This post is part one in a series of two where I live react to two albums for the first time. If you want to skip the setup/context then feel free to do so, it will start after the bolded paragraph.
In any conversation about the music of the 2010’s, it is impossible to speak on this subject without the mention of certain artists that released great projects that not only charted well, but influenced the landscape, sounds, and trends of popular music that can still be easily identified today. The 2010’s had some really heavy hitters in pop music (and their respective genres): Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga…and of course, the two that I will be focusing on in these next two pieces, Kanye West and Drake.
For those who have better things to do with their lives than keeping up with this shit, you should know these two have been on each other’s cases for years now. Before I dive into the music of it all, I thought it’d be important to briefly touch on where these artists started vs where they are now, and a little of my personal history with them.
I’ve been a “constantly apologizing” Kanye West fan for years now, and he likely is one of my top 3 artists of all time, sharing that title with The Weeknd and Kid Cudi. Look, I can’t deal with his antics in the public eye either, and I definitely don’t support what he says and does as a person. I do, however, constantly find myself hoping he gets the help he so clearly needs. With that disclaimer out of the way, yeah, he’s one of the greatest artists that music has ever had and I genuinely don’t see how there is any debating that. Pre-2010, the man already put out an incredible body of work with his “college trilogy”, permanently raising the bar for production (especially in regards to sampling and interpolation) & lyricism (looking at you, Late Registration fans) in hip-hop, and non-hip-hop fans were still Kanye fans. Then he released an album (808’s & Heartbreak) that wasn’t met with much public approval during a tumultuous time in his life that ended up being “ahead of its time” because almost all pop music a few years later tried to emulate the same sound. Then (in 2010 now) he puts out an album (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) that he later called “a backhanded apology” because he was in trouble with the public (VMA-gate) but also wanted to basically tell everyone “you need me because I’m too damn good at this”…and it worked, ending up on almost every major music publication’s “Top 5 Albums of the Decade” list. Something something Yeezus, Watch the Throne, The Life of Pablo…albeit definitely a few missteps afterwards like “Lift Yourself” and Jesus is King (I personally think “you my chic-fil-a” might be his biggest lowlight, worse than “scoop-di-poop”, but that’s just me)…we’ve ended up with one of the most impressive discographies out there.
Personally for me, MBDTF gave me what little confidence I had as an adolescent to get through the hell of being a teenager. To this day, “Gorgeous” will never fail to give me that boost of energy and belief in myself before doing something seemingly daunting.
On the flip-side of this, we have Drake…aka Mr. Champagne Papi aka the 6 God aka every Indian fuckboy’s personal idol. He also happens to be another artist whose public antics I can’t stand either, but it’s hard to imagine the genre of Pop Rap becoming as huge as it has without directly attributing that to Drake’s success. Starting off as a “Lil Wayne prodige” and quickly artistically surpassing everyone from the Young Money camp, Drake is one of the most commercially successful rappers to ever exist. This shouldn’t imply that he wasn’t critically successful either, as Take Care was one of the first instances of the dark & moody R&B sounds that ended up taking over the genre for about a decade and influenced a lot of projects that came afterwards (this is also heavily attributed to The Weeknd’s House of Balloons, but he also had a huge hand in Take Care and that album was what introduced me and many other to The Weeknd anyway). He then went on to continue to give us quality work with Nothing Was the Same and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, giving listeners a ton of quotable bars (and memes) in the process. By the time we got to Views in 2016, trying to avoid Drake became like trying to avoid Usher’s “Yeah!” in 2004, it was damn near impossible. Views sat atop the Billboard 200 for 13 nonconsecutive weeks, becoming the first album by a male solo artist to do so in over a decade. He continued onward to keep accomplishing feats like this and always being a huge part of internet culture, with stuff like the “In My Feelings Challenge” and “Toosie Slide” always being on people’s screens when they found themselves idly scrolling.
