Donda vs. CLB: A Student Debate


Ben Gibson – CLB

Drake’s new album, Certified Lover Boy (CLB), is a musical masterpiece that is not getting the respect it deserves. In CLB, Drake collaborates with many well-known artists of different styles, proving that he can do more than just the “lyrical” rap that he is known for. Drake shows versatility by building off of the hype and fast-paced vibe that the other artists create in Knife Talk (feat. 21 Savage and Project Pat). On the other hand, he shows a tremendous ability to switch to a slower singing style in Fountains (feat. Tems). His ability to change naturally throughout styles is unmatched in other albums, including Kanye West’s Donda.

Drake’s new album is described as emotionally honest. Drake opens up about the challenging parts of being famous in multiple pieces. In Champagne Poetry, he remarks, “My therapist’s voice is making the choices for me. And I always censor myself, because no matter what, they reporting on me. The pressure is weighing on me. Career going great, but now the rest of me is fading slowly.” This unseen emotional vulnerability resonates with many people, especially those tired of hearing the typical hip-hop most artists write.

While trying to get a different perspective on why somebody would prefer Donda’s one hour and 49 minutes of mid-tier music over CLB’s musical beauty, I decided to ask my friend Luis, an outspoken Kanye fan. When asked why he likes Donda more, he answered that he prefers the “more relaxed and holy message found in this new wave Kanye album. Luis said, “It’s hard for me to support Drake after all the unconventional actions he has been a part of recently, including moving the release of his album eight months back, proving he doesn’t have respect for his fans.”

While I can’t argue with Luis’ personal opinion or his music preference, there are multiple things about his second statement that must be unpacked. Drake moved his album eight months back to build anticipation, which Kanye also did various times with Donda. Drake let his fans know that this album was being pushed back, while Kanye did not. He left his fans blindly waiting for it to drop, and some even doubted that it was ever going to release. The statement about Drake not caring for his fans could not be further from the truth. In his music, he persistently portrays the love he has for his fans and city. Drake is also a consistent donator to many charities dedicated to helping his young fans around the world. To conclude, you should give this new album a listen if you haven’t already!

Luca Tricoci – Donda

Donda by Kanye West is an album titled after his late mother, Donda West. The album comprehensively encompasses Kanye’s experiences with loss, grief, denial, religion, family, acceptance, and hope in a one hour and 48-minute album. One may feel intimidated by its length, but the album feels shorter than it actually is. Donda is an emotional album that covers a variety of topics under a focused theme: West’s mother. Sonically, Donda could be described as a combination of multiple Kanye albums, as the experimentation allows every song to sound vastly different from one another. Donda could be most easily described as a combination of Kanye albums: Yeezus, Jesus is King, and The Life of Pablo.

Donda begins with a song titled Donda Chant, a tribute to his mother that comes off as haunting or eerie due to its long-repeated vocal of “Donda,” spoken by Donda herself. Donda then takes a quick turn, with the hit song, Jail, featuring Jay-Z. It is very instrumentally heavy and includes lyrics that imply that Kanye and Jay-Z have found themselves trapped in a metaphorical jail. Jail is followed by God Breathed, which is a song with a Yeezus-esque vibe. Though it is not one of my highlights due to its stretched outro, it is still worthy of praise due to its great vocals. The arguably best three songs on the album follow God Breathed: Off the Grid, Hurricane, and Praise God.

Off the Grid, featuring Fivio Foreign and Playboi Carti, is a personal favorite of mine, featuring incredible rap performances from all three artists. Off the Grid is an incredible song, from its interesting twist on a drill beat, to Fivio and Carti’s features, to Kanye rapping harder than he ever has since 2016.

Hurricane is Donda’s most successful song, and for good reason. With beautiful vocals from the Weeknd, outstanding sonics, and great verses from Lil Baby and Kanye, it is no surprise this song did very well. Praise God is also a great song that features two prominent names in hip-hop: Travis Scott and Baby Keem. Praise God is followed by Jonah, Ok Ok, and Junya, all of which are good songs. Junya is followed up by Believe What I Say, which includes a great spin on a Lauryn Hill sample, and is overall a feel-good song. 24 and Moon are definitely highlights as well. 24 has powerful vocals that speak on Kanye’s religious beliefs, and Moon has gorgeous vocal performances from Kid Cudi and Don Toliver.

Jesus Lord is also an important moment in the album, telling a focused story on gang violence and religion. My personal favorite three-song run is that of Pure Souls, Come to Life, and No Child Left Behind. Pure Souls is an excellent song, with strong performances from Kanye, Shenseea, and Roddy Rich. Come to Life is arguably the most powerful, personal and beautiful song on the album. It is a slower song, but one that truly encompasses ideas of family and loss, ending with the verse “Now I’m Free,” and contrasting Kanye’s remarks of being trapped in the song Jail. No Child Left Behind ends the album powerfully, reinforcing the idea that Kanye has now found freedom and solace amid the loss of his mother.
I felt that Donda was the much stronger album due to its superior features, more compelling and focused themes, and fresh production. CLB as a whole was held back for most people due to Drake’s lack of commitment in terms of switching up his sound or production in any way. Drake tends to play it safe, which is totally fine considering he will always put up high numbers; however, to the listener, CLB sounds like every other recent Drake album—bland and overstuffed. CLB also suffers from Drake’s sub-par performance, questionable choice of lyrics, as well as the fact he is carried by most of his features.
I, however, believe that Kanye did a great job implementing his features, and even if he may be outperformed in some cases, Kanye and his themes are still ever-present. Another argument one may make for CLB is that it did better in the numbers game. Although both did extremely well, CLB did sell significantly more, so Drake does win the numbers game. However, this is no surprise, and is even widely expected considering Drake is the most commercially successful rapper of our generation. Kanye, alternatively, is not mainstream, but with every album reinvents his sound and truly cares about the art of music.

Finally, neither album did very well in the eyes of music blogs and critic websites. Although Donda was sonically admired by most of the sites, it was mainly criticized due to Kanye’s inclusion of Dababy and Marilyn Manson in Jail pt 2. I felt as if many of the critics focused more on the controversy surrounding the album rather than the music itself. The reviews regarding CLB, for the most part, stated how the album felt underwhelming and boring. Interestingly, I noticed that users on social media as a whole seemed to be very pleased with Donda, and disappointed with CLB. I made this observation by looking at music review YouTube channels, comment sections, TikTok, and even Twitter threads regarding the topic. And while there is no denying the social craze that CLB provoked, the positive reaction to Donda across social media platforms confirms what I already knew to be true about the album: It is a masterpiece.