Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and rapper Chief Keef handle the opening refrains on “Hold My Liquor,” a kind of heartbreaking song about Kanye wrestling with his some of his demons. Primarily, its about not being over somebody after five years apart and thinking one night of sex will cure him of that – which is, of course, as wise as an addict thinking one more hit will let them get over their drug of choice.
I find the song to be profoundly sad – Kanye is clearly hurting here and doesn’t really know how to get out of it (hopefully he’s out of it now). My wife says that music is a way to preserve specific emotional states – this song preserves the dull pain of longing for an old flame.
I encourage you to do a close reading of the genius annotations for “New Slaves.” The commentators there make a compelling argument that this song is a marxist attack on contemporary America consumerism. To whit, the new slaves are everyone who is caught in consumer culture. All of us who spend money are the slaves, everyone who makes money off of us is the master. Its a fascinating and convincing argument and ties in with themes of how consumerism traps people that can be traced back in Kanye’s songs to “All Fall Down.” While the song does have a large focus on how black Americans in particular are effected by this new kind of slavery, it also acknowledges that nearly everyone is a slave to capitalism.
When you know that’s what he’s talking about, “I Am A God” is a tremendously powerful statement from Kanye (I hesitate to refer to him as West after hearing that interview). Far from being a sacrilegious song, “I Am A God” recognizes that (for a believer) everyone has a little piece of God in them. I am reminded of the story of Job – Job sits on a trash heap talking to God. Kanye talks to God too (through prayer) and God talks back to him. I’m not explaining this very well, but I think this, like “Jesus Walks” is actually a very holy song – its about having a one on one relationship with God.
If that doesn’t sell you on the song, watch him perform it live on SNL:
“Black Skinhead” may be my favorite track ever by Kanye West. Built around a throbbing industrial rhythm supported by what sounds like African drumming (enhanced by pants and gasps), the track would be killer even without the powerful set of lyrics. As it happens, the lyrics are powerful indeed. Kanye draws a reference to the LeBron James Vogue cover, which drew comparisons to King Kong, and puts himself in James’ place. Kanye is married to a white woman and has climbed to the top of the social ladder in New York. He is attacked mercilessly by the (largely) white press, but at the same time a source of endless fascination by that same press. To whit, the same communities that attack him can’t stay away from him. They’re attracted and repulsed at the same time.
As for West, he doesn’t really give a fuck about what they think – there’s kids dying in Chicago and social injustice across the United States. Furthermore, what currently passes for music is pretty weak sauce. West is here, sort of like a superhero, to push aside the bullshit, challenge everyone to create better music, and to remind people that social justice needs to be achieved by any means necessary.
He’ll give us what we need
It may not be what we want
“On Sight” – Kanye West
Album cover video:
Kanye West is a genuine artist. He doesn’t just make music to sell records (which he’s recently demonstrated by making his latest album, The Life of Pablo, impossible to download legally), he makes records to blow shit up and make you ask yourself questions about society, art, music and, well, himself. Yeezus, released in 2013, is am avant-garde, confrontational punk hip-hop masterpiece. The album is unlike anything else I have in my library – I don’t even know what I’d compare it to (though I’ve read that it sounds influenced by a hip-hop group named Death Grips – I must look into them). On this album, West balances the sacred and the profane, the personal and the political and the poetic and vulgar. There’s something to inspire and offend everyone. Indeed, I imagine there are parts of this album that West himself feels offended by. God, there are lyrics I love and lyrics I despise on this record. Its infuriating and brilliant, as great art perhaps should be.
The album opens with the angry, confrontational “On Sight,” produced by Daft Punk (with some further work by Rick Rubin).
I encourage you to check out the Genius annotations on the song (which I just linked). Currently, I think Genius is the most comprehensive lyric site online.
While on the surface, the song is essentially from the “I, the rapper, am the greatest” genre of lyrics, there’s a lot more going on here. West and popular culture are still at war with each other and while there’s a lot of talk about where he’s sticking his dick (and who he’s sticking his dick in), a lot of it read to me like it could also be a metaphorical – “you try to push me out of your world, but I’m in your world anyways – balls deep in your world,” if I can extrapolate.
