Abe Beame still prefers street lights to all of the lights.
Let’s narrow it down to the last ten years. Plenty of rappers have dropped albums at the peak of their fame, but Kanye is the first to drop the “zenith” album, MAXIMIZING said fame. Right now, no one is not returning a phone call and he knows it. On the first few listens, this read to me as, “I’m finally going to own my asshole personality and make an album celebrating that rather than apologizing/justifying it,” underscoring it with an insane ensemble of his heroes and influences, his peers, his proteges, etc.
Yet this album isn’t a career zenith, because its bigger than one man. It taps into the zeitgeist, something that interpolates all the weirdness and how we got to where we are and where we’re going– 11 perfect songs of steroidal 2010 Popular Music. This album will age. I don’t know what this says about me that I feel the songs on this type of level. Nor did I know that Kanye had a song like “Blame Game” in him. I still prefer 808s.
There’s an intentionality involved in the features. It’s not just “hey let’s throw Outkast on a Southern shopping anthem, they’re kind of hot right now” he’s curated a very personal list of his past, present, and future. It’s a “Kanye West, this is your life” kind of thing which I think is a really interesting approach when you can just make up a dream team roster. I listened to Jay’s Rosenberg interview last week and he was talking about Big Daddy Kane and what he’d say if Rakim approached him to do a song. And in my head I was thinking “yeah, Jay would NEVER do that,” but Kanye did here with Rza and Raekwon, working with that who’s who of 90s Boom Bap production. In typical Kanye fashion he’s leaned on collaboration harder than ever before and it has resulted in his most intensely personal album.
This record lacks a lot of the pyrotechnics and unabashed ambition that an album like Graduation had. Don’t let the roster fool you, a lot of these songs are dark and unfriendly. “Monster” and “So Appalled” have the names, but they’re not by any means his go-to-rotation jams. When you consider the last quarter of the album, it doesn’t play like a pop grab for me. It’s huge but in a really personal and unconcerned way. Indulgent but really fucking entertaining. I think the most interesting thing about the discussion is that everyone, from fans to foes agrees that this is a major album that students of Hip Hop will be referencing decades from now. I suppose the larger question pertains to reading that impact and what it “means” (or, whether or not it will perpetuate the kind of Hip Hop you ascribe to and have grown comfortable with). Maybe he should call his next album Apocalypto, because the good news for the haters is I have absolutely no idea where dude goes from here.