Ok. Kanye West can get a bit much and Donda is the biggest vanity project in history, but Jesus Lord is mesmerising. I have to admit, reviewing Donda is like reviewing a unicorn from Mars…should I review it or just be in awe of its mere existence.
The album we thought would never happen features a guest list so long it is easier to think of who is not on the record. Kanye brings on Jay – Z, The Weeknd, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Travis Scott and Ty Dolla $ign just to name a few. If you think this would lead to a bloated and disorganised record…you’re right. However, the gems in this desert of self – indulgent sand are so amazing and moving that it makes up for metric tons of filler. Don’t get me wrong, the record and all the Donda media / listening parties are extraordinarily self – indulgent. I mean, Axl Rose would even blush at this vanity project and he put out Chinese Democracy. However, within the 20 plus tracks there are a handful that are some of the best work Kanye has put out in almost 11 years.
The track Jesus Lord is a great example of the record as a whole. First off, it features Jay Electronica, which for many hip hop nerds feels like you’ve seen a comet. Jay took over 10 years to put out his own debut record and now he is teaming up with Kanye on a record that I thought would never see the light of day. Next, this is an eight plus minute epic that is almost three tracks. Finally, he includes some spoken word from Larry Hoover’s (founder of the Gangster Disciples) son.
This audio kaleidoscope clicks into place like Tetris once you sit back and listen. Kanye does away with his wall of sound production and relies on a simple beat, organ and some heavily tweaked backing vocals on a loop. Such a restrained electronic palate allows the lyrics to come to the front. Kanye raps about suicide, poverty, brutality towards black men, trauma, religion and families torn apart by death / social ills. Verses on mothers dying, boys looking to kill men for revenge, dead black men and women using drugs to feel love are some of the darkest lines he has put out in a long time. Moreover, he talks about how he hopes to see Christ in order to see his own mother, which Donda is named after. His rhymes hit so hard, because of the emotion and feeling behind them. This is the rare time when Kanye seems genuine. Like you are getting insight into his soul.
Next is Jay Electronica who comes out as a combination of spirituality and hip hop skill. Jay raps about how great at rapping he is, which is what he is known for, but then moves into connecting governmental violence in US policies overseas with suffering of those left behind. Ultimately, Jay likens this suffering to religious themes of death and salvation. Jesus Lord has a great deal of religious imagery in it, but it’s mainly used as a vehicle of hope within a sea of suffering on Earth.
Finally, Kanye includes a message from Larry Hoover Jr. whose father is serving six life sentences due to murders linked to the Gangster Disciples. Larry Hoover founded the Gagster Disciples in Chicago and Kanye advocated for his sentence to be reduced to enable his release. Now, some of this is self – serving as Larry Hoover Jr. thanks Kanye for his support, but there is more here. Feel how you will about Larry Hoover and the crimes he committed, which I think he is justly doing time for, but his son and grandchildren are not responsible. The story of Larry Hoover’s incarceration is about those that are left behind in pain. The family of his victims who live with the loss of family members everyday, as well as his own family who become collateral damage.
Kanye’s track Jesus Lord is about children who are left behind after a death of a parent. Kanye goes into his mother’s death, the emotional death of mothers on drugs and the living death of Larry Hoover in jail. It is not important what you think about these people specifically, but recognise the immense pain within the children left behind. The song is not tight from end to end, but Kanye’s verses are some of the most vulnerable, painful and genuine I have heard in over a decade. For his verses alone, this may be a top 10 track of 2021. Strip all the media, politics and photo shoots aside…this is the Kanye I love.
Listen to Jesus Lord