Now Hear This! Special Issue #2
“I love myself way more than I love you.” (Kanye West, 2018)
This issue reviews the five projects involving our wayward, musical genius free thinker Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music label: his own new album, as well as the projects from Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, and Nas.
The music industry has done kind of a 180 degree turn in how albums are being produced lately. Historically, an album contained, on average, 4 to 6 tracks per sides, with an average length of about 3-4 minutes per song; the CD age, with room on a disc that allowed artists to cram close to 80 minutes worth of music on a single disc, often created albums with bloated excesses of material, diminishing the overall quality of a project. Now, as CD’s are being overshadowed by digital downloading and music streaming, we’ve seen the industry reverse course, and now we’re seeing shorter, more concise albums of 10 tracks, and overall lengths shrinking into the 30-35 minute range again.
The five releases being reviewed here are being marketed as full albums, but would’ve been known as EP’s or mini-albums just a few short years ago; as a matter of fact, with each of them containing just 7 tracks and an average total length of about 23-24 minutes, three of the four could fit onto one CD… but, each of them are distinctive in their own way.
Soooo, let’s get into those distinctions…
Pusha T “DAYTONA”
The third solo album from 41 year old Terrence Thornton aka Pusha T is largely a celebration of his lifestyle in the drug game. Of course, this isn’t my preferred choice of occupation (heck, neither is my current occupation), so who am I to judge?
He’s speaking directly to those in the game with him, those who wish they were as successful as him, and to those with whom he’s at odds (more on that in a moment). He proclaims in the opening headnodda “If You Know You Know“… “This thing of ours, oh, this thing of ours / A fraternity of drug dealers ringin’ off / I just happen to be alumni…” Much of his lyrical wordplay, frankly, will fly over the heads of many of us, but his core audience will get it. And that’s part of what makes this album so intriguing, as you want to be part of that core, if only to understand. The album’s title is a reference to his favorite watch, the Rolex Daytona – as he says, he has the ‘luxury of time’. On “The Games We Play“, he further describes life in the game, and all the excesses the money brings it… “Ain’t no stoppin’ this champagne from poppin’ / The draws from droppin’, the laws from watchin’ / With Ye back choppin’, the cars and the women come with options /
Caviar facials remove the toxins / This ain’t for the conscious, this is for the mud-made monsters…” Rick Ross adds his $20 worth on “Hard Piano“, and Kanye drops in on “What Would Meek Do?”; finally, on “Infrared“, he continues his beefs with Lil’ Wayne… “Salute Ross ’cause the message was pure / He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour / Flash without the fire / Another multi-platinum rapper trapped and can’t retire / Niggas get exposed, I see the cracks and I’m the liar?…”; and Drake… “How could you ever right these wrongs / When you don’t even write your songs? / But let us all play along / We all know what niggas for real been waitin’ on / Push…”
Y’see, Push thinks he is THE man, a self-described legend in his niche of the world, with a new joint he proclaims will be the ‘Album of the Year’. With tight beats supplied by Kanye, the album, with its’ seven tracks clocking in at a tidy 21 minutes, is hard-hittin’, and with Push displaying an undeniable swagger and arrogance, he’ll get some votes…. check out the video for “If You Know You Know“…
The 12th album from the king of Queens-area, NY rappers tackles both current and historical events, encompassing them within his focus on the effects of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Sloth, Wrath, and Pride.
The opening salvo “Not for Radio” is a brutally honest and accurate political statement of race and financial issues, both personal and as witnessed and experienced historically by his people… “Convinced my experiences were meant to be / Helps me navigate as they validate they treachery / Felt established, fake as he smile / handshake questionable / “Am I good?” he ask, thinkin’, “But is he testin’ you?” / (Is he testin’ you?) In my hood, fear does a few things / Make you pussy, make you a snitch / Make irrational moves or even turn you to food…” This song explores the sin of Pride, and features Puff Daddy as hype man throughout the track. “Cops Shot the Kid” explores Wrath, features Kanye and Slick Rick, and speaks on the continued police brutality against Blacks; “White Label” speaks on the thought of ‘having too much of a good thing can be bad’ (Gluttony), while “Bonjour” tackles the need to fulfill fleshly desire (Lust). The expansive 7 1/2 minute “everything” speaks on Greed… “If I had everything, everything / I could change anything / If I changed anything, I mean anything / I would change everything, oh yeah“… “Adam and Eve” tackles Sloth, as it pertains to the proverbial ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, or repeating generational sins, and finally, “Simple Things” tackles Envy, speaking on people’s jealousy of his lifestyle, possessions, etc, with Nas proclaiming at the end, “I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with.”
Quite simply, this album is stunning, easily the best of the batch of G.O.O.D. releases; it bests the J.Cole project, and pretty much anything else released in hip-hop so far in 2018. It is, no disrespect to Pusha T’s sentiment of his joint, an “Album of the Year” candidate. At just 26 minutes, he could’ve gone long form and treated us to a few more tracks…. but…. they’ve got a pattern going on here, and there are ‘only’ seven deadly sins… so I’ll just hit ‘repeat’ and listen to it again… and again. No video is available yet for any of the tracks, but check out the audio for “Not for Radio“…
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
The collaboration between Kanye and Kid Cudi is an exploration into matters supernatural, spiritual, and earthly. Several of the themes here involve overcoming man-made obstacles – the expectations and judgement of others; it also speaks to getting past personal demons like bi-polar disorder, depression, and drug abuse.
