Album of the Month: August 2021


Image courtesy of GQ

Adam Matos and Anthony Millan

August has been a hectic month for music: marking the return of Kendrick Lamar, a new Nas album, and the release of (the long-awaited) Donda, there’s a lot to talk about. Thankfully, however, the competition for album of the month really wasn’t there, giving me an excuse to talk about Kanye for an entire article.

Donda, after multiple delays, three listening parties, and a year of anticipation, came out on Sunday, August 29th at 8 A.M. This came as a surprise to everyone, considering the 4 release dates Kanye had missed for this album before, and at this point, all hope was lost. Nevertheless, Mr. West persevered and gave us all that we were waiting for… But, is it good? Short answer, yes? Kind of? Long answer, Donda is everything Jesus Is King wanted to be. Yes, it’s still religious, but that doesn’t matter when you listen to it. 

Let’s start with the rapping. Rapping-wise, Kanye is BACK. Sometimes. On songs like “Off the Grid”, “Heaven and Hell”, and “Pure Souls”, Kanye brought his A-Game. “Off the Grid,” is probably his best lyrical performance since “No More Parties in L.A.”, and I urge whoever hasn’t heard it to do so, immediately. However, on some songs, Kanye brought his… B-Game? For example, on songs like “God Breathed”, “Praise God”, “Junya”, “Remote Control”, etc. his writing feels very lazy. The bars sound half-baked, and it really just seems much less enthusiastic than his performance on the other songs I mentioned. This takes away from the record, because it is NINETY MINUTES long, and he really could have done away with a lot of the filler. For example, the three-minute instrumental on “Praise God,” felt really unnecessary, especially after an alright song with mediocre rapping. Not to mention, the song “Remote Control,” just felt corny with the whole future concept, where Kanye raps about being in a hovercraft? It just felt like an odd addition to the album, especially with a mid-Young Thug feature. Ultimately, the length is definitely this album’s greatest downfall because without the filler it could have been really amazing.

Another issue I ended up having with the record is how little Kanye is actually on it. Before I continue on this topic, let me say, most of the features killed it. Jay-Z on “Jail”? Too nice. Cudi and Don Toliver on “Moon”? I’ve cried to that more than I’d like to admit. Sunday Service throughout the project? Heavenly music. What I mean to say is, the lack of Kanye does not make the music worse, It’s just that I’d like to hear more Kanye on a Kanye album. However, as previously mentioned many to all of the featured artists performed amazingly, making up for the lack of Kanye. 

Now that I’ve aired all my negative comments, I’d like to point out my favorite aspect and song. On this album, Kanye has improved his singing massively, culminating in, what I consider to be, one of his best songs, “Come to Life”. Featuring beautiful vocals and an airy piano, this song demonstrates Kanye at the peak of his Donda-era. Talking about his mother’s death and Religion, upon listening, you know that Kanye has found his own peace in regards to Donda’s death, all through his spiritual awakening. This song is beautiful, and I have no complaints.

My last thoughts on the project are as follows: Kanye West curated a pretty good album, pulling from all sorts of different artists with different sounds, coming together to produce a loving tribute to his mom. The project touches on themes like loss, emotional captivity, sin, forgiveness, and freedom, and uses a semi-conceptual format to push these themes. Kanye is able to convey his feelings through the past two years, where he has gone through a divorce, a failed presidential campaign, and a lot of controversies. For what it’s worth, I think this album delivered on the vision Jesus is King set out to achieve, leaving me content with giving Donda the title of Album of the Month.

Moving on from my very long review of Donda, August was an alright month for music! As for the other albums released, Kings Disease 2 by Nas came out on August 6th, to pretty great reviews. People definitely preferred this over the first King’s Disease record, and for good reason. I listened once through, and I thought it was great. Hit-Boy provided Nas with amazing instrumentals and Nas was rapping like it’s 1995 again, which made me very happy. Not only that, but Nas brought out Lauren Hill for a feature verse! You would not believe how great Lauren’s verse is knowing she’s been basically retired for 25 years, but she DELIVERED. Other than that, not much to say on the record, it’s very jazzy and straightforward rapping, but it’s a great listen. 

On the singles aspect of this month’s releases, we got “family ties,” by Baby Keem, which actually signaled the return of Kendrick Lamar, currently going under the moniker, “oklama.” The single showed an incredible performance from both parties, with Keem managing to not only keep up with Kendrick but in many ways outperforming him. This makes me very excited for my eventual listen and review of his upcoming album, The Melodic Blue. Not to mention my undying hype for Kendrick’s next project (if he ever wants to drop). Next, was the new Weeknd single, “Take My Breath,” which was – pretty good! It was a nice synth-pop record, which sounded like a much happier version of After Hours, which I can’t really complain about. With a catchy chorus, heavenly vocals, and a great instrumental, this new Weeknd project should be great! Other, less notable singles include the new Injury Reserve single, “Knees,” which was a great somber track, punctuated by a typical instrumental for the group. While it won’t land with many people, it’s a great track for those who are more open-minded to experimental music. The new Cardi B and Lizzo single, “Rumors,” is alright. Cardi B delivers a great verse, as usual, and Lizzo is, well, Lizzo. It’s about what you should expect, a fun song with not too much replay value. 

To round out the month we were given two pop-songwriter albums from female artists who have been in the industry for a while now. Lorde, the first of these two artists, dropped a follow-up to her critically acclaimed 2017 work, Melodrama. Unfortunately, this August, after a four-year hiatus, Lorde took a step in the wrong direction with Solar Power. Solar Power has some very good songs, however, the songwriting and production aren’t even in the same ballpark as her previous works. Everyone was hoping for an experimental turn from Lorde after her two amazing performances on Pure Heroine and Melodrama. However, she played it way too safe this time and that isn’t something that gets people excited in today’s music landscape. It’s great background music. Lorde’s vocals are always dreamy and exquisite but the theme isn’t fleshed out. Lorde released a low-key album after releasing two grandiose albums that transcended the songwriting scene in the mid-late 2010s. People liked it; a few songs such as the title track “Solar Power” are pretty good. But, as we’ve seen so many times, a few pretty good songs don’t get you Album of the Month.

Finally, Halsey released an album with a theme that is much more fleshed out than Solar Power. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Halsey’s fourth studio album, fleshes out the theme of being bold and ambitious, basically getting what you want out of life. Her self-worth arc shown in this album is incredible and it is likely her strongest theme for an album in her career up to this point. The music itself, I would say, is its weakest point. It’s not for a lack of vocals or production, both of those are solid. However, as a project the musical choices Halsey makes just don’t seem to mesh together as well. It truly is a shame because this project had the potential to be amazing. Songs like “I am not a woman, I’m a god” and “Ya’aburnee” are some of Halsey’s best songs to date. Overall, the album is pretty solid and would’ve had a real shot for the award if Kanye West didn’t exist.

In all honesty, this month, like most months, wasn’t really a race for the award. Kanye West dropped a great album. Everything else was merely good. Prior to Donda’s release, the title of Album of the Month was honestly pretty up in the air, in regards to who it should go to. Luckily, Donda swooped in at the end of the month to give us an easy winner. Overall, this month was a pretty good month for music. Nothing was too special, spare the winner, obviously, but we got a lot of good songs that most likely ended up on many playlists. Now that August is over, I’m excited to see how next month pans out. With promising single releases from Baby Keem and Injury Reserve along with a likely release from Drake, the race might be much closer next time around. Fingers crossed!