By Leroy Dee
Jackson Advocate Entertainment Writer
Two of the most anticipated albums of the year, Kanye West’s Donda and Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, were released in the same week. This isn’t the first time for Kanye. In 2007, during the MTV VMAs, 50 Cent made a wager that if his Curtis album didn’t outsell Ye’s Graduation that he would retire from making solo albums. Both released on September 11th, 2007, with Graduation selling 957K while Curtis only selling 691K.
In the case of Kanye and Drake, with all sneak disses and beef between the two artists aside, they have as many similarities as they do differences. Both have very lengthy albums that could stand to be trimmed down a bit. Both have several guest features that make their albums border on compilations rather than solo projects. Neither are their best or worst projects in their respective discographies, but there are different reasons for each album. Also, let’s be honest, the sneak disses and public beef fed right into both album rollouts.
However, should these albums even be compared? What are the main differences, and most importantly, which is the better album?
Donda may be one of the most anticipated albums of the past 10 years. Kanye namedropped the title even well before his 2020 Presidential campaign (let’s not forget that was a thing). To further drive anticipation, he performed three separate Donda listening parties before the album released. All performances were sold out, even to the point that a fan tried to sell air collected from the event in a ziplock bag. To top his already wildly successful marking campaign, Kanye lived in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to finish the album.
Make no mistake about it. Donda is a Gospel album. There’s no cursing, and all of the guest features have been censored. So why isn’t there more comparisons between Donda and 2019’s Jesus Is King? It’s simple: presentation. It’s pretty much impossible to advertise an album called Jesus Is King as anything but a Gospel album, plus it featured the Gospel choir Sunday Service. Donda, on the other hand, is slightly more subtle. You still get Sunday Service, but with more features from the likes of Lil Baby and Griselda.
Since Kanye already performed the unfinished album in front of sold out stadiums, Donda sounds like it was designed for an arena. That being said, it misses the mark as background music, or even music for your car. I wouldn’t be surprised if five years from now you’ll hear a few of these songs on a movie soundtrack or two.
“Heaven and Hell” is one of the best examples of the arena music that he’s been known to make. I can even picture the beat cutting off during a performance and letting the crowd stomp and clap like a Queen concert. The Lauryn Hill sampled “Believe What I Say” should have been the lead single, but for some reason, at this time, it doesn’t seem like there is one.
There are two versions of “Jail” on the album, one with Jay-Z and one with DaBaby. This may sound blasphemous, but I wouldn’t have minded if Jay-Z’s verse was cut and just went with DaBaby’s version. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to hear Hov and Ye reunited after a 10-year feud (plus it was the only time on the entire album Kanye’s MAGA hat was referenced), but overall it was a fairly weak throwaway verse. With the Rolling Loud controversy surrounding DaBaby, he actually had something to say. His verse even made Kanye’s verse more focused, making the track’s message against cancel culture.
CERTIFIED LOVER BOY
While Drake didn’t sleep in a stadium for weeks or run for President to prepare for his album, he spared no expense on album rollout. There were billboards placed in each city of the featured artists. Even partnering with ESPN to leak not only tracks but the release date of CLB. It seemed like all he had to do was threaten to release on the same day as Donda and that was enough for promotion.
If there was ever an example of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” it’s Certified Lover Boy. CLB sticks to Drake’s strength of balancing just the right amount of Rap and R&B with enough well-placed radio singles strategic throughout the album. Other than lyrics about his son, it would be hard to distinguish this from any of his other projects of the last five years.
Is that a bad thing? To his fans, I don’t think it is. Drake is Drake for a reason. He knows a thing or two on how to make a hit song, as certain tracks have already gone viral on TikTok and verses have become memes and T-shirt quotes. Even a throwaway verse from Lil Durk on “In The Bible”, where he uses most of his time to promote his girlfriend’s cosmetics line and hums his way to the remainder of the verse, doesn’t slow the momentum.
Drake sets the tone with another absurdly long intro his albums are becoming known for with “Champagne Poetry”. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, CLB works on several layers; he gives you instantly recognizable songs like a sample of Montell Jordan’s “Daddy’s Home” with “Papi’s Home” and Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” by replacing the hook with Future on “Way 2 Sexy”. I appreciate his efforts on “Race My Mind” which references verses from “Give It To Me Baby” by…Rick James.
So which album is better?
While Kanye is experimenting with his sound by blending Gospel and Hip Hop, Drake pretty much sticks to formula. While I can appreciate Kanye’s efforts, CLB has fewer skippable tracks. There are radio singles, club tracks, even a couple of songs where he’s giving you straight bars.
Drake’s album however does seem to be a bit shallow. Donda is more experimental and feels like a more personal album. It almost feels like a therapy session at times, but Kanye is still skilled enough to remind us that the music is always the focus over the message. While Drake’s subject matter sticks to what gets played on the radio, Kanye gets a little darker with verses about depression, addiction, even suicide. Heavy stuff, even for a Gospel album.
Is there a generational gap between the albums? There could be an element of that, since Donda does feel like the more mature album between the two. I’d even wager listeners that have gone through divorce, depression, or the loss of a loved one may lean towards Donda as the better album instead.
CLB is the more consistent listen, but for those that can listen to Kanye without wishing “old Kanye” back and can instead appreciate his evolution and maturity as an artist, you might enjoy the album more on a second listen.
Winner: Certified Lover Boy