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Such a massive dickhead it makes him amazing
Some people don’t know why Kanye West gets the praise he does. People see a very arrogant personality that always seems to be acting up and seeking attention. He’s an iconoclast that divides people into haters and lovers, non-believers and overzealous fans. But the odd thing about the situation is this: people who don’t like Kanye bring him up more often than those who love him. There’s a sense of “what am I missing” hidden underneath all of that “I can’t stand this guy”. The fact of the matter is, not many artists are capable of spawning a fan base as devout as the one Kanye has formed over the past decade.
Artists come and go. The radio churns out catchy dance songs that all sound the same year after year, and then people wonder why those artists don’t have any staying power. The songs all sound the same. There’s nothing unique about them. Even someone like Lady Gaga who prides herself on being different falls into that category. Her songs are all pop ballads with modern dance production. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before. The music stars of today are much more about their image than their music. People like the pop stars they hear because of how they look and act and speak and live. There’s a context behind those shitty repetitive songs and that’s why people like them (during their brief runs on the radio). There’s nothing unique about the music. That brings me to Kanye.
Kanye is the most unique artist currently making music. He’s a true artist that tries to break new ground with every one of his albums. At the beginning of his performance on VH1 Storytellers in 2008 he said, “So many people get caught up in trying to remake their first album. And it’s impossible for me to make another College Dropout, but I can make the best Graduation and the best 808s that I can make, and that’s how I think you keep on advancing as an artist. So few hip-hop artists have ever advanced. Their songs on their 7th, 8th album sound exactly like the songs on their first album. More than an artist, I’m a real person, and real people grow, and I wanted to sing my growth.” That performance came shortly after the release of 808s and Heartbreak, which was received with mixed reviews by fans because of its radical veer away from Kanye’s normal sound. Many fans, including myself, wrote off Kanye because we wanted more of the same. But Kanye’s not about the same. He’s about progression. His music evolves over time just like his person does, and it’s led to some of the most interesting music ever made.
At its core, music is a form of expression. It’s just like any other form of art. The best musicians are the ones who are the best at expressing themselves. That’s why people are most drawn to music they personally connect with. Kanye is one of the best ever at expressing his emotions. He can move you in any direction he wants. There’s a reason his fans are some of the most devout you’ll find. Kanye uses his music and voice to let you into his world and see what’s going on in his head. It’s a skill that’s hard to gauge and impossible to quantify, but once you listen you’ll see that Kanye expresses himself as well as anyone. But not everyone sees that, and he has his fair share of detractors.
One of Kanye (and hip hop in general)’s biggest criticisms is his lyricism. That includes content and writing ability. Frankly, the only people who question Kanye’s lyricism are those who haven’t heard most of his discography. It doesn’t make sense to question his content or his ability. His content consists primarily of race and self-realization. “All Falls Down” off of his debut album is, essentially, the blueprint to Kanye’s entire career, lyrically. His thesis statement, if you will. Everything Kanye’s made or said lyrically can be traced back to “All Falls Down”. Before Kanye debuted as a rapper in 2004, hip-hop was a spectacle of manhood, where showing any sort of weakness was unacceptable. So when Kanye said, “We all self-conscious I’m just the first to admit it,” he opened the floodgates for hip-hop to become what it is today. Nobody had done that before. Nobody had taken that route. Kanye created his own lane. There would be no Drake crying about his ex girlfriend from kindergarten. There would be no Kid Cudi snorting coke and crooning about his insecurities. There would be no Childish Gambino whining about not being accepted for who he is. J Cole wouldn’t be doing the greatest rendition of mediocre rapping ever conceived if he never listened to The College Dropout 10,000 times. Chance The Rapper wouldn’t be making all those weird noises. The point is, Kanye opened up an entire world through his lyrical content and most of the famous rappers we hear today are successful because Kanye created a lane for them.
Kanye’s lyrics span a wide scope of topics. They’ve evolved over time, but he’s always stayed true to a few core principles. Everything Kanye has said has been a derivative of something he said on “All Falls Down”. A lot of people complain that Kanye has left his roots as time has gone on, but he’s stuck to his guns in one form or another throughout his career. Sometimes it’s just hard for people to see.
It seems we living the American dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
This is a very broad basic view that Kanye has. He thinks people see money and riches as a goal to strive for but really once people get there they turn into awful people. He talks about his own struggles with it as well as others’. This is from “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” off Graduation (2007):
I had a dream I can buy my way to heaven
When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace.
I told God I’d be back in a second,
Man It’s so hard not to act reckless.
To whom much is given much is tested.
Get arrested, guess until, they get the message.
I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny,
and what I do? act more stupidly.
From the same album, on “Everthing I Am”:
I never could see why people’ll reach a
Fake-ass facade they couldn’t keep up
You see how I creeped up?
You see how I played a big role in Chicago like Queen Latifah?
