Tag Archives: Kanye West

People’s List #96. Ain’t no tuition for having no ambition.

96. Kanye West – The College Dropout

Released: 2004

When I got it: 2004, but not near the release date. Probably 8 months after. Got a lend of the CD.

What I originally thought: I didn’t really know how to listen to rap, first. On a basic level, you have to go from a verse being build-up to a chorus to seeing it as the main point. Once I got past that, I was drawn by the general friendly nature of Kanye as opposed to, say, Dr Dre or Eminem. It’s the kind of thing you smile along to rather than scowling. My friends, who were into varying shades of Canadian/American indie rock and post-Strokes English stuff, liked it too. Rap writers I read tend to refer to what we were in a derogatory way when they’re writing about Wiz Khalifa or whatever, but there’s no point lying about it. I liked the singles.

The interim: In order, I listened to more Kanye albums as it came out, got really into Jay-Z, listened to more Kanye, got really really into Jay-Z, there was some confusion, and then I started to listen to rap music four hours a day. This blog has three separate reviews of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on it.

What I think now: When I thought about it, before listening, it seemed cartoonish and soft to me, which is a symptom of what original drew me to it (the major key soul loops and non-threatening raps). It’s definitely a certain lane of rap music, pitched unabashedly to a mass audience, but then Kanye’s never going to win anyone over with pure rapping. And it’s not like there wasn’t a message packaged up in everything, the same message that still makes Kanye both annoying and a serious problem. It’s amazingly coherent and complete for a debut album, especially as you can still trace a lot of his style to stuff that’s already present. He’s mad at sublimated racism. He just ignores the fact that he’s not particularly credible and gets away with it by consistently turning in good songs. He’s painfully sincere whether he’s actually being sincere or just bragging. He’s Kanye. The whole thing has a sheen of classic about it in retrospect, though I wouldn’t give it that much because of cringey songs like Family Business. Still though, listening through was enjoyable. I’ll probably do it again in a month or so.

Bonus rap album mondegreen: Through The Wire – “I drink a Boost for breakfast, Ensure for dessert, somebody order pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp” as “I drink a Goose for breakfast, indo for dessert, somebody order pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp”.

Some rap reviews of varying merit from the past few months.

I review exclusively rap in Totally Dublin now because I am willing to do so and people into reviewing indie rock are easier to find I guess. I did a long one for One More Robot too. I am in the process of forming an argument in my mind that rap music is not only a separate genre but a mode unto itself – an action movie is a movie, but even if a play does a lot of the same things as a movie, it’s a different thing. Off the back of that, I’d plead that starting to review rap is like learning to do reviews all over again. The mode is different, so the criticism is different, and I’ve become gradually aware of how annoying an uninformed rock critic talking about rap is, no matter how good their intentions. I haven’t formed that modal argument fully yet, though, so all I can do is post some reviews.


Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne
(Totally Dublin, September 2011)

Some albums are statement albums by virtue of the circumstances surrounding their release – a rapper getting out of jail, say. Others are statement albums because they arrive from nowhere with a fully-formed, confident, unique sound. But sometimes it’s just a de facto statement album, because you’re probably the two most famous rappers in the world and everyone’s already paying attention. And you’ve called yourselves, by implication, The Throne. It’s not surprising that Jay-Z and Kanye came up with “throne” either. There can only be one king, but a throne can theoretically fit two, and it gives Kanye a great opportunity to patronise an up and coming upholsterer in Milan or somewhere. The music is lavish, as you’d expect. But this album’s only important because it’s already important.

Kanye is best where Jay-Z is weakest which, rather than making for a ‘best of both worlds’ situation (shouts out R. Kelly), means that neither seems like they’re making the album they should be making. Kanye’s not a technical rapper. He’s most interesting when he’s making ridiculous statements – “this is something like the holocaust” as the opening line of bro-step banger Who Gon Stop Me, for example. Jay-Z at this point in his career needs exactly the right context to avoid sounding old and staid. The scenarios he finds himself in alongside Kanye, who at one point advises his future son to avoid telethons, undermine even his fresher flows. On Niggas In Paris, for example, Jay-Z lays down a textbook verse about being so successful he no longer cares. Kanye then rolls in and manages to mention Prince William, Mary-Kate, Ashley, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and a Margiela jacket, whilst also noting that he is in Paris.

