Friday, March 14, 2014

From Dropout To God: 40-31

Kanye West is the most important musician of the 21st century. Note, I did not say best for that would reveal my ignorance over the subjectivity that is art. West, despite his egotistical, highly irrational, no-holds bar personality, would, despite his claims to the contrary, agree that no single work of art can be deemed the best art. What can be deduced from the brain of West is a definition for best. Good music leaves no lasting impression. Bad music leaves no impression at all. An impression on the masses must be met with a discussion about the piece itself. Just like in an art museum, when two beholders glance upon a painting; one with disgust, the other with satisfaction. The space that lies between them, the tension the piece creates, deems it worthy of 'best.' A good work of art that's universally liked can only be receive so many head-nods and agreements before the topic becomes stale. Much like a bad piece on the contrary. Kanye West lies in the middle. Fans idolize him, critics despise him. There's only so much hypocrisy you can take in an individual who can simultaneously denounces the excess of materialistic possessions whilst sporting a Louis Vuitton coat, donning a decked out gold plated chain, while stepping out of your Maybach. But it's this confliction of ever-changing beliefs, controversial statements, and impressionistic music that I can say, without a doubt, that Kanye West is the most important musician of the 21st century. Here are his best works:

Note: Due to Blogger being terrible I lost all my detailed explanations from songs 50-41, as this was originally suppose to be a Top 50 list. So I cut them out and began with 40. Enjoy.  

GOOD Friday (Ft. Common, Pusha T, Big Sean & Kid Cudi)
GOOD Friday

One of Kanye's legendary Good Friday tracks, given the title of the same name, in the lead-up to his most critically-acclaimed album. Good Friday, in much the case of the other Friday tracks, contains a litany of features to accompany Kanye on his quest for maximalism. It's a celebratory track for Kanye and everything he's accomplished the few months prior. With chipmunk-esque voices squeaking in the background surrounded by glittery piano samples, DJ scratches, and a hollow drum set, Friday is one of Kanye's most cheerful songs. Everyone, including the usually melodic Kid Cudi and the gritty Pusha T come through with surprisingly joyous segments. The emotional feelings of the track tug through your speakers making it rather hard not to crack a smile at one point or another, especially during Big Sean's purposely over-the-top, outrageous verse. Kanye, for the most part, takes a backseat to allow his G.O.O.D music fellowship to shine, and they certainly do, especially Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson, who, with their crooning abilities, puts an airy excellence over the track. 

No Church In The Wild (Ft. Frank Ocean)
Watch The Throne

The second track of Kanye West's and Jay-Z's tour of excellence that features up-and-comer Frank Ocean manning the hook takes a turn for the religious. Or anti-religious, however you wanna look at it. One of the more popular chorus' in the past few years, Frank Ocean's depiction of how us as humans perceive religion and the chain of order really puts out situation into perspective. The King decides to rule, but it's the mob that chooses to believe they're less than him. But that King must obey to the God, who rules all, except for those who choose not to believe in him, they, the non-believers, go to the wild. It's a powerful message of the need for religion when there are some who get by just fine not believing in its existence. Coming from Kanye and Jay-Z, two rappers who stay true to their religious beliefs in their songs, the meaning creates further impact. Both their verses do the original message justice, choosing to question the current nature of our ways. Most of the production created for the track are actually sampled sounds, such as James Brown's vocal reverbs, Spooky Tooth's drum loop and Phil Manzanera's guitar riff heard in the opening. Monkey screeches, which enter the track as well, put the finishing touches on forming something entirely wild.

