DONDA is here. After a number of delayed release dates and the typical circus theatrics that seem to accompany Kanye West at every step in recent times, the ecclesiastical, immersive project that he promised landed on streaming sites, honouring his late, great mother. Don’t get me wrong. The album is serially disjointed and has a lot of throwaway tracks, but the moments on the record that do shine are glorious and era-defining, reminiscent of the iconic melodies of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. I, like many, had lost my appetite and couldn’t quite see how a high quality project could be channelled by a man who has been frantic in his professional, political and personal life to say the very least. DONDA isn’t a masterpiece, but it signals a sharp focus in the muse that will hopefully shape more put-together canvases in future projects.
Controversy is never far away from Ye and he is hardly a figure that is tentative in courting it. The inclusion of Marilyn Manson and DaBaby joining him on a porch of his model house at a Chicago listening party in the run-up to the album release is shocking, troubling and unnecessary. Accusations of alleged sexual assault and homophobic slurs at a recent concert have plagued the pair respectively, leaving many wondering why Kanye West would jeopardise his coronation-of-sorts with a pair that have brought shame and anger to many marginalised individuals, particularly women and the LGBT+ community.
Many of the popular reviews of DONDA reflect this, with many critics citing the inclusion of such figures untenable, a position that I am in agreement with. I don’t necessarily agree that giving the album 0 stars, like The Independent did, is the best way to convey your opinion on the company that Kanye West keeps and chooses to occupy places on his albums, and it certainly won’t make people stream the album less. Shock follows shock, and many people I know streamed the album more given the mainstream negative reception to make an assessment themselves, giving the very people you wish to discredit a greater platform and further vindication for an unjustifiable presence.
Salvation is a theme that is spectacularly interwoven through DONDA, appealing to a higher power to transcend and find a higher purpose having weathered the storms of pain and self-destruction. If Kanye West’s metaphor in Chicago was to show that anyone, including Manson and DaBaby, is welcome into the kingdom of God irrespective of their earthly transgressions, he has shot and missed wildly with the optics. He might well believe that the passage to the pearly gates is open wide, but forgiveness and redemption are personal journeys, not a right. For any of our crimes, we cannot expect forgiveness from others, but all we can do is to do everything we can to make amends and, ultimately, forgive ourselves and grow.
He might even have been taking a stance against a society that increasingly seems to be rejecting redemption in favour of punitive cancelling, but simply having the pair on the album doesn’t achieve this; it simply reinforces the notion that the consequences of your actions, despite no apology or attempt to rehabilitate, don’t preclude you from commercial success. If anything, the pair are doubling down with their contributions on the album, refusing to accept that they were ever ignorant or misguided in the first place. The poignant message that Kanye West aimed to carefully construct has, instead, been muddied by the inclusion of two men who have no interest in salvation, but in re-integration without acknowledgment of the impact of their actions.
True salvation is the deliverance or redemption from sin. Some argue that it’s from the grace of God, others believe it arises from committing or converting to a life of good to others. The spiritual journey that Kanye West set out on has led to confusing dead ends and places of mental distress. Regardless, DONDA as a piece of art serves as a reminder that we’re all diametrically opposed, forever teetering on the edge between saint and sinner, continuing to grow and evolve through strife.