It’s hard to tell whether this was Kanye The Scrappy Kid’s idea, wanting to trade bars with his Hall of Famer mentor, or Gwyneth Paltrow’s Friend Jay-Z’s, wanting to hang on to relevance. It’s got flashes of genius, mostly from Kanye, but it is some heavily unnecessary stuff and it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) really mean anything for rap in general. Which is sad, considering what it could have been.

2.5/5


Gucci Mane & Waka Flocka Flame – Ferrari Boyz
(One More Robot, September 2011)

Gucci Mane, out of prison for the time being at least, is the postmodern man’s current king of the South, with a history of squeezing baseless absurdities into raps about cocaine. Waka Flocka Flame, his protégé and former literal weed-carrier, is the king of being insufferable in a club, encouraging all and sundry to throw gang signs, steal girlfriends and start fights. But they don’t always fit together, which is what they try to do fifteen times on Ferrari Boyz.

Maybe the best way to squeeze the most juice out of this collaboration would have been to make it a Gucci Mane album with a Waka Flocka Flame hooks, ad libs and three words per line final verses. But Flockaveli blew up, so like Jay-Z and Kanye on Watch The Throne, there’s some kind of implied parity here. With the two on equal standing, the strategy they’ve chosen is to flex over mean-mugging Southside beats. It’s not the fuck the club up party rap of Flockaveli, but it seems like Flocka territory, or at least the implication that it might be seems to have an effect on Gucci, who reins in his wholesale, non-sequitur-filled, insane flow and tries to play along. Of course there’s weirdness. It’s Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. But it tends to come in the form of double take-inducing lines about driving a Ferrari like it was a Chevy, wedged amongst auto-pilot bars about being stoned or rich and even, at various points, Wiz Khalifa shout outs.

There’s wandering 808s and roof-scraping synth arpeggios with the guys who made that the legitimate default beat choice in modern rap, so there are highlights. Suicide Homicide, with Wooh Da Kid, has an eminently chantable hook and plenty of horrific lyrical bases touched (such as “putting seven in your chest” like “M. Vick” and “cooking up babies, call that shit abortion). The beat on 15th And The 1st is more mysterious than threatening, and though he’s still on B game even compared to his last mixtape Writings On The Wall 2, it seems like the most comfortable territory for Gucci on the record. It’s also got Flocka executing his traditional role to perfection: half-singing a hook about having a stomach so full that’s he’s burping hundreds. YG Hootie, solidifying his position as third best Bricksquad member, delivers a decent verse that acknowledges his anger about not actually selling records in his own right. Later, on Pacman, Flocka manages to deliver a verse that confusingly doesn’t make any mention of the fact that his name is the sound Pacman makes while eating pills and being chased by ghosts. Which is a missed opportunity, given that that’s a pretty functional blurb for his whole persona.

In the final instance, the value of Ferrari Boyz will be as a museum piece exemplifying an entire genre. It’s further proof of the fact that one and one doesn’t necessarily always give two with rap records, especially when you’re dealing with people who’ve made their name off tracks where they’ve had space to let their idiosyncracies out with no self-consciousness. That it’s not even better than the last solo mixtape by each rapper is telling in that respect. But you could use it to teach post-Lex Luger ham rap to your hip hop class, for the same reason you get someone with a neutral accent to teach a language to kids. To call it ‘by numbers’ is uncharitable but not far off.

