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The Apotheosis of Kanye West

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Kanye West performs at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., February 10, 2008 (Reuters/Mike Blake) On ‘Donda,’ the wild talent of one of our most accomplished artists shines through.

Last Sunday, the ever-evolving Kanye West released Donda, his tenth studio album. The rapper — and Kanye collaborator — Jay-Z once remarked that it is essentially “impossible” to rate an album properly in the immediate days after its release. To some extent, I agree with him. Time and time again, music critics have slandered albums only to praise their genius years later (and vice versa). So it’s possible that my own assessment, as well as that of others, may change over time; true understanding only flowers with patience.

My initial assessment, however, is simple: Donda is magnificent.

The album takes its name from the late Donda West, Kanye’s mother, perhaps his greatest muse. From the anthemic “Hey Mama” on The College Dropout to the anguished autotune of 808’s and Heartbreak as Kanye mourned her untimely death, Donda has long influenced Kanye’s work. Naming his latest opus in her honor is a fitting enshrinement of her musical legacy.

On Donda’s first day of availability, it racked up over 180 million streams worldwide. In its first week of release, it has become the No. 1 album in 152 countries (an all-time record) and has set the 2021 records for single-day streaming on both Spotify and Apple Music.

The album is ambitious — in its length (one hour and 44 minutes, Kanye’s longest), in its themes, and in the richness of its features. And while it is perhaps excessive concerning the first of these, it is nonetheless an accurate portrayal of Kanye himself, whose antics and public persona are frequently just that — excessive.

It is possible to enjoy the album simply by listening to it. But to understand it fully requires understanding the drawn-out, 40-day process of its release. During this period, Kanye hosted three “listening parties”: the first two in Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, the city of his birth, and the last at Soldier Field in Chicago,

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