I guess it can be said now that Kanye West is the next big thing. I can't remember when I first heard of the guy, but I think it was back when he was just a really good hip hop producer who other people would bring in to make that one song that would sell albums. Then his first single "dropped", which was the song "Through the Wire". I hate that fucking song. For as talented as he is, he sure doesn't know what makes a good first single (more on that later). But then the second came out, which was "All Falls Down". I love that fucking song. Usually if a song combines rap and r&b in a clever way, I'm on board. Anyway, the album was pretty good. Some people think the album is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and even suggest that it somehow is revolutionary. I disagree. It's just a very good, clever hip hop album. And I enjoyed it.
After that album came out, it has steadily become apparent that Kanye is just a touch insane. He's had some interesting public outbursts (the most recent being on the NBC telethon to raise money for hurricane relief, where he said that the Red Cross ordered all black people shot - or something like that). He may just be too much of an "artiste" for his own good (think R. Kelly). It's not a stretch to imagine him one day on an award show, play acting the lyrics to one of his songs without singing the actual words. But it doesn't matter right now, this guy is very good at what he does. I dare say he is, in fact, a genius. If I know that Kanye has produced a song on someone else's album, I can listen to the album and immediately pick out which song it is. His beats and arrangements just sound more professional and plain better than almost everyone else. And maybe his first album was even better than I thought it was because there weren't shitty tracks around it for me to compare them too. I don't know.
It's interesting to note that the more success he has, the worse Jay Z looks. I compare Kanye West and Jay Z to Bill Belichek and Bill Parcells. Bill Parcells was once regarded as the NFL's best football coach. While having his huge success, his defensive coordinator was a guy named Bill Belichek. But then Belichek left Parcells to be a head coach himself, and ever since Belichek has been winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl, while Parcells has been doing God's work and making the Cowboys shitty. So now people are rethinking how good of a coach Parcell's actually was. Was it him, or was it Belichek? Well, for many years Kanye West was the man behind Jay Z. He made a lot of his beats, and he's such a great writer, you know he had to be writing a lot of rhymes too. So was Jay Z really that great, or was it because he had Kanye hidden in his pocket? Debate amongst yourselves.
So now it's time for Kanye's second album. And in the tradition of "Through the Wire", his first single was the crap ass "Diamonds from Sierra Leone". I hate that fucking song. I have no idea why he released it first. But true to his pattern, the second single released was "Gold Digger". I love that fucking song. Everyone loves that fucking song. So I, along with 1.7 million other people, bought the album. I downloaded it from ITunes, so I don't have the liner notes or anything, but I've heard a few things. So with that knowledge (or lack thereof), here is a review:
Track 1: "Wakeup Mr. West"
Okay, this guy does too many "skits" on his albums. Why do rappers do this? Do we buy their albums for the comedy? No, we buy them for the exploitation of gang violence. Stick to that, and let me write the crappy comedy sketches. However, if this is an imitation of Bernie Mac, it's okay, if it's actually Bernie Mac, then it's very disturbing.
Track 2: "Heard 'em Say" Featuring Adam Levine (of Maroon 5)
This should be the 3rd single. I really like it (see? combination of rap and r&b). Jon Brion did a lot of producing on this album, and right out of a gate we get some of his shit. To me, he's a one trick pony. Luckily, that trick is a pretty good one. That repetitive piano thing can be heard on any Aimee Mann album, Fiona Apple's stuff, and every PT Anderson film. You can also see it at Largo every weekend on Fairfax. Moving on, this is also an inspirational song to me, because the lead singer from Maroon 5 sings on it. Why is this inspirational? Because that dude is just an average jewish kid from Brentwood High School, and now he's singing on a huge rap album. That was my dream, motherfucker! And he did it! Where your born in this country makes a huge difference in your future. I know this is obvious but follow along: if that kid had been born in Sheboygan, Wisconson, or Moraga, California, he'd probably be working in a mill somewhwere or at best writing for a crappy show on Comedy Central. Lucky falsetto bastard.