2.5/5


Das Racist – Relax
(Totally Dublin, October 2011)

Self-awareness is something only comedy rap troupe ever to school you on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak possess in almost dangerous quantities, so there’ll always be something slightly unwholesome about their off-hand punchlines about expensive cheese and being Eric Clapton. But their free association postmodern pop culture flow is confident now and the chaff has been discarded. They’re fun, different to anyone else, and there are serious ideas behind those raised eyebrows.

4/5


Lil B – Im Gay (Im Happy)
(Totally Dublin, 2011)

All praise be to Based God, but as laudable as his positive message is, he’s only really compelling when you can’t tell whether he’s serious or not. Im Gay (with no apostrophe) fulfilled its meme generation purpose by making everyone shocked that a rapper would call a record that, but the raps, though improving technically, are still not great. Clams Casino comes through with Unchain Me, but Lil B doesn’t seem to know what he’s saying.

2/5


Roach Gigz – Bitch I’m A Player
(Totally Dublin, August 2011)

It’s not that surprising that putting a big personality over dumb slaps results in more great music from the Bay Area. Over twelve C-Loz tracks (one of which is literally built around a sample of the words “big fat beat”), Roach Gigz is skilled and funny, rapping about holes in his brain from drug abuse and women trying to get to him through his publicist. Another for the ‘next to blow up’ column, but more of this is enough if he doesn’t.

4.5/5

The Year. 3. At the end of the day, god damn it, I’m killing this shit.

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [US]

Not reviewing this again. If you want that, click here and here.

Instead I will list five of my favourite ridiculous lyrical moments on this album:

– “Fuck SNL and the whole cast/Tell ’em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass/More specifically they can kiss my asshole/I’m an asshole? You niggas got jugs.”
-“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”
– “She found the pictures in my email/I sent this bitch a picture of my dick/I don’t know what it is with females/But I’m not too good at that shit.”
– “I need more drinks and less lights/And that American Apparel girl in just tights/She told the director she tryna get in a school/He said ‘take them glasses off and get in the pool'”
– “DJs need to listen to the models/You ain’t got no fuckin’ Yeezy in your Serrato?”

…and then say that I don’t like this album because it’s funny or a novelty, but because it’s great.

Kanye West – Power

The Internet Needs More Writing About Kanye #2: TN2

This is the second review I did of this, longer, for the college culture supplement I edit.

Kanye’s had a rough couple of years. Either you know the story or you don’t care, so I’ll skip it. There is only one important story now, and it has nothing to do with Rolling Stone’s confused 5/5 review, Pitchfork’s breathless 10.0 or the Guardian’s strange, condescending 2/5 that showed up at some point during the critical discourse. Kanye West has a new album, and it is fucking amazing.

The first thing that’s striking is the scope. It opens with Nicki Minaj pulling a faux-British accent on a fairytale opening: “Gather round children, zip it, listen.” It’s not the first time Kanye’s crafted a little world in one of his albums, but that was not particularly funny humour, Bernie Mac asking him where his bookbag was on Late Registration. This is earnest stuff. Look at the title of the album. You have two options. You can stick with the Kanye Interrupts guy in your mind and find it funny, further evidence of insanity and hubris. If you do, stop reading, you’re excused. Otherwise, take a deep breath. It’s a journey. Thirty seconds from when Minaj stops, a RZA beat drops and, for the first time in too many years, Kanye the Rapper shows up.

He’s always been in the shadows as an MC, owing partly to his production genius on his and other people’s stuff and partly to the fact that he stands near erstwhile ‘Best Rapper Alive’ Jay-Z a lot, but he’s stepped up his game. And he’s not just rhyming either. He’s Saying Something.
In essence, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is two albums struggling with each other for precedence. The one we meet first is devoted to redressing Kanye’s grievances – the cast of Saturday Night Live can kiss his asshole – and reminding the world that he is an abnormally talented man, capable of making incredible music and trying his hardest to do so. Call this half Power, after the most intense song, that one that commands immediate attention. It’s pure swagger, not the projected braggadocio of a Birdman or even a Jay-Z, but the strut of a man who knows that, regardless of bad PR, he’s on top of his game, and it’s a height rarely hit. By anyone. “I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit,” he retorts to claims that he’s the “abomination of Obama’s nation.” But don’t forget the hook – “21st century schizoid man.” Well, whatever works, I guess.