I never rock a mink coat in the winter time like Killa Cam
Or rock some mink boots in the summertime like Will.I.am
Let me know if you feel it man
'cause everything I'm not, made me everything I am
"Heard Em Say" (2005)
They say people in your life are seasons,
And anything that happen is for a reason,
And niggas guns a clappin and keep to squeezin’,
And Gran keep prayin’ and keep believin’,
And Jesus and one day that ya see him,
Till they walk in his footsteps and try to be him,
The devil is alive I feel him breathin’,
Claimin’ money is the key so keep on dreamin’,
And put them lottery tickets just to tease us,
Those are the same sentiments, except Kanye was 3 years into his solo career and already a worldwide figure. He works hard to stay true to himself. He fights against the cultural norms that crash on famous people like waves on a rock face until they’re shaped into what we want them to be. He recognizes that people are controlled by consumerism and that control creates a reality for many that holds us back and doesn’t allow us to enjoy life as much as we can. He says brand names are so engrained in our psyche and our daily lives that we can’t help but chase them. In recent interviews he’s spoken about high-end manufacturers sustaining their image of luxury and wealth so that people only see the rich and powerful wearing or driving or using their products, and it keeps the highest level of product out of reach for the average person. The people in power are able to lock newcomers out with their built up capital and influence. Kanye actively fights against those forces so he can keep being himself and try to make the world a more enjoyable place for everybody. It’s inspiring. And it’s only possible because of his belief in himself.
Kanye is a proponent of having high self-esteem and not letting other people knock you down, because he thinks outsider-imposed low self-esteem is holding a lot of people back. He had to fight through hoards of people telling him he wouldn’t make it before he was able to have a successful career, and the thing that kept him going and eventually brought him to the top was his massive confidence in his own abilities. On “Power” he says it best:
At the end of the day, goddamn it I’m killin’ this shit
I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit
He’s well aware of his own abilities and doesn’t listen to people who tell him otherwise. On a recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance he said this:
“”For me, I’m a creative genius, and there’s no other way to word it. I know you’re not supposed to say that about yourself, and I say things the wrong way a lot of times. But my intention is always positive.”
He’s not pompous about it. He just acknowledges a characteristic of himself. The media hates him yet he’s a critical darling. He’s a pop culture outcast yet he sells millions of albums. His music is too good for people to ignore and he knows it. I recently spoke to someone who said as much as they want to hate Kanye for his antics and his attitude, they can’t bring themselves to do it because his output is just too good. That’s exactly what that line from Power is saying.
Because of that confidence, he has afforded himself the ability to take chances with no fear of the risks involved.
From “All Falls Down”:
I say fuck the police, that’s how I treat em
We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom
We’ll buy a lot of clothes when we don’t really need em
Things we buy to cover up what’s inside
Cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth
That’s why shortys hollering “where the ballas at?”
Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack
And a white man get paid off of all of that
Things we buy to cover up what’s inside. Literally everybody can relate to that. At that point in time, Kanye was saying what everyone in the hip-hop world thought and felt but were afraid to admit. Rappers weren’t allowed to say that kind of thing without getting bashed for being soft and having their careers get thrown in the bushes. You weren’t allowed to be honest about anything if it was considered soft. The key line there is “Cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth”. Hating one’s self is the ultimate way to hold one’s self back. Kanye goes the complete opposite direction and the entire world has opened up for him because of it. In Kanye’s interview with Zane Lowe from this year he spoke at length about the issues of classism and self-hate.
“Because we’re so jacked up by our own egos and so misguided by mainstream marketing we don’t know what the fuck is real. We’ll be out to get into a fight this quickly for the dumbest reason. Definitely something that’s like racially this or gender set, it’s like we’re pitted against each other, we mentally not put in a place to be accepting, to not be jealous; and part of that jealousy and that frustration that goes across an entire globe is due to some of these other high corporation level limitations. Everybody’s being served a nasty lunch food.”
“I understand we wanna make it about music, but I wanna take this step to say, we got this new thing called classism. It’s racism’s cousin. This is what we do to hold people back. This is what we do. And we got this other thing that’s also been working for a long time where you don’t have to be racist anymore; it’s called self-hate. It works on itself it’s like real estate or racism. Where just like that, when someone comes up and says something like, ‘I am a god,’ everybody says, ‘Who does he think he is?’. I just told you who I thought I was. A god. I just told you. That’s who I think I am. Would it have been better if I had a song that said I’m a gangsta? Or if I had a song that said I am a pimp? All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right? But to say you are a god, especially when you got shipped over to the country that you’re in, and your last name is a slave owner’s. How could you say that? How could you have that mentality?”
He pointed out the self-comparisons people make consciously and unconsciously that make people jealous and have poor self-perceptions. Media and advertising pit people against each other and it holds us back. Kanye’s trying to break through that. He has been since he started.
When he says classism is the new racism, he is acknowledging that people are no longer being held down by their skin color but by their economic status. Political races are now battles between big money and the people. Conservative and liberal ideologies have been thrown out the window and have been replaced by moral disagreement. Conservatives want things to stay the way they are so they can sustain their content feeling within the status quo, while liberals want change for the people in the country who aren’t living enjoyable lives. I bring this up because the people who run most of the largest companies in the world and therefore control the advertising we see and by extension the products we consume are, for the most part, conservatives. Conservatives in the sense that they want things to stay the way they are because it’s better for them. That is a perfectly logical desire and most people in their position would strive for the same. However, most of these rich and powerful people stay rich and powerful because they actively suppress the general populous. The suppression we are subjugated to now isn’t as obvious as what we normally associate the word suppression with. When we think of suppression of a populace we think of the Civil Rights movement and Hitler and examples of tyranny throughout history. There is nothing that egregious happening right now, but suppression still exists. Kanye has been talking about it at several interviews lately. This is what “New Slaves” is about.
My momma was raised in the era when,
Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
Doing clothes you would’ve thought I had help
But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.