We Don't Care
The College Dropout

Yeezy's inaugural joint, and what a joint it is. For listeners who were big into Hip-Hop around that time (I wasn't, being 12 and all) it must be a surreal feeling now to look back and possibly remember the first time you ever heard Kanye rap. But I didn't put We Don't Care here because of it being the first Kanye track because it legitimately stands up against the crowd. Instead of composing a song for the kids to cheer them up for graduation, in accordance to what Ray-Ray the Hustle Guy says on the intro, Kanye decides to celebrate drug dealing as the only way to make it out of the ghetto. Excusing its hilarity for a moment, the surreal nature mixed with that comedic factor is really what drives home the message that doing illegal activity is the only way to make a living on Chicago's south side. It seemed that Kanye, on the first track on his first album, knew how to drive home a message without banging us over the head with it. To some extent it's actually quite shocking progressing through the whole song only to hear the kids cheerfully sing Kanye's drug-induced chorus as the finale. To put a capper on Kanye's legacy as a whole his message to kids here (Throw your hands up in the sky and yell "We don't care what people say") is something West has stuck to his entire life through all the turmoil he has endured.  

All Of The Lights
My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

The glorification of celebrity status has become somewhat of an idolized aspect of American culture. Worshiping those who provide entertainment to the masses is something Kanye knows more than anyone else. So why not have 2010's biggest stars and a few others thrown in on a single track in order to capture the true essence of the flashing lights. Turns out their lives ain't so grand and filled with poor choices, frustration, and the constant pressure of excellence. Rihanna's proclamation, while seeming like the most bland chorus this generation, is actually a call to turn up the lights (the paparazzi) and show the world what their lives actually consist of because it isn't all peaches and cream. What seemed like a positive track soon takes a different direction once Kanye pours out about the life of one struggling with real world problems while being forced into the spotlight. This also concludes West's 'lights' trilogy, signifying the downfall of his celebrity status as a whole. The production, beginning with the cello solo interlude and concluding with a cacophony of sound. Trumpets blare, drums bounce off the walls frantically, a string and brass section overtakes the foreground, all whilst Elton John and Alicia Keys sing the song to its close. It's a remarkable finish to a remarkably lofty track.

Touch The Sky (Ft. Lupe Fiasco)
Late Registration

With Just Blaze producing the track, one of the most well-produced songs off Late Registration, and the only one not produced by Kanye himself, it allowed for West and Lupe Fiasco, in his first radio appearance, to shine in their verses. The later pulls off a song-stealing verse at the end, marking his introduction into the rap game with his debut album, Food & Liquor, being released the following year. While the lyrics are decent, and the positive message is strong, it's truly the production that overtakes over the track. Blaze's use of Curtis Mayfield's horn section dominate the song, and rightfully so. But it's in the subtleness where the beat flourishes, showcasing Mayfield's vocals just loud enough to brim through, claps echo throughout the song, and Blaze's trademark drums hit hard and quick. Not much more than that exists here, which makes it all the more impressive for Blaze to construct something that seems so lush and deep that its depth is the first thing people think about it.

Gorgeous (Ft. Kid Cudi & Raekwon)
My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

Gorgeous may not be Kanye's best produced song, nor his most divisive, or anything remarkable for that fact. What Gorgeous is however, is Kanye at his lyrical finest, showcasing the inequalities of blacks in America so effortlessly that it's easy to get lost in his 'recorder' sounding voice without delving to much into the rhymes he's spitting. The outspoken Chicago rapper has always been one to make lofty comparisons of himself and outlandish accusations of his country in the same breath. Here, while referring to himself as "Malcolm West," Ye voices out against the governmental takeover of forced injections of AIDS in the black community, a debunked conspiracy theory. This doesn't stop West from talking his shit, further exclaiming the racial double standards of America as a whole, many of which are rather credible and deserve the right to be heard. Rather ironic to call the track "Gorgeous." Further more, over the course of Kanye's three stunning verses, as evidenced by the chorus sung by Kid Cudi, the entire track is a critique of himself and his re-acceptence into pop culture recognition after the backlash from his well-talked about Taylor Swift incident. My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy was meant to be Kanye's apology to the world for his actions, and this song was him opening up that he might fail, something the normal Yeezy would never announce.     

