Kanye West divides and provokes and resides like few entertainers suspended in the stratosphere of fame. His skill as a musician is indubitable, but so is his misbehavior. To some, he is a prophet of the heavens, speaking Truth to the ignorant masses without regard for dumbass industry mores (and screwing with the industry’s prim propriety); to others, he is simply a wienie.
And Kanye had indeed presented himself, each time, as the good dude amongst bad dudes: a victimized, misunderstood Sampson with a fly Caesar-cut. Until the Taylor Swift “thing,” at least. Then, however, with an especially indignant (even for Kanye) chorus of haters volleying mini-rockets onto his bum, he decided he was, in fact, a wienie. He decided his wienieness was so immense he had to retreat from the lemon-limelight to Japan and Hawaii, become not a wienie, and record a groundbreaking new album.
And start one of the most popular and electric twitter feeds in existence. For his 1.2 million-plus followers, he has apologized to Swift, mused on his decadent furniture, called himself a wienie, apologized some more, etc.
Recently, in anticipation of his forthcoming album, _Dark Twisted Fantasy_ (to be released mid-November) he has used his twitter to promote what he has dubbed G.O.O.D. Fridays (G.O.O.D. being his record label). Every Friday until mid-November he will leak one song from the album. Going forward, we will review the songs as they are leaked; what follows is an overview of those already released.
__“Power”__ (ft. Dwele) is a schizophrenic account of Kanye’s mental state, which is at once egotistic, self-conscious, clever, and unabashed, set in a sort of tribal dance. Against repeated sing-song chants and a violent drumbeat, he brags about his greatness then rues it and brags about it again: “Stop trippin’/I’m trippin’ off the power/ ‘til then, fuck that, the world is ours.” So, as a window into his psyche, as a mirror to his internal paradox, it’s pretty fascinating.
His lyrics are bland throughout (“Where the bad bitches?/Where you hidin’?/I got the power to make your life so excitin’”), but the music is generally jammin’, with just enough variation to narrowly avoid the repetitiveness of most rap. “Power” marks the continued decline of Kanye’s lyrical substance since his very substantial _The College Dropout_. Unless his lyrical egotism is an intended symbolic, and not actual, projection of the pressures of his stardom…
__“Power”__ (Remix, ft. Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz) shares many issues with its un-remixed version: the boring beat, the unsurprising lyrics. Swizz Beatz doesn’t help either. He inserts an unrelated beat (based off of a sample of “I’ve got the power”) in the second half of the song that brings my brain an undesired dance-hall sensation and splits it violently from the original version. To be fair, though, Jay-Z’s guest verse is a relative gem of technique and wisdom (“Life is a trip, so sometimes we’re gonna stumble”), which, unfortunately, illuminates Kanye’s lyrical laziness (which might be contrived…).
__“Monster”__ (ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj) has the most interesting guest appearance of any of these songs—Justin Vernon, the lead singer of Bon Iver and master craftsman of their beautiful For Emma. He sings a haunting, un-Bon Iver-esque intro, fed through a distorting auto-tune, which tones what follows. What follows is a forgettable stanza from Rick Ross. What follow that are a couple of bizarre (“Rape and pillage a village/women and children”) and brilliant verses from Kanye (!) and Jay. Kanye rediscovers and flaunts his plentiful skills: “I’m living in the future/ so the presence is my past/ My presence is a present/so kiss my ass.” But again the only meaning to be derived is that Kanye is a dope-ass dude—a carnal monster—who gets multitudinous blowjobs. There are two more things I adore about this song that elevate it above “Power”: the beat, sinister and minimalist (think _Enter the Wu-Tang_), which chugs along beautifully, and Nicki Minaj’s verse, a sort of spastic rampage of song and rap in which her voice leans from Jamaican (it’s very reminiscent of Biggie’s “Respect”) to gangsta to Barbie—hauntingly.
In __“Devil in a New Dress,”__ Kanye finally confronts a (somewhat) serious topic seriously. His subject is a woman-friend who plays with his heart and his pocket-book and leaves him. Unfortunately, the song’s substantial occupation comes at the slight expense of Kanye’s flow and the not-so-slight expense of the beat (listless drums, predictable strings and vocal samples).
__“Good Friday”__ (ft. Common, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Charlie Wilson) is hardly good at all. Even “Power” jammed intermittently. “Friday” never really emerges from Kanye’s womb, stunted mainly by a Garage Band beat of numbing insipidity—there is nothing groovy or grating about it. This song is Kanye’s label song, so each guest’s purpose is to simply rep G.O.O.D. Music, which is an essentially dumb premise. Kanye, Common (whose early albums are absolute gold), and Big Sean all succeed in doing so, but fail at rapping well: “He think he live/he think I’m gold/he think I’m high/I’m in thinker mode” (Common). Pusha T’s (of the Clipse) verse is characteristically interesting, and Kid Cudi’s sung chorus is pleasant—but that these are the song’s redeeming qualities doesn’t bode well for the company. The title’s clever, I guess.
Why is __“Lord Lord Lord”__ (ft. Mos Def, Swizz Beatz, Raekwon, Charlie Wilson) dubbed such? It has nothing to do with the divine, as “Jesus Walks” did; my guess is “lord, lord, lord” is how these artists imagine others respond to their art and/or sexual prowess. It begins with a contemplative verse from the mighty Mos Def, which almost seems to be about Kanye: “Cool ruler standing still sweating through the shade/ he knew those lights only grew bright in fame.” Another point: Mos seems to be one of few rappers who is able to use imagery and non-sexual metaphor.
And again, the compared stupidity (“I only hang around with white boys that like black sluts”) of Kanye’s verse illuminates not only his current lack of lyricism, but also why it’s a bad idea—practically and artistically—to have so many collaborators. Kanye shows he’s still clever—“If I’m a douche/put me in your coochie.” But, seriously, what is the point of saying that? Honestly, why? It does nothing to hear he’s “king of the urban” who makes “your shit sound rural.” It’s offensive not for obscenity or sexuality, but for stupidity. This song is only slightly redeemed by my nostalgia—or, naïve love—for Raekwon and the Wu-Tang Clan. A cliché: Lord, Lord, Lord, don’t ever let me hear this song again.
With __“So Appalled”__ (ft. RZA, Jay-Z, Pusha T, Swizz Beatz, Cyhi the Prynce), Kanye’s most recent release, I am growing sick of the same formula—simple choruses about how great [Artist] is/are; a series of hyperrealist verses, interrupted by Jay-Z’s brilliance; a spiritless beat—leading to the same issues.
It should be clarified, for this and all the songs: they are fantastic rap songs, absolutely fantastic rap songs. The hottest guests and tightest and hottest producers and dopest punchlines. They are great rap songs. But, perhaps unfortunately, I have higher expectations of Kanye, for I know he can do much better. On _The College Dropout_, he spoke intelligently and insightfully about poverty, self-consciousness, God, unemployment, the cult of the body, and his family—over musical music. Though Kanye has claimed this album is “going backwards” toward the _Dropout_, these leaked songs indicate not a regression in time but in quality. This regression is stunning, like his recent revolution from honest wienie to contrived nice guy. It seems his will to think in his music exited with his will to express his thoughts in public. But, then again, he might just be messing with us.