Where do you begin with an article called “The Rise and Fall” of anything? Well, for this writer, it starts here: while there was a time when not only was Kanye West the best musician performing, but he seemed mildly reasonable. That time is long past though. Either way, this will not be a celebration of who West is as a performer, as a man, and as a celebrity. It will be the opposite of praise, and if you’re uncomfortable with that, I apologize and suggest you realize who West actually is.
For many, including myself, Hurricane Katrina was when i first deftly acknowledged West as a man intent on staying whatever the fuck he was inspired to. It was refreshing, yes, but it showed a propensity for outlandish statements just for the sake of an outlandish statement. West knew exactly what he was doung, and while its definitely true that George Bush doesnt give a fuck about black people, it was a genuis move to keep his name in the news right before a huge solo album was entering the world.
With that statement, Kanye West had arrived, to the point Even my mom spitefully knew who he was after that. You also had the mouthshut vocal range West produced on the breakout track “Through the wire” to show you this was someone was something special
When I think of this man's career, five things stand out to me, which we’ll be discussing further in this space. For years, West had positioned himself as a sounding board for what forward thinking hip hop could be. Every album released during his massive popularity rise was a classic. The Graduation trilogy as its known put KW on the map, with classic bangers like “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” and of course, the song of that summer, “Gold Digger.” It was all infectious, and his genius was obvious. This was long before records like “Pablo” started to fray the edges of his genius with more and more self observed misses like “Famous.” Before that however, we got “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy.”
This album is so strong from start to finish that its damn near impossible to truncate it into a post that’s not an in depth look at every song. I’ll try my best though.
Let’s start with the multitude of guests on this record. It’s staggering and the various voices force West not only to bring his A game, but it also sets the tone of of unpredictably that finds the listener at every song. Guests like Jay, Rihanna, Raekwon from the 36 Chambers respectfully shows up, as do Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, and dark horses like Chris Rock( who’s monologue at the end Blame Game is hilarious and raunchy) and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon all show up and give their best in function of West’s vision.
An early cut like “All of the Lights” is a triumph of hip hop history, and while I rarely like solo Rihanna, this is another example of how great she is as a guest star. Then you have a song like “Runaway,” which is a nine minute monolith of music that displays and blows away anything he’s done before or since. The way the track uses the minimal beats early on and grows and builds from their is quite simply brilliant musicianship.
It’s recommended listening as you need to listen to this record all the way to fully immerse yourself in the darkness West has composed for us, because it works best as one singular piece as opposed to different tracks for different days. It runs the gamut of musical imagination, and it’s for that reason this stands as the best work of Mr. West's career, so far at least.
After “MBDTF” sent everyone into a tailspin, Yeezus was a complete flip of the script in how West compelled and produced an album. Rumors swirled for months that the production of the record was a mess, but after getting much needed guidance from the incomparable Rick Rubin and slimming the record down drastically to the ten songs that formed the album, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it.
From the early moments of tracks like “Black Skinhead,” which finds West again working with Daft Punk and putting white people on notice for practices that we as a people might not even know is wrong. It’s a great mindset though when an artist is angry but also willing to not shy away from difficult issues. The whole album is easily the most aggressive and angry of his catalogue, but it’s also his most potent in terms of originality. “Yeezus” also shows that he can carry an album with minimal guests(unlike the other records, not to say it’s a bad thing) as he circumvents his critiques of culture with unrelenting songs like “New Slaves” and the eye opening sincerity and pain behind “Blood on the Leaves.”
You may be wondering how we bridge the gap between genius West and whatever he is now, which is certainly nowhere near genius level. It all starts with his mom, Donda, who sadly passed during plastic surgery, and if you know anything about KW, you know his mother was everything to him. She was a sounding board, and when she left, a lot of that genius he possessed started to fade as well. It’s hard not to relate to that loss in a significant way, but it’s even sadder when you see the drastic change in Kanye the performer, and the person.
Two of the biggest issues are his associations for the last five years or so, as West has consistently shown the public a few very important things. One, that you can be a brilliant artist while not being a good person. Two, he’s a person capable of making the ultra up their own ass, self -importance of Kim Kardashian seems somehow normal and in need of support, when in fact she’s neither. She’s still the same horrible human being we’ve always known, but it’s to be applauded at how “normal” she seems when compared to the behaviors of her ex-husband.
In short, Kanye was once a legend, now, in his current parish phase, it’s hard to find much worth celebrating. Hopefully that change is coming, but we shall see.
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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