Ye (as in my exclamation when Donda finally dropped… “YAY!”), the man formerly known as Kanye West has done it again. It being the release of an album that, against all odds, captures my full attention and speaks to my inner most sensibilities. And “again” because once more I’m trying to understand why you don’t like it.
I was tired of the three-ring circus listening party hype train. I was tired of the constant delays and last-minute inclusions. It’s all a part of the Ye show and long-suffering fans like me are well-versed in it, but I will admit that even I lost faith.
Donda demands your full attention. This isn’t a streaming friendly project of TikTok ready singles by any stretch of the imagination. Where the Wyoming projects (Ye, Kids See Ghosts) were an exercise in brevity, and Jesus is King a short stroll down a religious path, this album is swollen with glorious indulgence. The world has unfortunately evolved beyond indulging artist whims, though.
Most Donda criticisms I’ve consumed harp on about the number of tracks and the inclusion of alternate versions. And it’s exactly that critique of the near 90 minutes of sound which reveals a few truths about the cultural moment we’re in right now:
Our culture doesn’t support artists.
Kanye West has surprised me with each new album release since 808s & Heartbreak. That’s an incredible run of eight, sonically unique albums over 13 years. Over that same period his personal struggles and moral failings also came to the fore and the court of public opinion passed its judgement. Did it even matter that each album altered the audio landscape and sparked a music trend? Apparently not. Ye was cancelled and therefore everything he produced was tainted with the stains of his public points of view. Meanwhile mediocrity had been given an opportunity to flourish in the age of mumble rap.
People don’t like change.
You love the old Kanye and still have Gold Digger on high rotation while waiting for the new workout plan. I get it. I don’t like the direction Lorde took with her latest record and prefer Taylor Swift as a pop artist because Folklore is just super boring. We all get stuck in grooves and, frankly, it’s just easier when musicians stay in the buckets we made for them in our minds.
Our music vocabulary needs updating.
One of my favourite bonding activities with my daughter is pulling apart popular music and exploring its influence and samples. Ye is a master at this craft and regularly bends sounds to his will to create a landscape to arrange other artists on. Donda is the first album of the 2020s that rewards the listener with each session. It’s like a dense fruitcake of samples and subtle style switches. Like when Ye goes off on Off the Grid or delays the drums (which he is known for) for almost five minutes into the album.
We’re drowning in content right now and it can be difficult to keep track of all the nuances and undercurrents that make a piece of art interesting. Instead we follow the headlines and allow those assumptions to shape our initial impression of a project before actually experiencing it.
Trying something new is always a risk, but we can’t be risk averse when the stakes are low – listening to an album with an open mind costs you nothing – and risk thousands when buying a new car because it looks cool. Our value systems, or at least the things we derive our personal value from need re-evaluation.
Does Ye bringing out Marilyn Manson at the pre-release listening party taint my personal experience of the album? Yes it does. Does it make me suddenly a supporter of the abuse charges against him? No.
Do I automatically become a religious fanatic with anti-abortion beliefs because Ye is one? No.
Is all of that part of the Donda listening experience? It shouldn’t be. I appreciate the art and the artist behind it.