Donda vs. Certified Lover Boy

Comparing the two biggest album drops of the year


Illustration by Geo Park. Photo enhancement by Alyssa Chang.

Mikey Pierog, Alyssa Chang, and Justin Park

Kanye West and Drake are two of the biggest artists in hip-hop history. The rappers have been tangled up in a public feud for years… and they both dropped new albums in September. Comparisons between the two had the Internet fired up, with fans from both sides arguing the superiority of one album over the other. When Kanye, who now legally goes by “Ye”, dropped his tenth studio album, “Donda,” Drake wasted no time in dropping his sixth studio album, “Certified Lover Boy,” just 5 days after. Unsurprisingly, both debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Though the rappers’ conflict has been relevant for over a decade, the highly publicized back-and-forth gained tonnes of media coverage every time it came up. However, the winner of the feud comes down to the music. As a preface, I find it necessary to touch on the album artwork–an extension of the music. To be blunt, both album covers are laughable. It feels like both Kanye and Drake were trying to come up with the worst conceivable covers to show that no matter what they did, they’d still top the charts. Kanye’s monochrome and Drake’s emojis both fail to reflect the actual content of the album , so they both fall flat.

The two albums are lengthy, with Donda containing 27 songs and lasting 108 minutes, and CLB containing 21 songs and being 86 minutes long. “Donda” opens with “Donda Chant,” as a tribute to Kanye’s late mother. It’s more of a repetitive recitation than a song, but the homage to Donda West makes sense while still fitting the theme of the album. While not having one specific message beyond Kanye’s usual religious inspiration, the album does draw similarities to his previous works. One aspect worth noting is that Kanye omitted all explicit language from the album, including on guest features – quite rare in rap. 

The contrasting styles within “Donda” showcase the diversity of the featured artists and Ye’s versatility. “Off The Grid,” a gritty track featuring Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign is the closest to modern rap on the album; “Hurricane” features The Weeknd and Lil Baby, with great vocals and a notable beat switch in the middle. “Moon” showcases angelic guitars and vocals by Don Toliver and Kid Cudi. 

To sum up a couple of the highlights of the album, “Heaven or Hell” is an anthemic track that spends almost a minute building up before it hits with massive impact, while “Jail” is all distorted guitars and vocals drowned in reverb, with a Jay-Z feature towards the end that doesn’t disappoint. Just these two songs create interesting contrasts that can be seen throughout the rest of the album as well. 

For the most part, the album was pretty good, but I only listen to about 1/3 of it regularly, which is still a lot especially considering how massive the project is.

Getting into Drake, I was pretty uninterested to start listening to it again. I only dialed in to about half of the songs on Certified Lover Boy at first, but for research purposes I begrudgingly sat down again and took in the entire record for this article. The whole album features a lot of samples, specifically from 90s R&B and soul – fitting for the Canadian rapper.

“Champagne Poetry” is Drake’s intro, and it opens with a beautiful sample from Masego’s “Navajo,” but the fun unfortunately ends when Drake enters the track for the next few minutes. There are luckily some gaps where he stops talking, but he is on the majority of the track. “Papi’s Home” is standard quality for Drake and features a generic trap beat and sample from Montell Jordan, but there’s nothing too special about it. While it could have set the tone for the rest of the album, the energy dropped immediately after  the first sample. I was initially excited for “Girls Want Girls” featuring Lil Baby, but the beat is even more generic than Papi’s Home. Lil Baby can’t carry the energy back up in his verse, and the repetition of “girls want girls where I’m from” gets old fast.

“Fair Trade” takes snippets of Charlotte Day Wilson’s vocals while featuring Travis Scott, and I was shocked that it’s actually not bad. Drake flows smoothly on the track, and there’s a minor beat switch in the middle with Travis Scott. His psychedelic style and exaggerated autotune over a darker beat really elevate the track, and they complement each other nicely.

It then leads into “Way 2 Sexy,” a cut with extremely mixed reviews. It features Future and Young Thug, and people seem to either love it or hate it. I think it grows on you, and if you don’t take it seriously it’s a pretty good track.

“Yebba’s Heartbreak” is beautiful, but what makes it so pleasing is certainly not Drake – the star of the show is Yebba, who’s featured on the song and can be heard in the soft pianos in the background. “You Only Live Twice” featuring Lil Wayne and Rick Ross is energetic and the beat is nostalgic of the early 2010s, and it’s overall a solid track.

There were features from big names like 21 Savage, Ty Dolla $ign, and even Kid Cudi, but most of them were nothing too special. Overall, Drake didn’t really innovate or do anything new on CLB and it’s just a standard album for a giant artist like himself.

Only 3 of the 21 songs on “Certified Lover Boy” are still in my regular rotation, but it’s safe to say this might change over time.

Considering that these were the 2 biggest album drops of the year, I had big expectations. It’s not all bad, because at least some of them were met. In general, I definitely like “Donda” more than “Certified Lover Boy,” but it’s a matter of preference. If you enjoy music as an experience you might enjoy “Donda.” If you don’t want to analyze anything and just want some feel-good music, Drake might be more up your alley.