Donda may have been the cleanest Kanye West album rollout of his entire career. Sure, it didn’t release on time, or even when Kanye wanted it apparently, but it wasn’t marred by comments on Trump or slavery.
This time, Kanye West has gone on a spiritual journey, and the album named after his late-mother Donda West hit streaming services following massive stadium listening events (a way to release albums that I’m surprised no one else has immediately jumped on). No, as usual–only Kanye.
The most abundant gripe with the long-anticipated Donda is that at 27-tracks, it’s just too long. Arguably, this is something you could say has held back rap albums for the past decade, but if every track hit, who wouldn’t want 30?
I get it though, when all 20+ tracks aren’t absolute hits, you’re also right to wish artists cut the damn thing in half. Especially looking back on Kanye West’s string of nine-track records in 2018 (Ye, Kids See Ghosts, Daytona, Nasir, and K.T.S.E.), I really thought he had resigned himself to rebel against streaming conventions.
But Donda is a pretty decent record if you cut it in half, which is akin to how I’m sure a lot of people feel toward Kanye West right now. His exceptional musical talents can only grant so much forgiveness from fans who felt betrayed by his previously upsetting comments, and it feels like Donda displays a man trying to repent.
Below is a reimagined tracklist for Donda, cut from 27 tracks to just 14 (a good 45 min cut out). For me, this is how I plan on listening to Donda from here on out. You can also find the playlist of the reimagined Donda tracklist here for Apple Music and Spotify so you can listen along.
1. “Donda” with Donda West, Stalone, Tony Williams, and the Sunday Service Choir
“Donda” is here not just because it’s the title track, but because it’s a way better opening than the “Donda Chant.” Originally kicking off the second half of the record, “Donda” now starts off our customized Donda experience. It feels nice to hear Donda West speak at the beginning, and although the record is more Kanye than Donda, it reminds us why we’re here. Donda’s words also perfectly segue into “Jail,” when she ends saying, “What did I teach him? And why Kanye ain’t scared?”
2. “Jail, pt. 2” with Marilyn Manson and DaBaby
Jay-Z’s little verse on the original “Jail” was cute, but the remix included at the end of Donda is what we really needed. Marilyn Manson AND DaBaby? A group of recently cancelled artists singing and rapping about how they’re going to jail because one has plead not guilty to sexual assault and the other just came under fire for homophobic comments? Now that’s a 2021 Kanye record. Like it or not, that’s what he did here, and of course it should not be, but it is, and that’s what Kanye does now. You want the real Kanye, you have to have the DaBaby and Marilyn Manson version.
3. “Wash Us in the Blood” with Travis Scott
Is this the only Kanye West single to never make a record? Released last year in 2020 as an apparent one-off single, “Wash Us in the Blood” was an amazing track featuring Travis Scott that 100% deserves a spot on Donda. It not only fits thematically and tonally, but it’s the perfect track for the 3rd spot to hype up the next couple of songs.
4. “Off the Grid” with Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign
Never would I have expected this trio together. In typical Kanye West fashion however, the guy is a musical chameleon and seamlessly blends the production to match both stars. Hearing Kanye West put his spin on Brooklyn drill is an amazing transition a minute and a half in, and Fivio Foreign gives the best verse of his burgeoning career yet, bar none.
5. “Hurricane”with The Weeknd and Lil Baby
Kanye has made The Weeknd do such interesting things ever since The Life of Pablo‘s “FML,” and “Hurricane” may be their best collaboration yet. It’s possibly the best track on the record, and I only wish the “don’t let me down” chorus climax went in even harder. To have heard “Hurricane” in a stadium must have been exhilarating.
6. “Praise God” with Donda West, Travis Scott, and Baby Keem
Another great snippet of Donda West speaking on the album named after her, but also a great transition from “Hurricane.” The “Off the Grid,” “Hurricane,” and “Praise God” three-track trilogy live exactly as they appear here as they do on the record, and are no contest the best part of Donda. It’s probably what made getting to track 27 feel so long, as it had to compete with the amazing run from track 4-6. Kendrick Lamar’s cousin Baby Keem also delivers a very spirited feature.
