President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West stand collectively within the foyer at Trump Tower, December 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump opened his administration on an unusually (however appropriately) bleak observe. Surveying the decline ongoing everywhere in the nation, the brand new president promised higher days forward.
Mothers and kids trapped in poverty in our interior cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones throughout the panorama of our nation, an schooling system flush with money, however which leaves our younger and exquisite college students disadvantaged of all data, and the crime, and the gangs, and the medicine which have stolen too many lives and robbed our nation of a lot unrealized potential. This American carnage stops proper right here and stops proper now.
It didn’t. Though the Trump admin made some small steps towards nationwide restoration, the hopes of those that had suffered underneath these many years of decay remained largely unfulfilled. When, on the finish of his time period, the president sought a victory lap, the very best he may do was a lackluster speech on the one small portion of border wall he managed to erect. Mother and kids nonetheless trapped in poverty, rusted out factories nonetheless scattered like tombstones. Education, crime, and medicines all exponentially worse than even 5 years in the past. American carnage rolls on.
The common rationalization given for the failure of his presidency is personnel: By and enormous, Trump didn’t rent folks with both the inclination or the flexibility to halt our nationwide decline. This is true partially, however on the finish of the day Donald Trump’s drawback was at all times that he was Donald Trump. Besides, the president had surrounded himself with an ideal many stable folks, who shared his intestine intuition about our scenario however had one expertise or one other that introduced the imaginative and prescient slightly farther than Trump may have alone. One such individual, of course, was Kanye West.
West, like Trump, was a bundle of contradictions. He was the son of a university professor who would go on to grow to be the best of a brand new technology of rappers, succeeding a cohort who had largely been precise gangsters. He was a red-capped Trump supporter—one of the only a few A-listers who might be so counted—who had warned the entire nation in 2005 that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He was the son of a Black Panther, the husband of a Kardashian, and a would-be right-wing politician who deliberate to mannequin his White House on Wakanda. Perhaps above all, he was a philanderer and a profligate who had flirted for years with a weird and intensely private model of Christianity.
Then, in 2019, he took the plunge. Born once more, West went all-in on life as a public Christian. He launched a Gospel album, Jesus is King, that fall, to widespread acclaim from all who weren’t obstinately pagan. Two spiritual initiatives intervened, launched on Christmas Day one yr aside from one another, and of course there was a bid for the Oval Office, earlier than his subsequent full solo album, Donda—a lot delayed and far anticipated—lastly began streaming final week.
Musically, Donda is extra advanced than Jesus is King, however that’s not altogether a very good factor. The latter was an easy, straightforward, infectious pay attention; this one takes work, and time, to take pleasure in—not least as a result of it runs nearly two hours lengthy. But it’s also way more advanced in substance: whereas Jesus is King dealt single-mindedly with the rapper’s newfound religion, Donda tries to deliver that religion to bear on the trials of his tumultuous private life and the chaotic world round him.
Though he doesn’t chronicle the wreckage of American society circa 2021 with as a lot depth or nuance as a extra worldly artist like Fantastic Negrito, or perhaps a throwback lefty troubadour like Jason Isbell, the Christian lens by means of which he views calamity units West’s work aside. An prolonged monologue by Larry Hoover Jr., son of the convicted gang chief whose trigger West introduced earlier than President Trump, requires Hoover Sr.’s launch from jail. West highlights the youthful Hoover’s declare that “the conditions in this capitalist society is what made [his father] and it is what made the children of today”—reminding us that Kanye was maybe the primary candidate in a century and a half to run for president with something like “forty acres and a mule” in his marketing campaign platform—earlier than the ultimate phrases (the identical because the music’s title), redirect the plea for freedom to the next authority than the president: “Jesus, Lord.”
The sincerity of the album’s Christian component is generally past doubt, and generally even fascinating. But on the finish of the day, Kanye West’s drawback continues to be that he’s Kanye West. Even within the midst of a dramatic, extended conversion, that is nonetheless the person who as soon as ran a monitor titled “I Am a God” on an album known as Yeezus. He hasn’t shaken his vices any greater than Trump did, and it reveals.
A handful of the tracks on Donda fall flat, however the one one which’s actually terrible is “Junya,” an aurally grating and morally obnoxious paean to the decadent, outré, aesthetically offensive designer Junya Watanabe. It is Kanye at his worst: a narcissistic billionaire with a permanent attachment to the trimmings of this world, and horrible style in garments as well. But even this monitor—after taking a detour to diss Ye’s would-be rival Drake, who launched an album of his personal simply yesterday—ends with an admission of West’s want for repentance: “Better discover God ‘fore He find me / Tell the Devil good night, go to sleep.”
This is the core of Donda, and of the last few years of Kanye’s life: the stress between religion and ego, generally implicit, generally explosive. That stress is on full show within the chorus of “Hurricane,” one of the album’s stronger tracks. It begins with what may be a boast—“I can walk on water”—then leaves us, maybe deliberately, questioning for a second whether or not that is simply megalomania (bordering on blasphemy) earlier than it turns to prayer: “Father, hold me close, don’t let me drown /
I know you won’t.”
West’s concern of religious drowning, of course, is comprehensible given the course of his current life. The rapper has been battling bipolar dysfunction for years, usually publicly, with quite a lot of excessive episodes. Due to some mixture of that psychological sickness and his dramatic conversion, West’s spouse and the mom of his youngsters, Kim Kardashian, filed for divorce in February. As far as we are able to inform, Donda was completed in a time of excessive solitude by a person already deeply troubled. But in an fascinating counterpoint to the egotism that so usually overcomes Kanye and his work, these private troubles are tied into broader social ills: violence, household breakdown, racial strife, the exploitation of the underclasses by capital, and extra.
Even burdened by his personal huge head and all the things inside it, Kanye manages to satisfy all this with a prayerful flip to God. But West’s self-designed Christianity is firmly within the sola fide camp, and he appears altogether unconcerned with contributing works in service to God’s will. He sees smash, and he calls to heaven for an answer, and he just about stops there. (Suddenly, the affinity with Trump is sensible.)
Also underdelivered in Donda is… Donda. Kanye’s late mom, a professor of English at Chicago State University, is meant to be the topic on the coronary heart of this newest challenge. Especially given his current spiritual flip, Donda may need been anticipated to spotlight the position of a mom within the life of a Christian and a group, all of the extra so in gentle of the household collapse on the heart of the album. But apart from a pair archival clips of audio, through which she’s speaking about Kanye, Dr. West largely fades into the background.
Even within the title monitor, Donda is just not fairly the middle of consideration. It opens with a single phrase on repeat: “Glory, glory, glory glory.” Again we see that damning ambiguity, as Kanye leaves us guessing whether or not he’s singing about God or about himself. It turns into solely barely clearer because the music builds and expands to a dramatic climax, with additional repetition: “It’s the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”
There may be extra trigger for optimism about the entire affair if “Donda” truly was what Kanye appears nearly to have made it: a meditation on the facility of the household within the face of the forces of worldly destruction, finally subsumed right into a imaginative and prescient of the dominion of God that it prefigures.
Maybe on the subsequent album—or within the subsequent election.