This is what he’s been talking about in all of the interviews and speeches. He starts with an example of the suppression his mother went through in the 50s and 60s to show the gravity of the current zeitgeist is indeed comparable, even though it’s not as apparent. Then he says how he is being oppressed. He went to large, high end clothing manufactures and presented his ideas because he has higher aspirations than just putting out clothing lines and they don’t want any new competition. His race also most likely factored into the decision. In order to do what he wants to do, Kanye needs the manufacturing power of a large company. He has a lot of his own money, but he doesn’t have the capital necessary to mass produce his work on the level he’s striving for. And he’s not about to sell himself short and only work towards his goals to an extent. This is Kanye. Kanye has proven, time and time again, for a decade now, that at the end of the day, his decisions, his gut feelings, his taste, and his visions are beautiful and spectacular.
You see it’s broke nigga racism
That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”
And there’s rich nigga racism
That’s that “Come in, please buy more”
What you want a Bentley, fur coat, a diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be niggas now everybody playin
Spending everything on Alexander Wang
It’s easy for companies to make their products desired commodities by encouraging rich and famous people to wear and use their stuff in order to maintain the image that you can only use or own their products if you too are rich and successful. People are driven to work towards goals and oftentimes those goals are expensive things that we think signify that we’ve accomplished something. By taking ownership of a Bentley, fur coat, or diamond chain, we feel validated. The validating product could be anything. We shouldn’t need to buy something to feel validated. This doesn’t only apply to luxury items either. Why do you think there are people getting killed on Black Friday, or getting trampled by crowds at new Air Jordan shoe releases? People feel like they need to have things. They will put themselves in physical danger in order to acquire products. It’s completely insane. The people leading these giant companies are taking advantage of our desire for validation. That’s what Kanye’s fighting against. His fighting words come in the next verse:
I throw these Maybach keys
I wear my heart on the sleeve
I know that we the new slaves
I see the blood on the leaves
I see the blood on the leaves
I see the blood on the leaves
I know that we the new slaves
I see the blood on the leaves
He’s seen the evidence. He’s seen people in power plotting to control people.
They throwing hate at me
Want me to stay at ease
Fuck you and your corporation
Y’all niggas can’t control me
I know that we the new slaves
I know that we the new slaves
I’m about to wild the fuck out
I’m going Bobby Boucher
People want Kanye to stay quiet about what he knows and not mess with the system that’s in place, but he decided to be loud and make a ruckus and bring attention to this issue.
I know that pussy ain’t free
You niggas pussy, ain’t me
Y’all throwing contracts at me
You know that niggas can’t read
Throw on some Maybach keys
Fuck it, c’est la vie
I know that we the new slaves
Y’all niggas can’t fuck with me
Y’all niggas can’t fuck with Ye
Y’all niggas can’t fuck with Ye
I’ll move my family out the country
So you can’t see where I stay
So go and grab the reporters
So I can smash their recorders
See they’ll confuse us with some bullshit like the New World Order
Meanwhile the DEA
Teamed up with the CCA
They tryna lock niggas up
They tryna make new slaves
See that’s that private owned prison
Get your piece today
They Probably all in the Hamptons
Braggin’ ‘bout their maid
Fuck you and your Hampton house
I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
Came on her Hampton blouse
And in her Hampton mouth
Y’all ‘bout to turn shit up
I’m ‘bout to tear shit down
I’m ‘bout to air shit out
Now what the fuck they gon’ say now?
This verse is basically a declaration of war. Kanye is trying to be as big and loud of a pain in the ass as possible. This verse implies that wealthy leaders have been able to shut adversaries up in the past, but Kanye is going nowhere and is on the quest to make actual change. He’s airing out dirty laundry and daring somebody to come after him, because he’s here to stay. I’m starting to understand why Kanye claimed the 2nd verse to be the greatest rap verse of all time. At first everyone laughed at the claim, but if Kanye becomes what I think he’ll become, then this verse will be looked back upon as the beginning of something serious.
When I say Kanye is the greatest, this type of protest is a major reason why. Or maybe it’s a philosophy. I really don’t know. This isn’t just a rapper rapping. There are other rappers who rap about problems with the “system”, but none of them are or ever will be as prominent as Kanye. When a random underground rapper raps about issues like this, people either don’t believe them or don’t take them seriously. And the people who are hearing and understanding them aren’t in a position of power to make a change. Their adversaries can write them off as crack pots trying to get attention for their fledgling careers. That method works on Immortal Technique, but you can’t just ignore Kanye West. He reaches a worldwide audience and can cause actual damage with his words. Just ask George Bush.
On the other hand, there are people who are as big as Kanye but would never, ever endanger their careers by spouting off in this fashion and throwing the people funding their careers under the bus. Normally when a famous person starts saying controversial things about powerful people, they quickly find themselves out of work and significantly less popular. But Kanye knows that the product he puts out is so good that his star will shine for however long he wants it to. His voice and influence is spread across the globe and he’s using his platform to invoke change for something he believes in. That’s powerful.
