“Donda” or “Certified Lover Boy”?


Photos courtesy of Genius.

Adithi Katikhaneni and Aedan Whalen

This previously ran in our September 2021 print issue.

Despite the flood of releases this summer, none made as big a splash as Kanye West’s Donda and Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, raising the question of which music mogul had the best record. Investigating the debate that has taken over the music industry, Culture Editors Aedan Whalen and Adithi Katikhaneni discuss the albums’ noteworthy strengths and weaknesses.

Exploring the artists’ delivery on each album, Whalen kicks off the discussion by highlighting specific tracks on Donda.

Whalen: I really liked “Remote Control” because Young Thug’s verse was lyrically very good, and the way he delivered his lines was incredible. I think across the board with this album, the delivery of certain bars was so much more important than I expected it to be. Kanye and everyone featured did a phenomenal job of using their inflection to communicate vivid emotions that went beyond their words. Especially on the songs “24” and “No Child Left Behind,” Kanye repeated the same lines over and over again, but each time he said it differently and brought a new layer and a new meaning to the words. You can really hear the emotion in his voice, and I think “Jesus Lord” was another example of that, especially when he was talking about his mom. Sounding like he’s on the verge of tears, he says the words “that woman rode with me like a Harley” and the magnitude of his grief is incredibly apparent, and he really communicated the immense loss that he felt.

Katikhaneni: I agree, Donda was without a doubt a much more emotionally charged album and West brought another level of intimacy to the work with how introspective it was. I think that the biggest draw for me to Certified Lover Boy was the production value. All of the songs were really well made, and there’s a certain crispness to the mix that I picked up immediately in the way that Drake’s voice flows over instrumentals. Although there wasn’t much creativity on the album, it avoided unnecessary experimentation, and it was very true to Drake’s characteristic style.

Agreeing with the disappointing lack of innovative spirit, Whalen also acknowledges the consistency as a point for CLB before the discussion shifts to the vastly different creative atmosphere of Donda.

Whalen: It felt like a good Drake album, but at the same time, it was just a Drake album. The production, the delivery, it felt very much like simply Drake being Drake, and that’s good, but it’s nothing new.

Katikhaneni: One aspect of Donda that really stood out was how experimental it was. With tracks like  “Moon” with Kid Cudi and Don Toliver, it really felt like West lifted Cudi out of his comfort zone and developed a new sound. However, then comparing the Donda feature to the Cudi feature on CLB, the delivery on CLB again seemed to fall flat.

Something that I kept in mind when listening to the albums was the idea of who was in the producer’s chair. Whether Kanye West was telling these artists to try something new or whether they were guided by his vision yet still allowed total creative freedom was interesting to explore, as despite which process was used to create the album, the innovative nature of the work cannot be denied. The lack of creativity on CLB became apparent when compared to Donda’s “Junya” with Playboi Carti, where the featured artist really shone by doing something unique. Overall, I think that it depends on what you’re looking for, whether you’re listening for the artists themselves and you want a formulaic construction of each song, or you want a more true collaboration.

Continuing to explore the idea of how much influence each artist had over the features on their album, Whalen concludes by once again tipping his hat to Kanye West’s mastership.

Whalen: Talking about who’s in the producer’s chair, we saw texts between Kanye and Soulja Boy, who didn’t end up on the record, was asked to come to Atlanta, so he could be with them to record. I think that’s a big reason why the songs felt very fluid and the artists’ styles were blended together is that they were together in the same space during the creative process.

Aside from his collaborative work, seeing Kanye stick with a Christian message and choosing to go with a clean album was really impressive and unique for today’s rap culture. He really expands on the ideas of Jesus Is King and fleshes out those concepts to create a more full and complete album.

Ultimately weighing the production, creativity, and features on each album, Donda leaves Certified Lover Boy in the dust. The revolutionary sound and thorough collaborations between other headlining artists brought a new edge to today’s music, all while building off of an immensely personal and emotionally charged foundation from Kanye West’s own life. Despite Drake’s consistency and simple yet beautifully constructed tracks, he was no match for Kanye West.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Young Thug as Lil Baby on “Remote Control.”