To say Kanye West is one of the world’s most divisive artists is actually something of an understatement. To most of the public he is nothing more than an asshole – so it might be something of a shock to them to find out just how respected he is in the music industry. In fact he’s put among the 21st century’s very best. Hip-hop’s answer to Bowie – his sound has changed remarkably from project to project while retaining an embarrassment of hot singles and classic albums. So before So Help Me God drops and Breaks the Internet faster than his wife’s derrière, Shaun and Liam step back and break down the monstrous hype built up over the last two months – seeing where Kanye is now, and looking at the glimpses we have of where he’s going.
‘Only One’ started these frenzied two months off, and declared 2015 to be Yeezy season by dropping on New Year’s Day. Cast off are the ear-popping punk-farts of Yeezus and in comes a gently sung melody, unlike anything since 808s. And in the track title: ‘feat. Paul McCartney.’ Quite why the former Beatle has had a part in 3 of the new Kanye tracks is a little strange, since he mostly seems to just whistle or play percussion which any hired hand could have managed, but there he is – and the track is a nice. The lyrics themselves are touching given the right mood, and there’s an unearthly power to the chorus vocals when they kick in: Kanye proves again he has a Bowie-like penchant for vocal layering. The more questioning choice is the auto-tune and rightly so. This would indeed have been a far better song had a talented vocalist taken the lead. For a cut this personal though, how could they have? As Kanye said on Breakfast 106, he doesn’t ‘like the auto-tune either’, but when it’s a choice between that and never having heard this direction-changing song at all, the later wins out every time.
Four Five Seconds
This song is quite left field when considering the collaborating artists – but if anyone could unite the two contrasting styles of Rihanna and Paul McCartney, it would have to be Kanye West. This song, also destined to be on the new album, continues to hammer home the message that Kanye can’t be nailed down. Whatever Kanye sets his mind to, he can seemingly accomplish, with a fantastic acoustic based song that still manages to have his signature feel to it.
‘Wolve’s was first played at Kanye’s Adidas Originals fashion show as the opening track on his new album, ‘So Help Me God’, and by God did it take the world (more importantly, social media) by storm. It has everything that makes Kanye, ‘Kanye’. The production, the lyrics, and the feels that the song gives you all contribute to ramp up the anticipation for the album, and a special shout-out must be given to young Chicago artist Vic Mensa, and Sia of course, for their brilliant features on this song.
Dropped just two days ago on iTunes and already at three in the UK, number one in the US; ‘All Day’ was not an obvious hit. Like its BRITs debut it seems borne to provoke, not to please. It’s a banger yes and god knows our generation loves one of those but it’s also a noisy one, filled with break beats and grime influences free of the long, Robbie Williams-tainted shadow of Dizzee Rascal. Its breakdown features a twisted metallic Noel Ellis sample that belongs in the Yeezus bloodline and, on the studio version, breaks to Paul McCartney whistling its fiery opening synth over a gently strummed guitar. To be concise: it’s insane. And weird. It’s a hot track for sure but unlike the ignorance of A$AP Ferg or Young Thug, Kanye spits the braggadocio while keen to deliver his extravagant production to the genre, bringing the sounds of grime and flavour of trap to the mainstream, and succeeding.
it makes sense that he’d turn his ear to the London scene rather than the mob-obsessed luxury rap of the Chicago streets
Despite first impressions, grime makes sense as Kanye’s next stylistic infatuation. Giving interviews talking about fashion and music for everybody, not just the rich; it makes sense that he’d turn his ear to the London scene rather than the mob-obsessed luxury rap of the Chicago streets. The US often looks down on the grime of the UK because it’s crude without the class to soften the blow. Rick Ross brags about his Maybachs, Meridian Dan about a humble ‘German Whip’ – in other words it’s the hip hop working class, the underclass even. On 2014 cut ‘That’s Not Me’ Skepta and JME address exactly that: ‘I put that gucci in the bin ‘cus that’s not me’ said the man Kanye shouted out on stage in front of 2000 Ed Sheeran fans, and it’s becoming clear why.
There have been various notable performances from Kanye West in the past few weeks: Wolves was on SNL, he debuted his new track All Day at the Brit Awards, and had the impromptu, sell out performance at KOKO in London. A feature of his Brit Awards performance and his show at KOKO is that they included British grime artists, which goes to highlight Kanye’s new mindset about helping others get on top, with said artists, like Skepta, getting a lot more exposure due to Yeezy. Moreover, the show at KOKO blazed all over our Twitter feeds, with one calling it, “Historical. A full blown Summer Jam in KOKO”. These performances along with interviews and lectures, coinciding with a promo tour for his fashion range, and undeniably, his new album which should definitely be releasing soon. It must be said, Yeezy season is definitely upon us.
The media loves a villain, and it has one in Kanye West. Such treatment increasingly comes off as unjust witch-hunting though, as for the first time ever Kanye is starting to appear humble. He was blasted for lying on the floor refusing to talk after his Jonathan Ross performance before storming off, but really he just lay there silenced by one of the sharpest wits in television and at the end shook his hand, grinning. It was actually a refreshing display of humility. On his Zane Lowe interview he broke down in tears over the death of his friend and mentor Louise Wilson, but also spoke passionately about design being used to change the world, the class system being a new form of racial oppression and admitted that calling himself a genius all the time was… sort of stupid. On Twitter he apologised for his Beck incident at the Grammys, which seems to suggest the stunt was a step too far even for him, and since he’s been on the up. Lecturing at Oxford the other day he talked about removing his ego from his work – for a man whose last album featured a track called ‘I Am A God’, this new direction may be his boldest.
for a man whose last album featured a track called ‘I Am A God’, this new direction may be his boldest
But it’s the album we really want to hear about. Kanye is a cultural chameleon, but also an innovator – and his next path is as tantalising as the prospect of a new record. On the Breakfast 106 interview a year ago he compared the new album to Springsteen’s Born In The USA, a record packed full of singles to follow Yeezus‘ thematic partner, the bleak and sparse Nebraska. ‘Wolves’ and ‘Only One’ hardly sound like pop hits however, especially from a man who knows better than most how to make them. A year later in the same seat he hinted at ‘cookout music’ – but personally it’s hard to imagine parents prepping a family gathering to ‘All Day’ (‘where’d you cop these steaks?! ALDI nigga.’) ‘FourFiveSeconds’ maybe more so. These aren’t his best set of pre-album singles, and include some of his worst material since the Cruel Summer compilation. Yeezus was one of his best LP’s but since then every feature, sans-‘Sanctified’, has been half-assed at best, and fashion certainly seems a prime focus now. It’s encouraging though to hear Ye talking with a passion for music again, on Zane Lowe he termed it the ‘beauty from the struggle’ and though it’s hard to conceive these tracks in the space of one cohesive album, we’re as eager to hear So Help Me God as any other record this year. Today would be nice…
Images from: Corey Velazquez
Shaun Brewster and Liam Inscoe – Jones
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