Kanye West brought about a sea change in hip-hop music many (many) years ago. West’s first characteristic sound centred around slicing up old samples and remixing them in ways that other artists simply couldn’t touch. West is considered to be one of the most musically talented individuals of the 21st century. If, in the year 2021, you no longer held Kanye in such high regard, no one would fault you for doing so. However, if you want to try your hand at making your own songs in his audio image, the bizarre yet creative $200 Donda Stem Player puts the power to remix his latest album Donda (as well as any other music files or YouTube clips) in your hands. The Donda Stem Player also allows you to remix any other music files or YouTube clips. Additionally, Ye has stated that the Donda Stem Player is the one and only location where fans may listen to his upcoming album, Donda 2.
In Contrast to Everything Else You’ve Ever Seen (or Touched)
The unsettling physical presence of the Donda Stem Player, which was created by “Yeezy Tech x Kano,” is the first thing that catches your attention about it. The thin round disc, which is 2.5 inches in diameter and 1 inch in thickness, can be held in one hand without difficulty; nonetheless, I found that I did not enjoy holding it for an extended period of time. The beige pattern not only has a texture that is similar to that of skin, but it also has the coloration of flesh. The website makes a big thing out of having an anti-static “soft skin,” and while it is pleasant not to have to deal with any harsh edges, it simply feels nasty. It brings to mind the eerie biological machinery that can be seen in some of David Cronenberg’s films, such as eXistenZ and Videodrome.
The way in which you interact with the player is making the problem more worse. The Donda Stem Player, much like older models of the iPod shuffle, does not have a screen (it only has light strips, explained below). When you want to update it or add new songs, you connect it to your computer via the USB-C port, and in order to operate it, you have to constantly flick and stroke numerous touch-sensitive grooves. To change songs or increase the volume, all you have to do is push a button, which makes using the Stem Player a breeze despite the fact that it does not require you to worry about as many various options. When you switch to a new song, you’ll be able to tell because the color of the lights will switch as well.
However, wildly massaging the Stem Player’s flesh won’t help if you get confused about how to do a particular function. Therefore, make sure to keep the (hilarious hand-drawn) instructions accessible in case this happens to you.
808s and Remakes
After getting used to the way it operates, the Donda Stem Player is a mash-up machine, which is one of my personal favorite types of tools for creating new music. Back in the day, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a DJ and remix songs, you had to spend countless hours learning how to operate a convoluted digital audio workstation. But now, everything from the DropMix card game to the Fuser video game and the Lego Vidiyo toy lets complete novices learn the joys of bending music to your whim. This is possible because of recent technological advancements. This pattern is carried on by the Donda Stem Player.
The Stem Player has a display that shows four different colored strips of pulsating lights whenever a music is playing. These lights stand for the four “stems” or individual sections of the track. It’s possible that the vocals are on one stem, and the bassline is on another. When each of the four stems is played individually, the music has an abnormal sound. However, at any time, you have the ability to separate the stems and make a capella recordings or instrumentals that are suitable for karaoke. At long last, you’ll be able to fix “Wolves.”
In addition to isolating stems, the Donda Stem Player gives you the ability to apply a wide variety of entertaining audio effects. For instance, if you want to construct some genuine Ye-style sample beats, you can raise or lower the pitch, make the music play in reverse, slice out sections of a loop, and modify the duration of the loop as needed. The Stem Player ensures that everything is played at the correct pace, which means that no matter what rhythm you come up with, it will always sound at least listenable. However, there is room for experimenting. After turning the theme song of The Sopranos into a lively disco tune by accident, I made sure to save that banger to my track library as soon as I could.
When you use the Stem Player to its full potential, its control scheme and light-based interface are both pushed to their absolute limits. To minimize the number of lights that reflect the length of a loop at its current point in time, for instance, you will need to drag your finger downward in a vertical direction. A horizontal swipe will cause a change in both the speed and the direction. You have to hit a button in order to get out of the remix mode before you can return to the regular track playing mode. You can even merge stems from other songs, which is a skill that I have not yet fully mastered but which is available to you. It only takes some practice, but there are a lot of options available to you here.
The Donda Stem Player is preloaded with West’s most recent album, Donda, which also includes several tunes that have not yet been made public. West also claims that the next follow-up album, titled Donda 2, will be available only on the Stem Player.
I’m not going to create another review within this review dissecting apart the meandering mess that is Kanye’s modern approach to music, but at least this included album provides you with a solid jumping off point for making use of the Stem Player. To begin, “Never Abandon Your Family” isn’t simply a spiteful Kim Kardashian breakup song; rather, it’s a great collection of clear and immediately recognized stems that lend themselves well to remixing. Moreover, the song’s title is a play on the phrase “never abandon your family.”
If you get sick of these songs, though, you have the option of uploading your own music instead. The Stem Player is compatible with a wide number of formats, including lossless ones, however the quality of the audio output varies depending on the source files. You are able to upload files in the following formats: AAC, AIF, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, M4A, MP3, MP4, WAV, and WAVE. You can even transfer the audio from a YouTube video right into the Stem Player by copying the link and pasting it into the app. The quality of the output will astound you. Even though I’m not an audio engineer, I was really blown away by the Stem Player’s ability to intelligently separate the stems in, for example, the theme song for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
There is no need to download any further software at this time. Simply connect the Stem Player to your computer and go to the StemPlayer.com website to configure and operate the device. To begin importing songs from files or links, all you need to do is click “upload” on the player’s basic menu when your browser has successfully connected to the player.
The Stem Player will not, however, be able to replace your dedicated music player any time soon because it has a storage capacity of only 8 GB and there is no straightforward method to check how much space is still available at any one time. Additionally, while it is simple to get songs onto the player, there is no straightforward way to remove your remixes so that you can make additional edits to them. It would require me to play the track through another device and record it in order for me to be able to share the music that I created with it. It’s possible that YouTube has taken this measure to avoid any legal entanglements that could result from ripping tunes off their site.
You don’t have to rely on the player’s built-in 97dB speaker, which is adequate but little and rather muffled because it has a headphone connection and Bluetooth connectivity. At least that’s something.
It is not out of the question that one day, an innovative musician will take the stage and play the Donda Stem Player as the only instrument in their set, and it will be the most mind-blowing performance anyone could possibly imagine. I am looking forward to witnessing that in the event that it does take place. However, the vast majority of us are not of that particular variety of freak. To us, the Donda Stem Player is more of a toy than a viable route to superstardom, despite the fact that it is an inventive and surprisingly versatile instrument for the making of music (and possibly the only method to stream Kanye West’s new songs in the future).