The one thing Kanye didn’t mention on All Falls Down that pervades throughout his discography is his confidence. This ties into the self-esteem thing mentioned previously. Some see it as ego or vanity, but that’s never been his intent. He mentioned his arrogance elsewhere on the album, on “Last Call”:
Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem
Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams
I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed
But without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh
His self-esteem was the fuel that got him to where he is. Kanye worked as a producer for almost a decade before anyone would even give him a chance as a rapper. Before he even got on as a producer he had to persevere through doubt for years. He made beats for anyone who would pay for them, mostly local acts, to keep the lights on. He made 5 beats a day for 3 summers when he was completely unknown. He knew that if he could break through with someone, his beats were so good that he would soon be in high demand. And he was proven right when he got some people in Jay Z’s camp to hear his work, and it eventually lead to an extensive partnership with Jay that culminated with his work on The Blueprint and made Kanye world famous as a producer. It all happened just like he thought it would, and it was only because he never doubted himself and his ability. Kanye’s been using confidence as his gas for his entire career. This is from “Bring Me Down” (2005):
You see, if you ever wanted to ever be anything
There’d always be somebody that shoot down any dream
There’ll always be haters, that’s the way it is
Hater niggas marry hater bitches and have hater kids
But they’re gonna have to take my life ‘fore they take my drive
'cause when I was barely living, that's what kept me alive
Just the thought that maybe it could be better than what we at at this time
Make it out of this grind, ‘fore I’m out of my mind
During the Watch The Throne tour, at the Staples Center, Kanye stopped to talk for a little bit. One of the things he said was, “People always tell you, ‘Be humble. Be humble.’ When was the last time someone told you to be amazing? Be great! Be great! Be awesome! Be awesome!”
From “Power” (2010):
I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
He knows, he so, fuckin’ gifted
I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My child-like creativity, purity and honesty is honestly, being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child I’m fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrust in me
As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece
From “Gone” (2005):
Ahead of my time, sometimes years out
But the powers that be won’t let me get my ideas out
There are many lines scattered throughout his discography that echo this and I’m not going to list all of them. But you get the point. Nothing can hold him back because he has so much confidence in his ideas and taste. He makes the music he wants. He goes with his gut, and doesn’t let outside opinions sway him if he truly believes something is right. For example, when he first recorded the first verse of “I Am A God”, and said, “Hurry up with my damn croissants,” the people he was working with didn’t like the line and weren’t sure it would come off well. But Kanye was like nah, I’m keeping that in there, and lo and behold it’s arguably the most memorable line on the album. He doesn’t question himself when he thinks something’s right.
Another extremely prevalent topic in Kanye’s lyrics is race. He is always talking about race. Hip-hop and black culture go hand in hand. They are one with one another. Like the Avatar and Raava. After Hurricane Katrina when FEMA was so slow to deliver aid to the storm victims in New Orleans, Kanye went on national TV and said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” The 2 lead singles on Yeezus are called “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”. The opening chorus of the first song on his first album is, “Drug dealing just to get high/Stack your money til it gets sky high/We wasn’t sposed to make it past 25/Jokes on you we still alive/Throw you hands up in the sky and sing/We don’t care what people say”. Hip-hop is and always will be engrained in black culture, and Kanye is the biggest force in hip-hop today. This isn’t a surprise. Kanye sees himself as a person with enough influence to bring change to a culture he knows needs it. He uses his platform as a way to try to better the world for people, specifically blacks. Here are examples of his intent:
"All Falls Down"
We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we’ll stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coop/coupe
The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open
We ain’t got nothin’ to lose, ma’f-cka, we rollin’
Huh? Ma’f-cka, we rollin’
With some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands
In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen
So goodnight, cruel world, I see you in the mornin’
Huh? I see you in the mornin’
This is way too much, I need a moment
Is hip hop, just a euphemism for a new religion
the soul music for the slaves that the youth is missing
this is more than just my road to redemption
Malcolm West had the whole nation standing at attention
as long as I’m in Polo’s they think they got me
but they would try to crack me if they ever see a black me
I thought I chose a field where they couldn’t sack me
if a nigga aint shootin a jump shot running a track meet
but this pimp is, at the top of mount Olympus
ready for the World’s game, this is my Olympics
we make ‘em say ho’ cause the game is so pimpish
choke a southpark writer with a fishstick
I insisted to get up offa this dick
and these drugs, niggas cant resist it
remind me of when they tried to have Ali enlisted
if I ever one of the greatest nigga, I must have missed it!
The whole song.
"Everything I Am"
I know that people wouldn’t usually rap this
but I got the facts to back this
just last year, Chicago had over 600 caskets
man, killing’s some wack shit
oh, I forgot, ‘cept for when niggas is rappin’
do you know what it feel like when people is passin’?
he got changed over his chains, a block off Ashland
I need to talk to somebody, pastor
"Heard Em Say"
And I know the government administered AIDS,
So I guess we just pray like the minister say,
Allah o Akbar and throw em some hot cars,
Things we see on the screen are not ours,
But these niggas from the hood so these dreams not far,
Where im from, the dope boys is the rock stars,
But they can’t cop cars without seein’ cop cars,
I guess they want us all behind bars.
I know it.
"Never Let Me Down"
I get down for my grandfather who took my momma
Made her sit that seat where white folks ain’t wanna us to eat
At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit in
With that in my blood I was born to be different
Now niggas can’t make it to ballots to choose leadership
But we can make it to Jacob and to the dealership
That’s why I hear new music
And I just don’t be feeling it
Racism still alive they just be concealing it
But I know they don’t want me in the damn club
They even made me show I.D to get inside of Sam’s club
I did dirt and went to church to get my hands scrubbed
Swear I’ve been baptised at least 3 or 4 times
But in the land where nigga’s praise
Yukons and getting paid
It gon’ take a lot more than coupons to get us saved
Like it take a lot more than do-rags to get your waves
Nothing sadder than that day my girl father past away
So I promised to Mr. Rany I’m gonna marry your daughter
And u know I gotta thank u for they way that she was brought up
And I know that u were smiling when u see that car I bought her
And u sent tears from heaven when u seen my car get balled up
But I can’t complaint what the accident did to my left eye
Cus look what a accident did to Left Eye
First Aaliyah and now Romeo must die
I know a got angels watching me from the other side
What color was the skin of the man that bared the cross
No matter how many lashes they couldn’t beat it off
How many Cassius will we see in one lifetime?
