‘Donda 2’ needs work before official release
Charlie Maxwell | Friday, February 25, 2022
Kanye West’s 2022 has been riddled with turmoil. Any followers of his Instagram account know that Kim Kardashian, Pete Davidson, Julia Fox and Kid Cudi are just a few of the names on West’s mind in recent weeks. Following months of delay for his tenth studio album, “Donda,” which was released in August, longtime fans were rightfully skeptical about the legitimacy of a “Donda 2” project just half of a year later. To his credit, West showcased 16 new tracks — on time — at the DONDA 2 EXPERIENCE event in Miami last Tuesday. Though the project has not been officially released, the rough draft that listeners heard Tuesday is worthwhile to examine as a disorderly, but nonetheless captivating, array of styles, narratives, production and emotions from an unprecedented period in West’s life.
While West credits Future with executive production of the album, it was challenging to ascertain any sort of stylistic direction upon first listen. The LP appeared wildly unfinished, with mumble verses and audio-engineering errors scattered throughout the two-hour performance in Miami’s LoanDepot Park. Certain production choices feel eerily similar to the album’s prequel, with a nearly-identical guest cast including Baby Keem, Travis Scott, Don Toliver, Vory and Playboi Carti.
Interestingly, other tracks on the currently unreleased album entirely diverge from the sounds of 2021’s “Donda.” The fan-titled “Security” (Track 6), for example, is reminiscent of the experimental project “Yeezus” and its brash, genre-destroying atmosphere. A challenging (but enjoyable) listen, West comes off as characteristically aggressive in his inflections with the line “I put your security at risk,” an obvious allusion to his recent hostile feud with Pete Davidson.
As with any West release, there are sure to be some highlights. The opener features the late XXXTENTACION chanting the hook “I thought I’d die in your arms” atop a piano rhythm before West enters, accompanied by a drum loop that samples the 2010 hit “Runaway”— nostalgic, to say the least. Track 3, titled by fans as “Get Lost,” is a raw, emotional cut inspired by his frequent collaborator, Justin Vernon, frontman of Bon Iver. West prefers no background instrumental here, opting for pure auto-tuned vocals. Halfway through the performance, West unveils a trap banger in which he boastingly raps, “Who they waitin’ on? That’s Pablo” before passing the anthem to Travis Scott for the hook. To be clear, these records have the potential to be some of West’s best in recent years — just not in their current form. Outside of some initially exciting features and the occasional completed score, the album is clearly incomplete. Known for his perfectionism, the LP seemed disappointing to fans that have grown to expect so much from West each album drop.
The remainder of the live event was filled with lackluster performances from Jack Harlow, Soulja Boy and even an underwhelming encore from West himself. West gives the refrain on “Jail” to Marilyn Manson who, both off-beat and out of tune, butchers the song (originally released as part of “Donda”). Later, Migos shows up on an inspiring and energetic trumpet instrumental but sounds uninspired and unenergetic.
Vory, however, who was used frequently on the “Donda 2” prequel, shines in his solo interlude. Two minutes of violin guide him along angelic vocal intonations while keeping on theme with religious dialogue in “Lord, lift me up.” West’s Sunday Service Choir, likewise, follows suit with an acoustic worship hymn.
In many ways, the blueprint of “Donda 2” heard on Tuesday is as messy as Kanye West’s life. Conceptually, the project remains memorable, but it fails in execution. However, West still has time. The original “Donda” album required a dozen iterations and three listening events to perfect. West draws upon thematic elements of divorce, spirituality, death and mental illness, but in no coordinated or intentional manner. A number of tracks on “Donda 2” attempt to push sonic boundaries, while others feel flat and random. Given the inconsistency, it is hard to imagine that the LP will fit comfortably within West’s legendary discography.
Artist: Kanye West
Album: “Donda 2” (unreleased)
Label: G.O.O.D. Music, Def Jam Records
Favorite tracks: “Pablo,” “Lift Me Up,” “Security”
If you like: Pusha T, Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z
Shamrocks: 2 out of 5