Track 3: "Touch the Sky"
Very horny. I mean, there's lots of horns on this. Sort of like on that one Beyonce song. I don't like it that much, but this song is pretty good because it has a lot of energy and is a little catchy. It could be the next single, but it's not better than the song with my jewish idol.
Track 4: "Gold Digger"
You can't not love it. I don't know how good of a rapper Kanye is, but he has a distinctive voice and he's just simply a terrific writer. "You can see him playing football/any given sunday/win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundae". Come on, that's awesome. And I'm now convinced that if Ray Charles had been born in the '70's, he'd be Nate Dogg.
Track 5: "Skit #1"
Skits!!! Get over yourself, dude! I'll say it again: just make music and let me do the bad comedy.
Track 6: "Drive Slow"
A solid rap song, the kind the crossover audience (re: my sister Lisa) that buys this album will quickly learn to skip over. It's reminiscent of the kind of songs 2pac has made since he died.
Track 7: "My Way Home" Featuring Common
This song could've been good, but Common raps on it. And he sucks. He's a good writer, but the dude can't rap. If I wanted to listen to poetry, I'd go to one of those places I used to see in movies from the 90's where people would drink coffee and then get up and read poetry.
Track 8: "Crack Music" Featuring Game
I'm not a big fan of Game, and I don't like this song. There's too much going on and there's absolutely no flow to it. It feels loaded with ideas but half-finished, kinda like any Charlie Kaufman movie.
Again, no flow. The music starts, and then it stops while he raps. I like when the beat stop for a line, but here the beat stops for the whole verse. Let me get the shoulders moving a little bit, son. Let me groove. Lots of good stuff in here, but it's not made into a cool song. Sometimes you have to stop being so clever and just make music.
"Bring Me Down" (featuring Brandy)
Sometimes songs are just so fricking "important" that they're kinda good, but you never want to listen to them again. It's like the contrast between Eminem's voting song versus "Don't Cha". You know Eminem's song is important, and it's pretty good, but when you're in the car, dammit if you don't want "Don't Cha" banging through the speakers. This song isn't that important, and it isn't that good, and Brandy is on it.
This song is kinda important and kinda good. Good sample. Not a great song, but enjoyable.
Fuck! The saving grace of these skits is that they don't bleed into the songs. You can easily skip over them. It's when they're on the same track that it kills you. Puffy almost killed Biggie's "Life After Death" with those fucking skits. You would always have to fast forward 1 minute and 12 seconds to the start of "Back to Cali". Brutal.
"Diamonds from Sierra Leone" Featuring Jay Z
You know how I feel about this song, but the addition of Jay Z on the remix actually makes it a little better. Maybe he isn't Parcells.
"We Major" Featuring Nas (ugh) and some other black guy
Yuck. Too much. But it does feature the line "Feeling better than some head on a Sunday afternoon/better than a girl who says yes to soon"
I like how they don't even have titles, it's just "Skit".
The standard rapper's "mama" song. How do these guys mom's feel about them singing about getting head on a sunday afternoon? My mom wouldn't like hearing that. This is a cool song though. Good sample again, but he kept it more simple on this one.
He sings on this one. He's not a singer. Jon Brion should've given this one to Fiona.
When will it end?
"Gone" Featuring Consequence and Cam'ron
If up to this point you're confused as to what a Jon Brion song sounds like, listen to this. It's typical. But this is a solid combination. And for some reason I always like Cam'ron, but I've never, ever bought one of his albums. Plus, I must say he's quite good looking. Why isn't he a bigger star? I don't know. But maybe the fact that I've never bought one of his albums explains it.
"Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
Hmmm, that's interesting...no, it still sucks.
My Itunes lists this as a "hidden track". This is a perfect last song for the album because it represents everything it is. It's clever, well put together, interesting, and yet, pretty unsatisfying and not something you want to listen to that much. I think Kanye is similar to Eminem, in that both guys are really smart and truly amazing artists. While Kanye is a much better producer, Eminem is a much better rapper. But they both make songs that are good, sometimes great, but neither makes songs I want to listen to a million times over again (like Dre does). They'll each have 2 or 3 songs on their albums that are really catchy, and the rest of the songs will be smart and solid and impressive, but not at all fun.