Donda 2 is an essential Ye album even in its likely unfinished form, taking his curative, experimental approach to record-making to its most thrilling extreme yet.
A new Ye record means yet another round of gleeful denouncements from an increasingly frail, corporate press apparatus, solemn assurances that this time West is definitely, actually down for the count. It’s a sentiment that’s been capitalized on several album cycles over by now, since 2016’s The Life of Pablo perhaps, and yet, Ye remains at the top, still the definitive pop music innovator of his time. Though, arguably, when it comes to innovation, his latest studio album, (the eleventh) Donda 2, is the apex of his catalog so far, surpassing the scope of previous, similarly minded projects to create something new and experiential. An idea that first manifested in The Life of Pablo with Ye’s post-release corrections and updates, and has informed his tracklist curation since (very obviously so with last year’s Donda), Donda 2 appears to be its ultimate realization, an album designed to be elaborated upon, where the music and process of its creation are given equal weight.
What we have now is the initial take, Donda 2 V2.22.22 Miami, titled in reference to the spectacular listening party where this iteration was debuted. Exclusively (and divisively) released to his $200 Stem Player device, some have resented the notion of submitting to such a high price tag for an “incomplete” album, but ignoring the costliness, the Stem Player offers an elegant solution to Ye’s production indecisions (more so than the lopsided Donda (Deluxe) at least) while further involving his audience in his process. The 17 songs presented as V2.22.22 are certainly varying degrees of finished, with a few immediately obvious, basically complete hits, and several more that could be described as sketches or demos. Executive produced by Future (who appears on three songs here) and bookended by mournful XXXTENTACION hooks (another in the middle for good measure), the tone of Donda 2 is that of aggrieved machismo, debauched male melodrama inspired by West’s very public, messy divorce from Kim K. But while Donda 2 doesn’t shy away from the bad vibes, it’s a far less ferocious album than its knowingly assembled features might signify, finding Ye wallowing and dispirited more than anything else. There are exceptions of course, like the “Freestyle 4”-esque “SECURITY” (one of the album’s more complete, ready-to-go tracks), which has a playfully threatening edge, and “SCI Fi,” with its aggrandizing sample of Kim’s SNL monologue. But the album’s big stand out moments thus far find West baldly miserable. “HAPPY” looms largest in this respect with its dour Future verse up front giving way to Ye going off about buying Uber, ultimately disrupting his own verse to ask the listener “Do I look happy to you?” At times a challenging, provocative dance of contradictory emotions, at other times bland pop sentiment (the boring Migos/Baby Keem collab “WE DID IT KID” and dreadful top-40 hit “City of Gods”), Donda 2 is an odd, unruly album that has surely not yet reached its final form — not a deficit, but in fact the start of something very exciting.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 1.