That’s why it’s Miles Davis, Kobe, it’s Mike time
I keep that gold book on the ottoman
And wrote hooks about slaves that was slaughtered in the 1800’s
Yall forget that I got called nigger on Twitter so many times yo I lived that
Now I’m just trying to find where to raise my kids at
Cuz they don’t want niggas where they crib at
Hey realtor I’m lookin’ for a nice park
Twelve noon she said my family gon make it too dark
This is the flow that solar eclipses
So hopefully one day that real soul will eclipse the bullshit, they got us listenin’ to
In this existence
Don’t give up now just a little more persistence,
I am the day Ice Cube met Michael Jackson
Keep ‘em away huh, something might happen,
This is the making of a masterpiece, so we broke out the chains and told our master peace.
Kanye takes a lot of pride in his race and strives hard for change and it’s evident in everything he does.
Now, that section was all about lyrics. Kanye is, first and foremost, and forever will be, a PRODUCER. I haven’t even spoken about the most important aspect of Kanye’s music and being.
Kanye makes beats. He makes them for himself. He makes them for other people. He’s made them for hip-hop, pop, R&B. He got into the music industry in the late 90s through production. He made 5 beats a day for 3 summers straight while he was working a low-end job. His signature style was using sped up soul samples and making them sound like chipmunks and putting them over hip-hop drums. When those soul sample beats became the defining sound of one of the biggest and best hip-hop albums of all time, The Blueprint by Jay Z, they became a phenomenon. Soul samples were the defining sound of hip-hop at the beginning of the new millennium.
But Kanye’s never been one to stand pat. Soul sampling beats may have been his start and his calling card, but after he featured them prominently on his debut album, he moved on. For Late Registration, he teamed up with fellow producer Jon Brion. Brion didn’t have much of a hip-hop background but Kanye decided to integrate Brion’s style into his own music. So Brion, an accomplished film score producer and an expert in orchestration and all different types of instruments, helped co-produce the whole album. It sounds nothing like College Dropout. It features luscious strings, heavier and more electronic bass and drum sounds, obscure instruments, and different uses of sampling. It contains several musical breakdowns where he just lets the beat ride and expand after the raps are over. There was an obvious evolution of sound between College Dropout and Late Registration. He somehow retained his signature style while adding several new elements. He expanded his musical scope.
On Graduation he went for a more poppy sound. Kanye listened to a lot of electronic music leading up to this album and you can hear its influence throughout. The album has a lighthearted vibe and features odd samples like the “PYT” sample on “Good Life” and the “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” sample on “Stronger”. It contains heavy synthesizer usage and retained some of the orchestration found on Late Registration. It’s upbeat and fun sounding. Also influenced by U2 at the time, he wanted to make music that could rock out a stadium. So for those keeping track at home, Kanye went from classic boom bap drums with pitched up soul samples, to chamber music orchestration with over the top instrumental outros, to stadium pounding electronic hype music. He’d pretty much taken his hip-hop sound to its limit. It was obvious where he would go next.
He dropped the sound entirely. He made an extremely depressing pop album that contains no rapping. He sang using autotune on every single song. I really hated him for this. When 808s and Heartbreak came out, I was a huge fan of Kanye because of College Dropout and Late Registration, but it felt like he was slipping with Graduation, which I didn’t like that much and is still my least favorite Kanye album. But 808s was basically a massive fuck you to Kanye’s entire fan base. We wanted the old formula. We wanted Kanye to keep making the music we were used to. I thought Kanye was lost to the abyss after I heard 808s. I thought he lost his mind and was trapped in the forgotten shadows of awful music. It took 5 years for me to give 808s another chance, and when I did I was able to find out what I was missing out on when I was younger. 808s is a masterpiece. It’s not a hip-hop album by any means. It’s like a pop/R&B fusion. It was basically its own genre. Autotune existed long before 808s but it was never used the way Kanye used it. There’s not a second of non-filtered singing on the album. But Kanye felt that he needed to sing to best express himself. And since he can’t sing that well, he used autotune. Many people see autotune as an albatross to music. They think that it’s polluting our ears in lieu of “real” music. I was once in this camp. But it’s a very ignorant view. It’s the same argument that jazz musicians made when electronic instruments were introduced in the 60s. It’s assumed that music is some sort of pure thing that shouldn’t be tainted by things such as electricity or computers. It’s an awful opinion because music is fluid and going through a constant evolution and things that help move the evolution along should never be rejected.
Anyway, Kanye using autotune is no different than an electronic musician using a drum machine or a synthesizer. It’s just another way to produce sounds. And on 808s, Kanye used it to convey his depression. The beats are dark throughout. The recording of 808s followed both the death of his mother and an extremely damaging break up. It’s safe to say Kanye was a little sad. And out of the sadness came a total shift in his sound. 808s sounds like it was recorded exclusively in the dead of the night, with every light in a 10-mile radius turned off. And for some reason, it sounds as if Kanye’s voice was made to be autotuned. I hated 808s and Heartbreak on principle upon its release, but after years exploring music I was able to hear just how great it really is. Music is about expression, and 808s is one of the purest and most powerful self-expressions I’ve ever come across. Kanye makes you feel his pain. The melodies are beautiful and catchy. The bass is heavy and jarring. The filtering simulates how hard it was for him to say what was on his chest. It’s a compact ball of emotion that takes you for a ride better than most things I’ve ever heard. It’s hard to believe that the same artist made Kanye’s first 3 albums and also 808s. The change was so drastic that it threw a lot of people off. But that he was even able to make a piece of music so different from what he was used to says a lot about his ability. This is when Kanye’s career started getting REALLY interesting.