One thing I love about the music is that it sounds almost like its being played backwards. Its jarring and grabs your attention instantly. It has a touch of 90’s industrial and a whole lot of 21st century electronic punk. He uses one traditional “Kanye-esque” sample in the middle, but this too is jarring – its like its inserted in the middle of the more abrasive music to remind you of what you expected verses what you’re getting.
I only wrote about 106 songs last year and haven’t even updated the site since March. No excuses, just was working on other things. With the new look and name, I’m once again determined to actually write here more regularly and, ideally, write about 1,000 songs this year. Yikes!
Thank you to anyone who still comes by and reads from time to time, especially to Memo (who, as he was last year, is bogged down in the J’s). Happy belated New Year! Indeed, Happy Easter.
That’s just delightful. West and his daughter, North, enjoying some time together.
“Only One” is a single by Kanye West and Paul McCartney that was released on the last day of 2014. Its basically a lullaby sung from the point of view of Kanye’s mother to Kanye, and by extension from Kanye to his daughter, North (who he calls Nori in this song). According to the annotation at Genius (the first link), Kanye’s biggest regret in life is that his mother and his children will never get to meet. I’m getting old and sentimental, but that’s the sort of thing that makes me weepy in these, my sentimental years.
Paul McCartney and West (according to Wikipedia) collaborated on a number of songs at the end of 2014 and at least three have been released – this one and their collaboration with Rhianna, “FourFiveSeconds” and the harder edged “All Day.” All three tracks are really excellent and are sort of a sonic exploration for West. On this track, McCartney at served as producer and writer – he may also play on the track but I’ve not confirmed that. In addition, this track bought McCartney back to the American Top 40 for the first time since “My Brave Face” in 1989 and “FourFiveSeconds” brought him back into the top 10. What a remarkable career that man has had.
I have both “FourFiveSeconds” and “All Day” in my library, but we’re going to have to wait until Rhianna pops up for the first and wait until I wrap around to the “K’s” again for the latter.
In the 21st century, the idea of bonus tracks is both awesome and also problematic. Its awesome because you get more music for your dollar. Its problematic because it sort of wrecks the intended experience of an album. West intended for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to end with “Who Will Survive In America,” but when you purchase it digitally, you automatically get “See Me Now.” While its not a bad song, per se, it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the album. I listened to it extensively thinking it was the weak link on the album and was pleased to discover that it was, in fact, a bonus track because now I can just listen to it and think “oh, cool, a bonus Kanye West song.”
“Who Will Survive In America” is actually connected to the previous song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Lost In The World.” It is made up of a beat by West and an extended sample of a performance of a poem by Gil Scott-Heron. That poem is “Comment #1:”
Scott-Heron’s work is clearly a major influence on West. If we accept that “Lost in the World” is a general thematic statement about how West feels trapped in a world of materialism and lights, it makes sense that “Comment #1,” which (according to Wikipedia) is critical of the Revolutionary Youth Movement of the 60’s “for failing to recognize the more basic needs of the African-American community,” would close the piece. Its a call back to themes West first addressed on “All Falls Down”. His personal struggle with the material world is part of what makes it impossible to feel fulfilled as a black man in America.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy remains one of the greatest albums of the past decade. I understand people have their issues with West, but his work is consistently among the best music of our lifetimes.
“Lost in the World” is the penultimate song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Its a powerful, atmospheric piece that ties together many of the musical themes of the album – there is a specific lyrical references to “All of the Lights” and a section of the Gil Scott-Heron poem “Who Will Survive in America” ends the piece and creates a segue into the final song.
West’s lyrics for this track are brief and fairly direct. According to genius, the first part of the rap was a love poem to Kim Kardashian and the second part is a call to escape the material world for more sensual experiences. The importance of love and a need to escape the material world are both major themes of West’s work in general and this album in specific.
Bon Iver lead singer Justin Vernon collaborated extensively with West on this song. Indeed, they apparently wrote about ten songs together. Vernon’s vocals (and a sample from Bon Iver’s tune “Woods”) makes up a significant portion of the song. Indeed, its the primary hook.