I cannot stress enough how much I love Take Care as a complete album, and Drake’s reign of hits is nothing to ignore at all. He has the most top 10 placements and most charted songs ever on the Billboard Hot 100, and even though I’ve found myself unimpressed or straight up annoyed with his recent work (you can’t convince me that Scorpion wasn’t a bloated dumpster fire), there’s no denying that there will always be room on any playlist for Drizzy.
So this brings us to now, where these two are beefing again. We can sit here and go through the entire history and both of their flaws, give props and/or make fun of them all day long…but I’m of the belief that the winner of any beef can only be decided by the tunes. Since they both have album releases coming out within a week of each other, I will be doing track-by-track reactions, a summary of my feelings on the overall project, and eventually determine the winner of this round between Kanye West’s Donda & Drake’s Certified Lover Boy.
So without further ado (after this incredibly messy album rollout) it’s time to do my first listen of Donda and live-blog it. Off we go!
Donda Chant – Stupid. Yeah it makes for funny memes and I laugh at them too but cmon, actually starting an album like this is not a good first impression.
Jail – Can we consider this the actual start of the album? Because this is good. I think Jay-Z could’ve maybe gone a little harder on his bars, especially considering his is the only lyrical section of this song, but this track is a good indication of where Kanye is spiritually & personally before going into the album, I’m cool with it. Pretty funny that Hov called him out for the MAGA hat.
God Breathed – The fact that this could’ve been 2 minutes shorter and still had the same effect in the track listing is really annoying.
Off The Grid – Good Lord, what gave Fivio Foreign the right to go this hard?? This is great, its only the 4th track but this is a highlight for sure, really good track all around.
Its clear Kanye has a lot to say about his personal relationship with God, his family, the divorce, etc. Based on his verse on this track, I’m curious to see what direction this goes & if its what holds the album together in terms of an overarching theme.
Hurricane – Abel, you absolute king. I think I have to publicly eat my words about Lil Baby, I 100% didn’t “get it” at first but I think he’s really been growing creatively and I’m here for it. I will say though, Kanye’s verse sounds a bit unfinished just in terms of the audio/mix…lyrically it was good. Another good track.
Praise God – Maybe on a later listen I’ll understand why Baby Keem showed up on this…but as of now, the track takes a noticeable nosedive for me when his verse starts…especially after some great Kanye & Travis Scott chemistry, and ESPECIALLY after Kanye put actual sound-bytes of his mother, the late Dr. Donda West, on the track.
Jonah – Meh.
Ok Ok – Wait, it took me this long to realize, is…is this censored? Why?? Is this whole album like this? I mean I was going to talk about how I appreciated this track emotionally and I liked Lil Yachty’s verse, but now I’m distracted. This is an odd decision but okay I’ll move on, I’m a fan of what this one has to say.
Junya – The “I won with the Bucks, boy, let me be Giannis” bar made me smile, but kind of a meh track otherwise.
Believe What I Say – Thematically we’re back to what I’ve been most interested in with this album 10 tracks in, and boy did this one deliver musically as well. Maybe I’m not remembering off the top of my head, but it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed Kanye’s lyricism this much.
24 – I like the exploration of his faith in relation to the broader concepts of mortality & the afterlife here, appropriately supplemented by the Sunday Service Choir.
Remote Control – Not sure if I understand what he’s going for here with the “remote control” thing or that outro, but I’ll take a cool Young Thug verse.
Moon – Holy shit. This is incredible. Maybe one day Kid Cudi wont get me automatically emotional, but it’s not today.
Heaven and Hell – I appreciate his perspective on his personal relationship with faith here too. Not sure if the ending firearm sounds was meant to be a KIDS SEE GHOSTS callback, but I’ll take it.
Donda – Hearing Dr. Donda West on this one really contextualizes the kind of person she was, within Kanye’s life and just by herself as well. I would imagine hearing “Only One” after this would increase the emotional impact of that track, which already hits really hard for me. So this feels like a tasteful inclusion.