It’s mostly like this up until So Appalled, halfway through the 68 minute runtime. Gorgeous in particular seems to wrestle with the ‘bigger’ implications of Kanye’s position. “And what’s a black Beatle anyway, a fucking roach?”” he asks. That’s a pretty loaded question. First, obviously, comparing yourself to the Beatles is pretty much equivalent to the Beatles comparing themselves to Jesus, especially if you’re coming from a ‘rock music’ background, where hip hop seems to exist in a vacuum if at all. Secondly – does Kanye think he’s hated for being black? Maybe. But he’s going to fight the course.

After the huff and puff of the guest-heavy drone So Appalled (easily the worst song on the album, and that is meant as a direct diss to both Swizz Beats and Cyhi the Prince), things change. There’s a slow soul loop and the second half of the album comes into focus with Devil In A New Dress. But it’s the next song that dominates. Runaway.

If you watched the video Kanye released to trail the album, you’ll know this side. It was thirty-five minutes long and featured a phoenix-woman who crashed from space and ended up becoming his girlfriend. That’s her on the cover, I guess. The pinnacle came with Kanye sitting down at a piano in a warehouse during a large dinner party and singing – yes, singing, even though he was Kanye The Rapper twenty-five minutes ago – mournfully over a driven beat.
It’s self-aggrandisement vs. self-doubt. That’s Kanye’s dark fantasy, the conflict between two different people he wants to be. He wants to be the egoist, world-conquering musical genius, sure, and he plays it well. But he also wants to be less of a fuck up. “24-7, 365, pussy stays on my mind/I- I- I- did it. Alright, alright, I admit it,” he equivocates. Sums it up pretty well.

The interesting thing is that if you parse the album into its individual components – songs, loops, verses – you’ll find some flaws. So Appalled, Chris Rock’s weird skit about Kanye teaching his girl tricks, Jay-Z’s let down verse on Monster. You’ll also find some of the best most innovative pop music around today. The rip of All Of The Lights, the weird autotune spiritual hook of Lost In The World, Nicki Minaj’s scene-stealing verse on Monster. But that’s like reading chapters of a book you didn’t start at the beginning. This is a fairytale, remember? Nicki told you. It’s fascinating, huge and almost shockingly good. Millions of people are going to enjoy this, and VH1 are going to do documentaries on it some day. It deserves it.

The Internet Needs More Writing About Kanye #1: Totally Dublin

I reviewed this twice. Here’s the first one.

“The best living or dead, hands down” is how Kanye opens his verse on Monster. We’re used to hubris by now, but there’s an obvious question. The best what? His rapping is a level above anything he’s done before on this album, but still, few would claim he’s the best emcee. Best producer then? Maybe. That’s defensible. But that’s not what he meant.

Nobody’s ever done what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy does on this scale before. Look at the list of guest contributors: Jay-Z, Raekwon, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver, La Roux, Rihanna, Elton John. If Kanye calls, you say yes. The beats, from the moment the first one drops properly on opener Dark Fantasy, are definitely back to being hip hop, but modern and fresh, willing to turn King Crimson into a truth to/from power monologue. It’s solidly good music. It’s captivating, start to finish, and every song, from the introspective and beautiful Runaway to the phone-speaker jam All of the Lights, has equal chance of being the thing lodged in your head when you wake up.

You can pick flaws in the album with a magnifying glass. Jay-Z’s verse on Monster, which begins with a two-line list of different types of monsters opening with Sasquatch, might as well just say “I fell off.” And So Appalled maybe flexes a little much. But zoom out. In the context of the album as a whole, all those famous guest appearances are just decoration. This is Kanye, interruptor, Katrina politiciser, autotune lunatic, responding to all that swirling, insidious discourse surrounding him in terms of his music and his place in pop culture and society as a whole. “Saying I’m the abomination of Obama’s nation/Well that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation,” he says on Power, his true podium moment. Human after all. The way “tripping off the power” slides to “tripping off the powder” over the course of the song points to a self-awareness it seems he’s been denied.

