Donda “Jail”

Kanye West dropped his 10th studio album, Donda, on August 29th to the excitement of fans across the world. While having a highly anticipated project is nothing new for the 44 year-old hip-hop mogul, the emotions, frustrations, and controversies that went into making Donda separate it from the rest of Kanye’s discography, for both good and bad reasons.

The album is named after West’s late mother, Dr. Donda West, who died in 2007 due to complications from plastic surgery. Donda supported Kanye early in his music career, buying him equipment and studio sessions to make music. Songs like “Hey Mama” from Late Registration display Kanye and Donda’s loving relationship, and the pain that he felt after her death was a large inspiration for West’s 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak.

This pain is clear from the first track, “Donda Chant”, which has Syleena Johnson, R&B singer and previous West-collaborator, chanting Donda’s name with varying tones and speeds. As an intro, it reminds the audience of Donda’s impact on Kanye’s life, and how she remains present in his thoughts over a decade after her death.

According to the album credits on Tidal, Donda has one of the longest guest lists of any Kanye album, with features from long-time collaborators such as Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, and Travis Scott, as well as new-age artists such as Playboi Carti, Baby Keem, and Roddy Ricch. The gauntlet of top artists that Kanye brought on to make Donda shows his desire to make a high-quality product to honor the life of his mother.

And the quality of the music on this album is high. Tracks such as “Off The Grid,” “Praise God,” and “Heaven and Hell” show Kanye at his most energetic state in years, boasting his musical success and push towards spirituality, but showing that without the loving guidance of his mother, many of these accomplishments have taken a toll on his mental health.

Other tracks, such as “24,” “Jesus Lord,” and “Pure Souls” reflect Kanye’s recent embrace of Christianity, incorporating elements of gospel and soul music, but reworked to show Kanye’s particular interpretation of the Scriptures. But even these celebrations of a higher power are tinged with the pain of Donda’s death.

On “Jesus Lord,” Kanye raps “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?” Even Kanye’s service to God is ultimately subservient to his desire to fill the hole that his mother left in his life.

Donda isn’t the only loss West is dealing with on this project. The track “Lord I Need You” tackles Kanye’s high-profile divorce from his wife, Kim Kardashian. On the track, Kanye reminisces about the love he has for Kim and his four children, as well as his sporadic behavior which lead to their separation.

Kanye has struggled immensely with mental health since Donda’s death. The Washington Post reported on his admittance to the UCLA Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation in 2016, and in 2018, the rapper bragged about not taking medication for his bipolar disorder during an interview with TMZ. It is obvious the mental anguish that ensued after Donda’s death, and Kanye comes to grips, albeit hesitantly, on how his deteriorating mental health has hurt himself and those he loves on this album.

In an Instagram post by Willie Wallace, a chef at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where Kanye completed most of the recording and production on Donda, West wrote on a whiteboard that, “Donda is not the album of the year. It is the album of the LIFE” Regardless of your enjoyment of the album, Donda encapsulates all the triumphs and faults that have made up Kanye’s life since his mother’s death. In that sense, Donda truly is the album of Kanye West’s life.