Keep My Spirit Alive – Its okay.
Jesus Lord – Well the 9 minute runtime definitely had me nervous going into this, and I’m not sure if I’ll be revisiting this track much, but I do see that its pretty pivotal to the album and is luckily a good enough song to not feel like its that long. This probably would’ve hit on a more emotional level if I understood all the Biblical references. Jay Electronica’s verse on this alone was better than his entire last album.
New Again – Ugh…look, I wanted to do my best to JUST focus on the tunes and not go “looking too much into it” when going into these albums/pieces…but something SPECIFICALLY about a song that’s about forgiveness, mercy, and feeling “new again” that features Chris Brown, one of the most habitual & consistent of garbage human beings, just rubs me the wrong way. Can’t put my finger on why though.
Tell The Vision – Oh good God, censored Pop Smoke just sounds awkward and categorically incorrect. Wait, this is just Pop’s “We Made It”…except not as good. I actually have no idea why this is here, other than the fact that Kanye is a credited feature on the actual song off the Pop Smoke album. In this context though, I don’t see what this is adding.
Lord I Need You – I know this is supposed to be a really revealing and vulnerable moment on this album about his failed relationship, but the “Taco Bell & KFC” bar…I mean I know at this point in his career I should expect at least one or two corny bars but wow. Luckily he salvages this and it becomes a poignant moment on the album
Pure Souls – Damn, I feel like I have yet to hear Roddy Rich miss. It wouldn’t be a Kanye album without some kind of examination of success & his come up, so this feels like it belongs. The outro feels a bit odd in terms of the mixing and may have ran 45 seconds too long, but I like this one mainly due to Roddy.
Come to Life – Also may have ran a little longer needlessly, but it’s fine.
No Child Left Behind – Really solid interlude to kick off (what feels like) the home stretch. I’m interested to see how this closes out.
Jail pt 2 – Wait, it’s just the same thing as “Jail” except with different features? I mean admittedly the DaBaby feature is pretty damn good, but couldn’t we have just picked one of these versions and stuck with it?
Also find myself thinking again, because of the specific subject matter of the track: Kanye…my dude…feels like you could’ve asked Justin Vernon what he was doing instead of getting Marilyn Manson on this. Remember how good Vernon was on Yeezus? I mean…bruh.
Ok Ok pt 2 – Same thing…feels like one version could’ve been the album version and one version could’ve been on a deluxe, and it feels like I’m gonna feel like that about these next two as well.
Junya pt 2 – Yup, I was right. I will say that so far I think these part 2’s have been a little more fleshed out, and maybe better, than the first ones for me. Never going to say “no” to a Ty Dolla Sign feature.
Jesus Lord pt 2 – Eh…the features from The LOX are pretty cool, but 11 and a half minutes is just a bit much. Also kind of feel like it diminishes the meaning of this particular song a bit when you have a few too many cooks in the kitchen, I’d prefer the part 1 on this one.
OKAY wow, almost two hours later. So on a first listen, its definitely flawed, most notably because of some legitimately horrendous choices of featured artists & how it could’ve been condensed/cut to form a much tighter project. That being said, it’s really nice to hear so fleshed out of a project from him again, especially after his most recent ones have been no longer than 30 minutes & a few tracks. I think its oddly comforting to hear Kanye take creative risks again even if all of them don’t land for me. I find it somewhat reflective of where he is personally at the moment, and Kanye’s music has always had a very personal touch so this ends up feeling like somewhat of a true “rebirth” for him as an artist. In fact I think it works better as a follow up to 2016’s The Life of Pablo than Ye or Jesus is King did.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I liked it, definitely more than I thought I would after the ridiculous rollout and daunting runtime. I’m definitely going to spend more time on this one, but it’ll likely be after the next piece, where I do the same thing for Drake’s Certified Lover Boy. Thanks for reading my silly opinions, and I hope to see you next time!