When Kanye says he’s the best living or dead hands down, he means in general. “What’s a black Beatle anyway?” he asks on the bonepicking Gorgeous. Those are the terms in which Kanye thinks of himself. In terms of scale and execution, MBDTF forces us take him on those kinds of terms too.

Hip Hop Monday #3: Pitchfork, Lil B, Jay Electronica, Nicki Minaj

Kanye West feat. Pusha T – Runaway

This one pretty much has to begin with an acknowledgement that Kanye West got a 10.0 on Pitchfork today. Excluding the Robert Pollard onstage banter album that’s annoyingly scuffing up the records with its (1)0.0 dual score, the last albums to get the brave first release 10.0 were Source Tags and Codes by …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead in February 2002 and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in April 2002. Both of these albums are boring, but the point is that it’s been a while, and that Kanye’s not exactly the type of music that gets a 10.0 on Pitchfork first time around. So Pitchfork is Saying Something. Decide for yourself what they’re saying, and don’t doubt for a minute that there was a board meeting and teleconference about that score.

Here is a Gchat I had with Seán Mc Tiernan. Shout out to No Chorus. Fuck Nah Right and 2dopeboyz.

Sean: still
it remains irritating to read all this bullshit by people like that
who are like
patting rap music on the head
because of kanye’s album
like i don’t treat any genre of music like that
17:12 i can’t imagine why someone would
aside from making themself feel smart
me: You Did It, Rap Music
Proud of u

I’m reviewing it for Totally Dublin, so I won’t do it here. Maybe I’ll post it next week.

Lil B – Exhibit Based

Last week I posted Bitch Im Bill Clinton off Lil B’s Red Flame mixtape, which was stupid. Lil B does that sort of thing quite a lot, but it clouds the fact that he’s actually a great rapper. It turns him into a cartoon, and that’s not cool. The track above is what happened when he jumped on Just Blaze’s beat Jay Electronica’s Exhibit C. Just Blaze is one of my favourite producers, as an unashamed Jay-Z fan (1996-2004 + Empire State Of Mind), and this could be his best beat. It’s linear and there’s no hook. Jay Electronica murders it, but so does Lil B.

Split a nigga wig make him think that he James Bond
If I ain’t James Bond, bet I got the same gun
Plus I got money in the bank for the bail-bond
Pay him 80 Gs if he thinkin he can tell on
No witness make him run like Rev Run
No blood in his genes like a stepson
Yeah I got 45s I’m travelin to India
I’m finna have 10 kids, it’s my millennium


Jay Electronica – Exhibit C

Fuck it, while we’re here, here’s the Jay Electronica track.

“They call me Jay Electronica. Fuck that.
Call me Jay ElecHannukah
Jay ElecYarmulke
Jay ElectRamadaan Muhammad Asalaamica Rasoul Allah Supana Watallah through your monitor.”

This was last year, and he only eventually signed to Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s odious capitalist enterprise, about ten days ago. A back story about being homeless, not selling crack, if you’re worried about that. This is Mainstream Hip Hop. Revise your opinion on it.

Nicki Minaj feat. Eminem – Roman’s Revenge

Also, Pink Friday leaked, hyped endlessly by Nicki Minaj’s torching of Jay-Z on Kanye’s Monster (which you might have noticed last week if you haven’t got Presumably What Pitchfork Consider The Best Hip Hop Album Ever yourself yet).

She’s a chameleon. Listen, and hear the rappers she likes. Lil Wayne on Did It On Em, a little ODB shudder occasionally, the Drake punchlines (or “hashtag rap“) thrown in throughout, notably “I’m a bad bitch, I’m a cunt/And I kick that ho – punt” on this before Eminem rolls in to remind the public that he’s still in a rage. Probably more I don’t recognise.