Understanding the context surrounding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is imperative to understanding the scope of the album. Kanye was still reeling from the death of his mother. He also went through another bad breakup, with Amber Rose. Then, he went on stage and the Taylor Swift incident happened. After that incident he was going to make a retirement album and even recorded the song “Never See Me Again” with the intention of using it as the closer for the album. The majority of people also hated 808s and thought Kanye was off his rocker. This combination of factors created an awful public perception. And public perception matters a lot to Kanye. Once again, he was in a tumultuous emotional state. He wanted to prove he could still make good music. He wanted to win back the people. So, of course, in Kanye fashion, he delivered an absolute masterpiece.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is BIG. It’s a symphony of turmoil. Everything about the album is over the top. There were about 50,000 people that contributed to its creation. He was basically the conductor of an extremely non-traditional orchestra. He had god knows how many people singing on “All Of The Lights” and “Lost In The World”. People would contribute a note here, a guitar solo there, a verse over there, a line over here, a piano progression there, and hook here. They would play basketball and eat breakfast while bouncing ideas off each other. 8 of the 12 songs are over 5 minutes long. There’s an entire orchestrated introduction to “All Of The Lights”. There’s a 3-minute Chris Rock story. There’s a 3-minute period of nothing but sad moaning. There’s a 2-minute guitar solo between verses on “Devil In A New Dress”. The hook on “Dark Fantasy” repeats more times than it has any business doing. Yet somehow it doesn’t feel like a single note is excessive. The features ranged from Rihanna to Justin Vernon to Fergie to Elton John. There wasn’t a single resource Kanye didn’t use for this album. And he turned in a modern classic.
MBDTF is a rap album by definition, but its instrumentation sounds nothing like one. It’s almost like Kanye took his previous 4 albums and fused their sounds together in his stomach and started shitting out gold. It’s avant-garde, grandiose, spectacular, adjectives. He’s said in recent interviews that with MBDTF he wanted to make an album that the people wanted, not necessarily what he wanted. He wanted to make something that he knew people would love. It was a home cooked meal made perfectly for the time. It became the 2nd most critically acclaimed rap album of the new millennium and garnered universal praise as Kanye’s magnum opus. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s innovative, it’s unique, it’s exciting, it’s moving, it’s depressing, it’s joyous, it’s boastful, it’s personal, it’s thoughtful, it’s ignorant, it’s loud, it’s soothing, it’s vengeful, it’s hopeful; it’s Kanye. It’s pure Kanye pouring out through the speakers.
That was Kanye’s peak. That was as good as it was gonna get. Or so we thought. It took Kanye 3 years to release his next solo album. In between he dropped a very good collaboration with Jay Z, Watch The Throne, and was involved in the mediocre GOOD Music collaboration Cruel Summer. When 2013 rolled around, we were pretty sure we’d be getting a new Kanye solo album at some point in the year, but didn’t know when. The hype started in May, and within 3 weeks he created a rumbling train of momentum. There were projections on buildings, vicious performances on SNL, his first personal interview in years, and as controversial an album title as it gets: Yeezus. There was only a month and a half of unconventional promotion and no album cover. But the 2 singles and the various snippets heard in that time created a buzz that most artists would need a year to build up. It was clear from the beginning that Kanye was going against the grain. And it only got clearer once the album came out.
Yeezus is pure catharsis. Kanye officially stopped giving a fuck about the consequences to his actions. I said MBDTF was the musification of Kanye’s being. It was, at the time. But Kanye described MBDTF as an album for the people. It was viewed as a comeback album. He knew he had to give the people what they wanted to get everyone back on his side. Yeezus is the complete opposite. Yeezus is what Kanye wanted. What Kanye wants, deep down, when he’s being honest with himself. It’s a peak into his mind. It’s the purest self-expression that he’s ever released, and because of that I think it’s his best work. The beats….I don’t even know where to start. It sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard. It was inspired primarily by 80s Chicago House music, but it doesn’t really sound anything like it. He collaborated with Daft Punk, Arca, Gesaffelstein, Evian Christ, and Hudson Mohawke to create a labyrinth of bombastic electronic sounds. Everything is manic and in your face. It has an industrial sound but really he just decided to leave genres behind. It sounds like what I would imagine a robotic space takeover of the human race would sound like. I usually imagine giant metal spiked balls hurling through the air and crashing against other metallic things and completely destroying anything and anyone in their path. I imagine a fully metallic room with magnets everywhere pushing and pulling everything at high speeds and endangering everyone inside. It has heart-thumping drums; rib vibrating synths; ingratiating synthetic drones; lasers shooting; horns blaring; and maniacal screaming. And interspersed throughout that insanity are brief moments of relief, like the break in the middle of “On Sight”, the strings at the end of “Guilt Trip”, the end of “New Slaves”, and the closer “Bound 2”.
