Opinion: The Duality of Ye’s ‘Donda’

After more than a month’s delay, Kanye West released his 10th studio album, “Donda”, on Aug. 29. A nearly two-hour follow-up to his short wavemaker “JESUS IS KING” (2019), this effort finds West addressing topics such as his unofficial divorce from Kim Kardashian, his mother’s impact on his life and his reliance on God. The album is simple musically, which gives the listener the ability to pay attention to its lyrical content. The question that Christians face in the wake of this new Kanye piece is, “Should I take this seriously?”

“I thought about killing you, premeditated murder,” West confessed only three years before the release of his 27-track juggernaut. In that time, the world has seen many sides to Kanye, who recently changed his legal name to Ye, according to The Guardian. After revealing to the world that he struggles with bipolar disorder, he then ran for president and started hosting church services and releasing faith-based music.

Ye shocked the world — both the evangelical and secular worlds — with “JESUS IS KING,” his introduction into the Christian music scene. Most of that shock came from the mere fact that he released an album dedicated to exalting Jesus as King and Savior. What shocked me more as I listened to it was how overtly God-centered the album was as a whole. You don’t get that with Donda. Dealing with the wide range of topics that he does in this album brings Jesus to the surface less.

The album, The Atlantic argues, is somewhat of an anthology or an attempt to steady his career “by reminding the world of the sounds that made him famous.” In some ways, that is very true. The eight-and-a-half-minute song “Jesus Lord” is practically a baptized version of an earlier hit, “Runaway,” but includes probably the deepest content on the album. Toward the end of the song, he incorporates a recording of Larry Hoover Jr. talking about his father’s incarceration. Apart from this and a quote from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem which says, “Even if you are not ready for day, it cannot always be night,” the lyrics — even the spiritual ones — are shallow. This is where Christians must be cautious.

When I claim that the album overall has shallow lyrics and simple beats, I don’t mean it as an affront to Ye. I do mean, though, that by Christian standards for theology in song, his lyrics are incredibly surface-level. Perhaps the most insightful lyrics about the album are, “the Devil run the playground, but God own the building,” as he rhymes on “Lord I Need You”. Of course, the lyrics preceding that boast “I don’t know what I’d do without me.” There might be more grit in Praise God, which finds him confronting halfway religious people by spouting, “Y’all treat your Lord and Savior like renter’s insurance, you know what I mean?” It seems that even two albums into faith-based music, he is still teetering between giving God all praise by admitting full dependency on him, and taking some of the spotlight for himself.

Of the few deep and vulnerable points on the record, I must respect him. For the layperson looking at a celebrity-turned-Christian, it seems that West is giving consistent effort to hold to biblical beliefs. My warning comes not from questioning whether or not Kanye is saved — that was a great concern at the end of 2019 — but rather scaling the weight that Christians should give to his religious musical efforts. “Donda” should not be consumed as worship, for its content is not solely focused on God (Psa. 29:2). It should not be consumed as a gospel album. Many of its themes — from both Kanye and featured artists — are not biblical at all. It can only be rightly consumed as a testimonial; a recollection of events and experiences and a presentation of a shifted worldview. 

If people approach “Donda” as such, it will hold its weight. It should not be blown out of proportion as an amazing gospel album. It should not be played in church. It can, nonetheless, have an impact on people who live as Kanye does: attempting to straddle the truth of the gospel and the familiar nature of themselves.

Bower is an opinion writer. Follow him on Twitter at @j_with_the_pen.

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