This continues on the album itself, which has 27 tracks, nearly two hours of music; it’s sonically coherent but also too long and full of heavily assembled songs – several producers and writers, an abundance of male guests. West has long gone into conductor mode, and on several songs here he’s the ballast but not the focus.
Jay Electronica has a commanding verse on “Donda”. Fivio Foreign has a great verse on “Donda”. Lil Baby has a really good verse on “Donda”. Lil Durk has a striking line on “Donda”. Sheek Louch, who seems to direct Ka’s records, has an excellent verse on “Donda”. Jay-Z has a decent verse on “Donda”. Westside Gunn has a nice line on “Donda”.
West, however? Less than you might think. The more you listen to West on “Donda,” the less you really hear him. The more fragmentary the lyrics, the less satisfying they are.
But what keeps him from being a ghost presence on his own album is his ear for hooks, the way he can distill a quick phrase – be it a goof, a conversation, or an exultation – whatever. completely sticky thing. “I know God blew on it.” “He worked miracles on me. “Is that to lay me down or play me a bigger flex?” “
West has long used other people’s voices to amplify his own – this is true at least since the sessions in Hawaii that spawned “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, one of his essential albums. As he became less of a full-time musician and more of a polymath who sometimes makes music, this trend developed, perhaps gaining its purest expression just before the onset of the pandemic, when the majority of his Musical creation came in the form of the live performances of the Sunday Service Choir, a gospel troupe that he assembled and directed, but to which he rarely contributed vocals. At this point, it looked like West could permanently shift focus, or at least use his success primarily as a launch pad for others.
The “Donda” era realigns things, more in keeping with the way West released “The Life of Pablo” and “Ye”, his last pre-Gospel albums. There are, at the moment, at least four versions of “Donda” – the official version released on streaming services (although there is no guarantee that there is no stream), and those that West performed at each of his listening events.