Labelmate Pusha T features on the opening track “Feel the Love“, which is punctuated by what is said to be gunshots- it actually sounds like Ye is vocalizing a Trap beat – to express them feeling the love in the community amidst all the violence. Ye opens up “Fire” with the lyric “I love all your shit talkin’, I love all your shit talkin’ / You ain’t got nothin’ better to… do with yourself?…” to address those who’ve judged him for what they see as his failures; it also asks for forgiveness for their shortcomings from the one who can provide it. My personal favorite track here, “4th Dimension” features a sample from old timey swing jazz musician Louis Prima; the track is lyrically scattershot, but it does again touch on people waiting for them to slip up, so they can pass judgement. Both “Freee“, which is the sequel to “Ghost Town” from “ye“, and “Reborn” are almost spiritual, as they express getting beyond the expectations, and ultimately criticisms of a society hell bent on waiting on and wanting them to fall. The album and group’s namesake track expresses a similar sentiment along a supernatural road, and the closer “Cudi Montage” features a Kurt Cobain sample, and addresses the effects on everyone resulting from gang violence.
The album has a bit of a Rock ethos to it, courtesy of Kid Cudi and his occasional involvement in that style; again, the beats are tight, and vocal delivery is on point. Hopefully, these two will collaborate again… there is no official video from the album at this time, but you can enjoy the audio for “Reborn“…
Teyana Taylor “K.T.S.E.”
This is the fifth of five Kanye produced albums, each released a week apart; it is the sophomore effort from the singer/model/actress 27 year old Harlem native perhaps best known (as least to me) as Bow Wow’s character’s baby mama Sabrina from “Madea’s Big Happy Family” (the one shrieking “Byrennnnnnnnnnnn”).
It deviates from the pattern set by the previous four albums only in the respect that it contains eight tracks, instead of seven tracks; still it clocks in at a brief 22 minutes. The album’s title is an acronym for “Keep That Same Energy”; she opens with “No Manners”, a 99 second ode of infatuation to her NBA player husband Iman Shumpert that proclaims “my hubby-my hubby so handsome / I hold him ransom, I hold him ransom / And then some / I got a man, but ain’t got no manners…”; she follows up that with two tracks dealing with relationship struggles, “Gonna Love Me”, which utilizes a nice Delfonics sample, and “Issues/Hold On”, which opens with a sample from Chicago R&B legend Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You”. “Hurry” is a tale of sexual prowess, and “3Way” discusses her willingness to invite another woman into her bed for her man’s pleasure, and features a part from Kanye doing his best K-Ci impersonation. “A Rose in Harlem” talks about her rise above betrayal by people around, while “Never Would’ve Made It” take the Marvin Sapp track, reimagines it and makes it her own. Finally, “W.T.P.” closes the set – the acronym stands for “Work This Pussy”, and is a musically, a nice track reminiscent of Chicago House and ”vogue-ing” – honestly though, she could’ve left this track off the album, and let the previous track end it.
The album has its’ moments, and Ye’s production is good, as usual, but it falls in other areas for lack of substance. Overall, it’s aight… no videos are yet available for the album, but check out the audio for “A Rose in Harlem”…
Kanye West “ye”
In my last article, I talked about ‘what Kanye said’, referring to his comments about slavery in an interview with TMZ; at the end of the discussion, I expressed that Kanye needed to deliver a fiyah album, to win back some of the fans who were justifiably put off by some of his comments. Well…. the album isn’t bad, and there is some flame, but not fiyah. I had to listen to this album several times, to let his lyrics sink in, and ultimately, my overall impression improved over my initial thoughts – and that often happens with someone who is considered a bit of a crazy genius.
The album is perhaps Ye’s most vulnerable, as he puts his business out front- at this point in the game, he’s strong enough to endure any criticisms that may come his way. Ye opens up with “I Thought About Killing You“, with the declarations “the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest…” It’s a forum for his inner demons, his bi-polar selves clashing with each other. “Yikes” explores his opioid addiction, speaking on thoughts and hallucinations while under the influence, and how frightening they can be, while “All Mine” speaks on infidelity. “Wouldn’t Leave” is about wife Kim’s loyalty to him through everything he’s been through, and “No Mistakes” talks on financial difficulties he’s recently endured; this track includes background vocal help from Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson, and also features a lyric directed at Drake, as a follow up to a diss Drake directed as him and Pusha T…”Too close to snipe you, truth told, I like you / Too bold to type you, too rich to fight you / Calm down, you light skin!…” Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is “Ghost Town” where Ye sings in a very shaky voice- I wish he had gotten someone you can actually sing to do this part, as I think this is what wrecks it for me; the lyric “We’re still the kids we used to be, yeah, yeah / I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free…” declares Ye as comfortable with himself again, and is reprized on the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album. The closing track “Violent Times” could be the sentiments of any man raising a daughter… “No, Daddy don’t play, not when it come to they daughters / Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates / Just play piano and stick to karate / I pray your body’s draped more like mine And not like your mommy’s / Just bein’ salty, but niggas is nuts / And I am a nigga, I know what they want / I pray that you don’t get it all at once / Curves under your dress, I know it’s pervs all on the net…” As a man raising a daughter, this resonates with me. He wants his daughters to be a monster “like Nicki” – and Ms Minaj closes the song and the album with a spoken word comment on the lyric. Nice way to end!
Overall, after repeated listening, I have more of an appreciation for the project, although I believe the other albums here are stronger than this one. Ye will be comfortable, in the aftermath of recent events involving him, with whatever the public thinks- and that’s a step in the right direction for his mental state… No videos are available for the album, but enjoy the audio for “Violent Crimes“…