Donda review roundup: Kanye West’s much-delayed new album divides critics

Kanye West’s long-delayed new album Donda has finally been released, and has been met with a mixed reaction from critics.

The rapper and producer’s latest release was repeatedly pushed back as the artist made last-minute changes to its content and held several listening parties.

The 26-track album has a total cumulative runtime of 108 minutes, and features a number of collaborations with high-profile artists.

Controversially, the list of collaborators on Donda included DaBaby, who was recently at the centre of a scandal over homophobic comments the rapper made at a gig, and Marilyn Manson, who is currently facing multiple lawsuits over allegations of sexual assault (he has denied all accusations against him).

In a zero-star review for The Independent, Roisin O’Connor wrote: “There are brief glimpses of the ingenuity that propelled genre-defying, era-defining works such as 2007’s Graduation or 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.... But these resplendent moments – like a second’s burst of sunshine through dark storm clouds – are so rare that by the time you emerge on the other side, they’re all but forgotten.”

She also noted that the inclusion of Manson and DaBaby on the album was “impossible to forget – or forgive”.

“Manson joins West for the refrain – “Guess I’m going to jail tonight” – in a moment so flagrantly mocking it brings bile to my throat,” the review continued. “It’s unclear whether West is attempting some kind of comment on ‘cancel culture’ or using these men as a religious metaphor: neither is excusable.”

The Guardian gave Donda two stars, claiming that despite the presence of “sustained brilliance”, the record was “in need of an edit”.

“[West] coasts by with gospel fragments that don’t really go anywhere, something particularly evident on ‘Come to Life’, with a piano line that pulls the heartstrings in the manner of a cancer charity TV commercial,” wrote Thomas Hobbes.

“It’s hard to tell a billionaire what to do, and the lack of a self-edit means Donda often sags. A record that is a tribute to a powerful Black woman also lacks much female perspective, beyond old audio clips of speeches by [Kanye’s late mother] Donda West and an eventual strong guest spot from Shenseea on ‘OK OK Pt 2’.”

Kanye West appears at a listening event for ‘Donda’ (Getty Images for Universal Music Group)
Kanye West appears at a listening event for ‘Donda’ (Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

NME’s Rhian Daly gave the album three stars, arguing: “At one hour and 44 minutes, Donda is incredibly – and unnecessarily – long. There is no artist in the world capable of making a flawless record that spans nearly two hours – Kanye included.

“There are plenty of seeds of what could be good ideas here, and some legit great tracks, but had he taken a little more time to edit things, this could have been a classic – focussed, poignant and powerful.”

In a more positive write-up for Variety, Chris Willman wrote: “On a purely musical level, Donda is close to unassailable; any time spent tarrying on its release has been time well-wasted.

“It’d be hard to contend that an album that lasts nearly two hours exactly flies by, but until it gets to those last four completely superfluous remixes, it’s a collection that never comes close to wearing out its welcome, alternating the brooding and the banging with a well-honed sense of dynamics.”

Kanye West and his late mother Donda, who serves as the inspiration for his just-released tenth album (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Kanye West and his late mother Donda, who serves as the inspiration for his just-released tenth album (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

The i’s Kate Solomon gave the album three stars, writing: “Some of the collaborations are gorgeously done, in particular Houston singer Vory shines on ‘Jonah’ and West gives him the space to do so. But these moments of wonder are dragged down by a mire of intentionally difficult tracks, be that musically or thematically. It’s a long and frustrating listen, a warning to all about the dangers of focus grouping and overthinking.

“Donda is not earth-shatteringly terrible and it’s not the amazing, transcendental experience that many hoped it would be.”

In a four-star review for The Times, Ed Potton averred: “Donda’s hour-and-a-half running time is excessive, and there are moments when you feel as if you have been kept for slightly too long on the doorstep by a Jehovah’s Witness.

“When it’s good, however, it’s very, very good. A typically ambitious and painfully honest album that veers, like its creator, between tortured and rapturous.”

Donda can be streamed now on services including Spotify and Apple Music.