Donda or Certified Lover Boy? A Comparison Between the Two Albums

Artist+Kanye+West+%28pictured+above%29+has+donned+masks+while+performing+since+2013

Artist Kanye West (pictured above) has donned masks while performing since 2013

Ryan Noorizadeh, Staff Writer

Kanye Omari West, an American singer-songwriter and one-time Presidential Candidate recently released the hip-hop album “Donda,” named after his late mother, Donda West. Kanye is a controversial artist, known for an incident wherein he posted a video on his Twitter where he urinated on his grammy award, just one among a litany of contentious public appearances and disruptive stunts.

Donda, likewise, is a controversial album, with many criticizing the album’s overt Christian messaging and Kanye’s controversial roster of guest artists. People have gone after Kanye’s choice to include Marylin Manson on the album despite multiple abuse allegations, or Johnathan “DaBaby” Kirk despite his homophobic remarks at the Rolling Loud concerts in Miami earlier this year.

Musically, many herald it as up there alongside Kanye’s classics, such as Yeezus, Graduation, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while others claim it is inferior to another album, “Certified Lover Boy,” by rapper and Degrassi actor Aubrey Graham, better known as Drake, which released days apart from Donda. 

Anticipation for both Donda and Certified Lover Boy was high. Drake, in order to advertise his upcoming album, cryptically teased it on a number of scattered billboards he had purchased, a kind of easter egg hunt. West, on the other hand, built hype with a number of trailers and listening parties of songs from the album. The chart battle between the two albums was both heavily speculated on and fierce, and the hype was only fed by Kanye and Drake’s continued clashing on social media.

With comparison between the two almost inevitable, and emotion over the albums higher than ever, it seems natural to ask: which is better?

Since Donda released first, let’s talk about it first. With a sea of black as its album cover, Donda is, to fans, Kanye at his rawest, expressing through his music a number of ideas about his explosive divorce with Kim Kardashian, his Christian faith, and even the passing of his titular mother. West’s religion seems almost baked into the album, with countless tracks referencing his faith towards God. In terms of ideas, it hits you as the “bigger” album. 

However, ideas only get you so far. Musically, Donda is heavily influenced by gospel music, merging it with hip-hop to create a syncretic sound that’s uniquely Kanye. Kanye’s rapping, which he built his earlier albums on, feels weak here, however, and compared with CLB Drake definitely comes out on top as the better rapper. In many ways, Donda feels almost like a concept album, which especially comes out in songs like the opening track, the aptly-named “Donda Chant.” 

As the title suggests, the track consists of the name “Donda” being chanted over and over for fifty seconds. Short, avant-garde tracks like these don’t exist as the type of music you put in a playlist, but help thematically and emotionally complete the experience. It should be said though, that Donda is a little rough around the edges. Kanye is eager to put his mood out there, and when he does, the music is great, but it often feels disjointed when listening to it in succession, something Kanye clearly thought of as important given the number of aforementioned short, narrative-type tracks. 

In a lot of ways, no matter how insightful or poetic Donda is, listening to it is like trying to hold sand: it’s messy, it’s coarse in places, and it slips out of your fingers quickly.

Favorite Track: Jail

Certified Lover Boy seems almost antithetical to Donda. Where Donda is messy and ambitious, CLB seems polished to a tee. While Donda takes heavily from West’s Christianity, Drake, born Jewish, sings about the Bible in the context of a woman who claims to be Christian, not about his own beliefs with the song “In The Bible.”

Certified Lover Boy is extremely well put together, and the music has great replayability value. The opening of the album, a distortion of audio from the Beatles song “Michelle,” feels genuinely haunting as Drake’s rapping begins to fade in. Unlike Donda, every song is one you can listen to individually and still take something out of, musically. It’s a remorse-filled album, with multiple tracks on the album detailing regrets that Drake has faced navigating through his career. 

All of this seems to go in the album’s favor, but there’s one major caveat: Certified Lover Boy feels uninspired. If Donda is like sand, then Certified Lover Boy is glass– it’s clear, it’s polished, it can create artistic mosaics, and it once was sand, but you don’t think of it. It’s by and large the same. While Donda occasionally tripped over itself in trying to tell you its message, even during his most emotional confession-type songs (“F–king Fans” comes to mind), Drake feels like he’s going through the motions. 

Even the album cover illustrates this point. An arrangement of sixteen versions of the same emoji of a pregnant woman, each with a different shirt and skin tone. The cover strikes you as something that should be deep, but inspires no real emotion. When Drake tries, the results are great. The delightfully absurd “Way 2 Sexy” found itself in my regular listening playlist against the odds, but he feels afraid to break out of the shell of what “Drake” is supposed to be. It’s telling that my favorite track in the album is an interlude, one without rapping, or even Drake’s voice.

Favorite Track: Yebba’s Heartbreak

When I first knew that I would compare Donda with Certified Lover Boy, I thought it would be an easier endeavor than it ended up being, and that’s mostly because these two albums are so different in so many ways. Kanye has put out an experiment: he blends hip hop, gospel, and rap to create an album that you can best describe the sound of as “Kanye.” Drake, on the other hand, put out a more traditional rap album, one that feels well-written and well-composed. To compare the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. 

However, despite the eternal platitudes, people still prefer the taste of one over the other. And likewise, despite the idiosyncrasies and the fact that its worst tracks are worse than that of Certified Lover Boy, Donda’s musical hits ultimately won me over. Drake created a well-made rap album, but he’s been creating well-made rap albums for over a decade now. After ten years and eleven albums of well-made rap music, you become uninspired by it. 

And I think he has too.