He dared people to like Yeezus. On MBDTF he played the role of house party host, welcoming everyone in with delicious food and a warm fire while wearing a smile and a corny Christmas sweater. Everyone left the party happy and loving Kanye for being such a gracious host. He knew throwing that type of party would make everyone who attended happy, and gave them exactly what they wanted. Yeezus was Kanye having his annual party again, but instead of welcoming his guests with cookies and warm milk, he handed them coke and molly at the door and led them into a dungeon style basement with naked midgets and glow in the dark paint everywhere with ear shattering music pumping in from all angles. MBDTF was the nice side of Martin Vanger and Yeezus was the dark side. Yeezus era Kanye is unveiling his true self for the world to see and isn’t ashamed. He isn’t afraid of what might happen to his career or his fan base. He knows his music is so good that we’ll keep coming back no matter what, and it allows him to take chances that others wouldn’t dare. We’re all reaping the fruits of his artistic labor.
As you can see, his range as a musician is absolutely ridiculous, including both sound and content. He’s created a new and interesting sonic landscape with every release. He’s incorporated several genres and styles into his own music. He can make you laugh one minute and cry another. He has me against the world songs, daily grind songs, loving your family songs. He has a song for every experience you can possibly imagine. He can be a Black Panther. He can be funny and entertaining. He can rap well technically. He can brag. He can make you feel like he’s an untouchable celebrity who lives a life you couldn’t even imagine. He makes you feel like he’s you and has somehow felt exactly how you feel in a given situation. Relatable and unrelatable at the same time. The baddest motherfucker on earth and an average Joe simultaneously. He can laugh at himself. He can lead a charge to take down the government. He says what everyone is thinking but is too afraid to say in fear of the repercussions.
So what does it take to be considered the greatest musical artist of all time? It’s generally accepted that you need to have a top-notch discography, considerable influence, versatility, longevity, popularity, memorable songs, and a lasting impact. Sales, awards and other things are considered too but it’s hard to compare those types of things across eras.
Who’s the competition? Let’s start with just hip-hop and move up the ladder. In hip hop the biggest competition is Jay Z, Outkast, Tupac, and Notorious BIG. There are others that are arguably better artists than those 4 but they don’t approach the requisite popularity and influence requirements to be the absolute greatest. Jay Z is huge and has a massive influence, all the hits and sales you can ask for, etc. He has great technical ability. But his discography is wildly inconsistent, with only half of his albums worth listening to. He’s made some really dumb career moves and his music has suffered. And even at his absolute best, he couldn’t compete with Kanye’s best.
Tupac has quite a large discography despite dying when he was only 24, but like Jay Z’s it’s wildly inconsistent. He never really put together a great album front to back. His best project is probably his greatest hits compilation. He has several classic songs but never put together a full, cohesive, amazing project. What he does have going for him is his lasting impact, partly aided by his death. Tupac is a worldwide figure to this day and will continue influencing people forever. He stood for something and is viewed by many as a revolutionary figure, a symbol of change. But his music wasn’t up to par when we’re discussing the greatest ever.
Notorious BIG also died early and also has a huge lasting impact, but he only released 2 albums. His impact is not on Tupac’s level but he usually gets thrown into the greatest argument alongside Tupac because whenever one is mentioned the other is brought up almost immediately. Biggie was a straight rapper and never reached the level of artistic primacy necessary to be considered the greatest.
Last but definitely not least is Outkast. Outkast has the strongest argument against Kanye. Andre 3000 and Big Boi put out 5 spectacular albums, and their best is just as good as anything Kanye ever did. The only blemish in their discography is the film soundtrack Idlewild but I don’t think it’s fair to count that because it was made specifically for a film. So if you discount Idlewild, that leaves you with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Like Kanye, Outkast switched up their style with every album. Their sound progressed each time. Kanye definitely has the advantage on the production side of things, but Outkast has an unquestioned advantage in the lyrics department. Outkast reached insane levels of fame, with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below going diamond and featuring the worldwide hit Hey Ya. They have several classic, memorable singles. They have huge sales. But they stopped making music after Idlewild when Andre decided to take a leave of absence. They also never had the cultural impact that Kanye has had. And Kanye’s 6-album run is more impressive than their 5-album run. So Kanye wins that battle and should be considered the greatest hip-hop artist ever.
Now for the rest of the musical landscape. Who is usually thrown into the conversation of greatest music artist of all time? The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Prince, Miles Davis, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, the list goes on. Everybody has their favorite at this point. I’m not even going to try to argue against the Beatles. They were in the perfect storm for world takeover, and nobody will ever be that popular, influential, and magical ever again. I would argue Kanye over whomever else you want to name, though. I think most of the time it’s a generational thing when trying to name the greatest artist ever. Like, of course my 60-year-old uncle is going to say the Beatles. Of course my mother who grew up dancing is going to say Elvis or Prince. Of course the former hippies are going to say Jimi Hendrix or The Stones. Of course the self-loathing beat generation wannabe hipsters and/or cultural academics are going to say Bob Dylan. Of course the old man who grew up in Harlem in the 50s is going to say Dizzy or Bird or Miles or Coltrane. It’s a generational and cultural preference. At this level it’s impossible to claim one artist is better than another. But my preference is undoubtedly Kanye West.