7. “Tell the Vision” with Pop Smoke (Faith version)
Including an unfinished snippet of “Tell the Vision” at track 19, despite it already appearing on Pop Smoke’s posthumous record, Faith, just a month before, seemed incredibly unnecessary, especially after so many revisions. Jay Rock had “King’s Dead” on Redemption and the Black Panther record–these things can be done. For my Donda track order, Kanye should still pay tribute to the immaculate Pop Smoke, but get the fully produced version from Faith on here. Do it right, man.
8. “Believe What I Say” with Buju Banton
The Lauryn Hill-sampling “Believe What I Say” may sonically have a Drake feel, but Kanye is able to make it his own with a little house-influenced bass. At this point, we haven’t strayed too far from the original tracklist save for cutting a couple tracks like “Junya” and “Ok Ok,” which I was just not feeling, but after this we head into the more spiritual side of the record.
9. “Pure Souls” with Roddy Ricch and Shenseea
Previously track 21, “Pure Souls” was too deep into the record for how good of a single it is. I give it the 9th-spot here to keep the celebration going from “Believe What I Say,” as well as get the listener ready for the more sing-heavy side. “It ain’t how it used to be, this the new me so get used to me” Kanye sings. “Devil get behind me I’m loose and free, father holy spirit let loose on me.” (That part could also been so much more massive, get the Sunday Service Choir blasting that, man).
10. “Moon” with Kid Cudi and Don Toliver
Kid Cudi making a whole song about his thematic relationship with the Moon is so sick. Don Toliver also sounds amazing on this one. As a Jewish guy, there isn’t really any nostalgia or identity that follows the christian imagery or gospel influence in Kanye West’s latest projects, but I can totally get down with Kid Cudi howling at the Moon.
11. “Jonah” with Lil Durk and Vory
This is the Vory section of the record, a Houston, Texas singer I never expected to feature so heavily on Donda. Lil Durk also has a nice little feature here, a Chicago rapper who got Kanye’s attention after the video for “Kanye Krazy,” where he reenacted some of the most famous visuals of Kanye’s career.
12. “God Breathed” with Vory
Originally the 3rd track on Donda, I think this second Vory collaboration works so much better at the tail end of the record, once we’ve experienced what Kanye claims God breathed on to make it so great. Shout out to Vory, the guy is going to shoot up after this. The Yeezus-like production and menacing synths of “God Breathed” also help the listener get ready for the final two posse-cut rap tracks of the reimagined track list.
13. “Keep My Spirit Alive” with Westside Gunn, KayCyy, and Conway the Machine
The Griselda crew are some of the best rappers on the planet right now, so you know Conway and Westside are making Donda. They just kind of vibe out with Kanye on this one, and I’m totally down to oblige, even with the “Not Wakanda but Wakanda is kinda like what we ’bout to make/and who gon’ make it? Kan’, duh,” Kanye line. Get silly my guy, it’s all good.
14. “Jesus Lord, pt. 2” with Jay Electronica, The LOX, and Larry Hoover Jr.
This is how to end the record, and Kanye knew it too. Why he ever also included a version earlier that was exactly the same just without the LOX verses, however, is completely beyond me. And why Kanye bleeped out all of the expletives is ever farther gone. Of course I want Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, and Styles P alongside Jay Electronica though, give me everyone you got.
The last thing we’re left with is Larry Hoover Jr., the son of the incarcerated gang-leader Larry Hoover Sr., who has been in prison since 1973. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian had famously met with then-President Donald Trump to plead for his early release, but a judge just last month rejected the appeal.
“All my life I’ve waited for my father to come home,” Larry Hoover Jr. says, pleading again for the courts to overturn the rejected appeal. If Kanye West wants to be seen as Jesus, he has to prove he’s doing the lord’s work, and that’s how he ends Donda.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.