Discussion over on ILM about the new Kanye LP. Probably the first real music writing I’ve done since law school started, or at least the first decent music writing I’ve done. the posts are basically a reiteration of my Daily piece circa Glow in the Dark/808s, but nothing’s really changed where Kanye’s concerned. Anyway…Copied&Pasted verbatim for posterity. Plus, at some point in two weeks after exams, I will hopefully have time to turn this into something reflective and coherent. anyway, here it is:
I like this WAY more than I expected to, especially given that Kanye seems to be continuing along the trajectory that started to grate c. Graduation – bigger, less accessible, more ‘introspective’ at the expense of genuine insight, but the album is so generous sonically and so…Kanye…that I like it despite myself.
Like…given that this is 2010 Kanye, this is far more than I ever had reason to expect, and is actually v. good. Still my least favourite Kanye album besides Graduation. Probably on par with 808s, but still contending for top 10 spots with /\/\/\Y/\ et al.
sorry – i wasn’t thinking through what i was writing. sonically bigger and more accessible viz. radio jams/ stadium sound. personally less accessible – it’s kanye at his most oblique, least personal…generalizing himself away from the very connected, almost communal feeling of college dropout and late registration, but before the totally introspective/self-absorption of 808s and MBDTF.
the first two albums had family business & roses & hey mama & never let me down – a sense of family, of neighbourhood, of location, city. and even when they didn’t he had children’s choirs backing him up on we don’t care and gigantic guest lists of people who didn’t seem totally arbitrary. the who’s who of NYC and Chicago rap scenes made it feel a block party hosted by Kanye. the raps are populated by real PEOPLE – not just abstract evil supermodels/whores…his cousin whose job claims “he’s too niggerish now”, his aunt pam, his mom and his grandfather at sit-ins, jobs at the mall, and picking up girls off blackplanet with Talib, and undeclared sophomores with compulsive shopping habits, his homie Mali…hell, even his G.O.O.D. Music interns.
by graduation, his dad gets mentioned on champion, and Jay-Z gets an entire song, but other than that it’s all feel good aphorisms, pump-up Dr. Phil-isms, etc. Homecoming is a billion times less warm and lived in than its initial College Dropout area incarnation w/ John Legend, and the most detailed picture of a non-Kanye person we get is Flashing Lights (which probably holds up the best out of anything on this). the entire glow-in-the-dark tour was this odd paean to kanye’s isolation from the world…him lost in space with a computer and holographic sex-computers. i wrote a piece at the time for my college paper about how ODD it seemed for a hip hop show. the immense ego, pervasive loneliness, and the musical desire to transcend the boundaries of ‘merely’ rap (which, SMH, but whatever). by graduation he was taking pictures at the grammys w Feist and sampling Peter Bjorn & John on Mixtapes and trying to move from ‘rapper’ to ‘pop star’ on his way to ‘icon’
808s he’s already totally isolated, even moreso than graduation, but the robot-with-a-broken-heart thing worked so well that he was more accessible than graduation. kanye broken and dissatisfied with what he spent graduation aspiring to reach. but at the same time, he’s not living in a populated world – his mom is only present as a ghost and all the other characters are women who have done him wrong – objects of lust/fury/scorn
MBDTF is sonically impressive – way more so than graduation in some senses – or maybe just more appealing to me, and it’s nice to see kanye rapping again with some purpose, even if i still prefer him ~Dropout/Registration, but while the posse cuts on his first two albums felt communal and natural – kanye tossing lines and verses back and forth with people he genuinely liked, the guest spots here (even the very very good ones) almost feel like perfunctory appearances, not necessarily connected to his narrative across this album (save perhaps Pusha T). and the themes are total solipsism now. still more interesting than graduation, if only because he has things about himself to genuinely grapple with here, but i’ve always found his issues more interesting when filtered through other stories/experiences/people.
this is poorly articulated, but it’s the best i can do right now.
i think this also plays into the sonic shifts from soul loops to soul loops + jon brion strings (artsiness! ambition! respectability!) to big stadium synths and DAFT PUNK (populist! dancey! outside-the-box for rap at the time!) to autotune + 808s (sad kanye!) to this kind of big-enough-to-absorb-it-all prog rock and Bon Iver and fucking Aphex Twin and Elton John and Gil Scott-Heron.
but yeah. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is so incredibly PREDICTABLE in some senses. musically, lyrically, emotionally, there was never really any other option for Kanye. He was always climbing higher, always in desperate need of both critical AND popular adulation, and always dissatisfied with the things he wanted once he got them.
“Can we get much higher?” is kind of the POINT of Kanye. You can get higher and higher, but you just keep on burning things off. You’re either going to plummet like Icarus or burn off everything human about you and end up on Olympus, but in the end you’re either dead or a god, which may as well be the same thing as far as he’s concerned.
and like…this is why i love this album despite myself. kanye IS the biggest pop star of our era. we get the icons we deserve. six years ago he had things to say – important things maybe, but in the age of twitter and facebook and gossip girl doesn’t it make sense that our real hero is a navel-gazing narcissist who’s self-aware enough to know what’s wrong with himself AND the rest of the world but more concerned with posting hot pictures of models to his blog and worrying about whether or not he hurt George Bush’s feelings back when he was still saying things that made sense? but for better or for worse, he’s ours, and i’m as invested in his ego and persona as he is.
like…fuck Lady GaGa, Kanye was doing life-as-performance art for years. we’re all doing life-as-performance art these days.
yeah – Rev, re: Jon Brion = artsy etc…. I mentioned the narrative, not because i necessarily think it’s valid, but because i think it’s KANYE’s narrative. I think Miri Ben-Ari’s arrangements on College Dropout are frequently way better than Brion’s (with the exception of Gone, which is still one of my three favourite Kanye tracks, if not my absolute favourite. Gorgeous wonderful stuff.) But Kanye has always had a very explicit desire to go ‘beyond’ hip hop (which is stupid, for many many reasons) but him working with Jon Brion comes from the same impulse that leads to sampling King Crimson or Yes or Elton John or working with Bon Iver. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but all of it strikes me as part of that desperation for critical adulation (and popular adulation) that kanye has/had. even now that it’s curdled to some extent.