I don’t feel the reactions I get from Kanye’s music from any other artist I listen to. I don’t know if it’s because he’s from Chicago or what but his attitude and view of the world is so in line with mine that everything he says sends a pang through my emotions. When he’s yelling and saying ridiculous things I automatically know what point he’s trying to get across, even if everyone else views him as a narcissistic lunatic. Because of that relatable connection and Kanye’s preternatural ability to express himself, I’m more moved by his music than anything else. For me it’s not just being a fan. It’s a way of life. Kanye speaks my own core values to the rest of the world. It goes all the way down to human nature. Kanye and I share the same beliefs and values at the most base level. So when he’s ranting at a concert, or doing an interview, or on a talk show, trying to explain himself, where he wants to go, where he thinks the world is and where it needs to get to, I feel it because I feel that way to. When I defend Kanye I’m secretly defending myself. What I believe in. It’s like my religion. Religion at its core is really just a set of beliefs, values, and guidelines on how people should live their lives. Take out all the deity bullshit and that’s what it is. So in that sense, Kanye West is my religion.
I just went full Stan mode (Eminem song about an obsessive fan), but I don’t care. I wrote this all for no reason other than my devout fanship. Hopefully people might one day read this and start to see what I see in Kanye. That’s the goal, anyway. If not, I really don’t care. Your loss.
I’m not going to try to make a list of songs that will help you get into Kanye. Just listen to every album front to back chronologically, it’s well worth it.
Poor man's Talib Kweli, really
even if my response was a throwaway comment. In spite of his inconsistency at times, would probably rate Eminem as the best
ties with Wu-Tang's debut as my fave rap album
Bloody love that album
I recommend following it up by reading my classic post on the post-Creep work of The Radioheads
They're all fucking tools ffs.
"There have been arguments both attacking West's actions and defending his intention but is it ever OK to point out someone's difference in a crowd?"
want to be his pal
get really angry when kanye does problematic things or stuff i don't agree with because in general i'm rooting for him because of what he stands for
but what does he stand for? I literally have no idea.
Can't wait for gb's reply thougu
maybe, you know, open yourself up to things instead of assuming everything is shit and getting defensive because you don't 'get' it
little bit condescending to say I dont get it...but hey...hit us with your words. happy to be proved wrong.
i think that having a man around that sees absolutely no ceilings for himself, and actually makes a lot of those dreams come true, is pretty inspiring. it does seem that he's gone from egotistical to a bit batshit since his mum died, but y'know, he's not the first person to struggle being in the limelight... and he's been so more so than almost any other person of his generation.
who he is now seems like a dramatic amplification of who he was back in the day. outspoken, hyper confident, spokesperson for black people (also homosexuals when no one would speak up for them in hip hop), but with conflicted interests and a horrible tendency to put his foot in his mouth. he's also genuinely very creative and seems a reasonably decent bloke despite all that.
that's my impression, anyways.
this ain't my specialist subject, so I'll bow to your (and gb's superior knowledge)
but you can surely see how he could come across as a butterfly, a dilettante with a shallow, superficial and fleeting interest ins almost everything, which makes him seem to care for almost nothing.
Maybe I haven't read enough about him, but to be honest that's how I feel about him. He's a creature of our own tastes and pleasures, for sure, but he has done very little that ever convinced me he had deep seated convictions or beliefs. Maybe I'm misreading as I said, and I acknowledge I'm dismissive of him as a bit of a fraud on gut reaction.
Is the way that he's unable to see past what he already sees as the benchmarks of industries he's trying to break into outside of music, and that seems to be where a lot of his misplaced anger (c.f. that interview with Sway) comes from. Like he can't just see that if he really is so visionary then he should just go out on his own into the world of fashion - he's the biggest rapper in the world ffs! - rather than being desperate for a co-sign from Fendi/Gucci or whoever for his leather jogging bottoms.
It was really interesting watching Lethal Bizzle and (of all people) Logan Sama chat about this on Twitter around the time of Kanye going mental at Sway, as Bizzle was saying how he got Stay Dench into Selfridges of all places just off his own back, and they were discussing how Kanye needs to just take that risk.
Dunno, I feel like he's sort of gone past the point where anyone can stop him now, he's such a huge inflated version of himself, think everyone's just taken a few tentative step backwards from him and is just waiting for him to finally go nuclear.
I never feel like he really takes any risks. He plays within the confines of the system, through choice or through necessity.
I'm not his biggest fan, but I can at least see some sort of 'risk' in Yeezus - as a massive mainstream rapper, sure, it's leftfield. But it's not in general that leftfield and the fact he literally said to Evian Christ 'make me the weirdest beat you can' is up there with some Jay Z old man cringey lame shit.
But I still think he deserves some credit ha. I just think he's nowhere near as interesting or groundbreaking as people make out. And by extension I don't think all of his loudmouth shit is just excusable/hilarious just cos it's him.
He's no Morrissey, basically ;)
enjoy watching this -http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S78tT_YxF_c from time to time, just to remind myself what a turkey this guy is
He does seem a bit annoying there. Might well be a bad day for him.
now i got to a bit where he's being cool.
He fucking loses the plot. His teeth are chattering and he's almost in tears at one point. Kid is a talented producer, but an awful, awful human being
he's actually quite David Brentish at times.
is the reams of long-winded, contradictory guff he's inspired from try-hard music journalists who desperately need a thematic hook to hang hip hop/rap music off of
HIP HOP CAN BE CREATIVE LOOK LOOK
Hip hop can be amazingly creative, I just wouldn't say he's particularly representative of that, but sadly the majority of people take him as the embodiment of hip hop and basically use it an excuse to write off the entire genre. Not that those people had much interest in hip hop in the first place, mind.