Flashing Lights

Even though the original chorus sounded better, no one can doubt the beauty that is Flashing Lights. The track creates one of the best mash-ups between strict Hip-Hop and Electro bash on Graduation by swapping out beats every 4th bar, using a drawl, drowning bass on one end, and a glittering hyper-synth on the other. The sound is crisp, strict and robotic, which comes off as a good thing on an album meant for dancing. This also marks the opening to Kanye's lights trilogy, this time focusing on the paparazzi that surrounds him nearly every day, peering into his lifetime problems of handling them. The women West speaks about on this record, one groupie willing to do anything to please Kanye for the fame and money that he holds, the other being the girl Kanye wants who treats him much like anyone else. The latter however, causes problems when arguments arise and the flashing lights go off, while the former allows the rapper to play it safe as a quick one-off to his long line of woman. It's a lose-lose situation for someone dealing with fame. Interestingly enough, through the duration of Dwele's chorus, accusing his girl of being flashy with the paparazzi, the final chorus "You" & "I" are switched as Kanye becomes self-aware of his love for his extreme, showy nature.  
Say You Will
808's & Heartbreak

The intro to Kanye's most unusual album and one that wreaks of pain and heartbreak, the main carrying themes through 808's. Say You Will begins the cold, bleak record with a polyphonic sound of equally sparse drums, synth clips, and a haunting gospel that provide the backing throughout the entirety of the track. At this time in Kanye's legacy he wasn't known for providing instrumentals without having his voice emblazoned upon them, but on here West chooses to close the track with 3 minutes of the dark and dire production and it works gloriously, providing a true sense of the infinite sadness that is 808's & Heartbreak. What we also hear first is auto-tune, the highly-critiqued aural shift that Kanye underwent on the project. I admittedly wasn't a fan at first but once I realized the sonic reasoning for his stance, that being the sound itself resonating with anguish and grief, things became more clearer. Here Ye harps over his breakup with one of his ex-girlfriends, something clearly traumatizing him based upon his lack of sleep. The track really shows the evolution and transitioning of thought that goes on in the mind of one overcoming despair, as his beliefs begin to change with the realization that maybe he was in the wrong. It's a powerful opening statement for someone so engulfed in their own righteousness.         

Mercy (Ft. Pusha T, Big Sean, & 2 Chainz)
Cruel Summer

Yeezy's first experimentation with dance hall-influenced samples. This track, and a few others, surely inspired Kanye's aesthetic for Yeezus, with reggae samples littering the sound-scape of many tracks found on the divisive album. But here, his first forte into it, was his most successful. In terms of the track itself the popularity never exceeded some of West's previous songs, but the epic scale at which Mercy plays dominated rap airwaves for months. The lyrical content from all four rappers never expands further than the braggadocios boasts of cars, money and haters. This is to be expected however on a production so massive, holding within the most legendary bass drops of 2012. The entire track is a tour-de-force in instantly quotable material, all the way down to the samples used on the bridge and hook. One critique of the track is the beat switch occurring on Yeezy's verse, which transforms Mercy, for just a moment, into a house music rave, substituting the low thralling bass line for a more uptempo one that packs less punch.     

Spaceship (Ft. GLC & Consequence)
The College Dropout

It's always a fun nostalgia trip listening to an artist's first record and witnessing the progress they've made since. No one else has changed so drastically then Mr.West himself, even though he'd beg to tell you otherwise. Once a down-trodden black man trying to make a living in Chicago, West is now a multi-multi-millionaire taking his talents all across the world. The former is exactly what this song is about, the injustice that is trying to make a living in an unjust society, being forced to perform graveyard shifts to make a living wage. It's ironic, and telling of the times, that on this track which reminisces over his High School job at the GAP, even back then Yeezy was marketed as a greeter to help bring in the black community, something he still opposes today on New Slaves, except in much different ways. GLC and Consequence, two longtime friends, join West on here and compliment his story of tribulations with perspectives of their own. A few Marvin Gaye samples, all voice-pitched a few notches to high, compliment the collective whole of the track. This track, notably the chorus, works as a means for explanation to an ignorant cynic of Kanye's ability to sing without auto tune, as his breezy, innocent voice provides a sense of meaning to the hopelessness of his endeavors. 

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