Why is Beirut mentioned on Kanye West's new album ‘Donda’?

The lyrics also allude to his faith, Islam, his estranged wife Kim Kardashian and rival rapper Drake

November 12, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) Kanye West (CQ), performs live at Yas Island, Friday, November 12, 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
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Like most Kanye West albums, Donda is just as intriguing to pick apart lyrically as sonically.

With the album spanning 107 minutes, fans have a lot of material to unpack. It's 27 songs are loaded with everything from fun and oblique references to heart-rending meditations on faith, sorrow and loss.

Sometimes these are expressed directly, while other tracks force the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Here are some of the interesting talking points from Donda.

1. Why is Beirut mentioned?

The mention of the Lebanese capital in Heaven and Hell seemed initially random with West urgently rapping: "Straight from Beirut, Chicago, Beirut / You cray? We cray, too."

However, dig a litter deeper and some meaning can be found.

In line with the album's Christian themes, Lebanon holds a special place within the faith.

According to the Gospel of John, Lebanon is the place where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.

The lyrics also hint at both cities' unforgiving political climates. From 1983 to 1986, Chicago City Council was in the grip of vicious disputes among local politicians.

Such was the council policy paralysis that the city was referred to as "Beirut on the Lake" by the national press, a reference to the political stalemate that had characterised Lebanese politics for decades.

2. Kim Kardashian remains an inspiration

It may be named after his mother, but Donda finds West also reflecting on his estranged wife Kim Kardashian.

This is not the first time, of course.

Where previous album Ye had him admit his outlandish behaviour put a strain on their marriage, Donda has West coming to terms with their separation.

In Hurricane, he states the speculation throughout their relationship took a toll.

"Heated by the rumours, read into it too much / Fiendin' for some true love, ask Kim, 'What do you love?” he raps.

“Hard to find what the truth is, but the truth was that the truth sucks / Always seem to do stuff, but this time it was too much."

In Off the Gird West also recalls the instant connection shared with Kardashian: "I pray that my family they never resent me / And she fell in love with me as soon she met me."

In Lord I Need You, perhaps his closest declaration that the marriage is over, West reflects on ways to move on.

"Startin' to feel like you ain't been happy for me lately, darling / Remember when you used to come around and serenade me,” he raps.

“But I guess it's gone different in a different direction lately / Tryna do the right thing with the freedom that you gave me."

3. He still doesn’t like Drake

The bad blood between West and the Canadian rapper and his chart rival continues to simmer.

Stemming from a 2018 disagreement about a track Drake wanted from West, the feud has grown, with artists associated with both camps firing off missives though social media and song.

West, once again, doesn't directly mention Drake's name on Donda, but his nemesis hovers over parts of the record.

In Junya, West rubbishes the notion that Drake could go toe to toe with him commercially if he released his coming album, Certified Lover Boy (out on Friday), on the same day as Donda.

“Move out of the way of my release,” West snarls. “Why can’t losers never lose in peace?"

West picks up that competitive thread again in Ok Ok, stating, "You wanna come in and play with the Goat? Bow."

No stranger to the lyrical clap back, it will be interesting to see how, or if, Drake replies on his record later this week.

4. Living the spiritual life

The reason Donda's predecessor, Jesus is King, never resonated on a large scale was because the intentions behind the project were questionable: was West genuine on his spiritual path or was the album a calculated career move?

Donda stays true to his promise that he is done with secular music for the most part.

The album truly soars to rapturous heights when West is at his most vulnerable and humble.

“Lord, I need You to wrap Your arms around me,” he croons in Lord I Need You. "I give up on doing things my way and tell me everything is gonna be alright.”

The buoyant God Breathed has West using braggadocios rhymes to remind himself that he is essentially weak in the grand scheme of things: "I know He got His hands on this / I know we got a chance on this / No, I never planned on this."

While album highlight Jesus Lord has arguably the most vulnerable verse West has recorded.

Over elegiac and ambient production, he lays bare his struggles with anxiety and the trauma of his mother's death 14 years on.

“And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life? And if I die tonight, will I see her in the afterlife?” he raps.

“But back to reality, where everything's a tragedy. You better have a strategy or you could be a statistic.”

5. The Islamic references

While the album’s mediations on faith are mostly explored through a Christian lens, Islamic references can be found on two occasions.

In Donda’s second track, Jail, guest artist Jay-Z says such is the amount of his "felonies" that he "pray five times a day" for salvation.

Jay Electronica's verse in Jesus Lord mentions Ertugrul, the Muslim warrior from the Turkish historical drama Dirilis: Ertugrul,

“In the name of the true and living God, the beneficent, the merciful,” Electronica’s verse begins.

“Thank you for bringing me up the rough side of the mountain like Ertugrul.”

Updated: August 30, 2021, 4:10 PM