Then there’s the give ’em enough rope, I’m-cute-OH-WAIT-I’M-ANGRY stuff. And that weird English accent that narrates MBDTF. “Two shows tonight, that’s Brooklyn and Dallas, then the private party at the Buckingham palace” she says on I’m The Best, and that’s kind of a good metaphor for it. Never a dull moment, even if coming out the same week as Kanye seems like a bit of an oversight.

Finally, Jay-Z’s got a book, and he considers rap lyrics poetry. It’s not. Neither’s Bob Dylan though. And TV’s not film, and blogs aren’t magazines.

Hip Hop Monday #2: Kanye West, Lil B.

Kanye West, Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj – Monster

So Kanye West’s album leaked.

The thing about Kanye is that he jumped the shark and stayed relevant. It’s him and Lady Gaga when it comes to present, all-consuming fame at the moment and, as luck would have it, he’s also in the habit of producing excellent music. Everything gets that bit more significant when someone has enough of a profile to be an entire side of the cultural conversation unto themselves.

So Kanye went autotune, went out with that snaky woman, interrupted Taylor Swift and started being more accessibly strange hourly on Twitter. He’s still the guy. If you’re Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj or even Jay-Z, you have a different ringtone for him and you answer with the word ‘yes’. There are a few of these posse tracks on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but none of them are as good as this or as significant as this.

Bon Iver opens proceedings, because Kanye is plugged into the lumberjackcore scene or because he heard his voice with a sampler’s ear and thought ‘with distortion that could sing a hook’. Rick Ross trundles in and calls himself a “fat motherfucker”, in keeping with the be-self-deprecating-around-Kanye trend established recently, then decides 4 bars is enough.

Kanye? He calls himself “the best living or dead hands down”. People will tend to say this from time to time, but it’s different when you’ve got this much cultural (and actual) currency. He also says “have you ever had sex with a pharoah?/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus/Now she claiming I bruised her oesophagus” which is Lil Wayne batshit at best.

Then it’s Jay-Z. There was a time when he’d call himself the best rapper alive every 8 bars or so, and as far as something like that can be true, it was true. But here, after Kanye whose vaguely lazy, self-regarding but ultimately satisfying flow is clearly a cut above, he’s shown up as old. If you’re guesting on something as high profile as this, you don’t get killed, especially if you’re still hanging on to claims of ‘best’, and he’s dead as soon as he starts.

And then Nicki Minaj shows up – 3.30 will get you some of the hook, and then her verse. She does voices, if you didn’t know. Sri Lankan, normalish/reggaeton, nice girl, reggaeton, Barbie, growl, Barbie, normalish. She’s head and shoulders above anyone else on this track, and it’s probably the best verse on the album, in my early stages of listening. Guess what’s rumoured though? She has ghostwriters. Is that just sexism because a GIRL without even an album out managed to dance all over Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rick Ross for about 80 seconds on Kanye’s own track? Put it this way, there’s no evidence either way, and Nicki herself says this:

“I write my own raps, I go in the studio by myself. There are some female rappers who can’t go in the studio unless they have a ghostwriter sitting right next to them,” says Minaj. “I’m the complete opposite—I’ll go in and ghostwrite for someone.”

So that addresses that. As for the rest of the album, it’s Kanye coming back to take possession of his evolution of boom-bap rap. It’s a nutcase at the top of his game, lyrically astute but with an odd worldview as divorced from reality as you’d expect from a guy this far away from the real world for this long. The window might not stay open long, but it’s open now and he’s doing it without breaking a sweat.

Lil B – Bitch I’m Bill Clinton

In other news, Lil B, who is definitely bad milk, put out a mixtape that he claims is the greatest mixtape of all time. He tends to claim a lot of stuff that’s not true though. For example, that he’s Bill Clinton. It’s free.