Tag Archives: kanye west

Kanye West – Jesus Is King

10 Nov

It’s a given now that a new Kanye album is going to be something of a production. Albums are promised and due dates come and go and you’re never sure what you will get until it comes. With Jesus Is King, what you get is a lot of truly excellent music and one of the more interesting albums that Kanye has ever made.

Coming in, I thought it would be a full gospel album. I expected “Ultralight Beam” extended into a complete album. Instead, although there is a very substantial gospel theme, the album as a whole is surprisingly diverse. There’s a heavy religious bent and the album is very cohesive, but my concerns about monotony proved entirely unfounded.

The album opens with a straight gospel track though, performed by the Sunday Service Choir that Kanye has toured with of late. It’s a good choir and a good way to open the album. It functions as a statement of purpose and a way for the listener to enter the mindset that the album asks for. It’s ablutionary.

It’s followed with “Selah,” which opens with Kanye rapping, but the centerpiece of the song is that same choir. Kanye has a couple of good lines (I like his biblical double-entendres), but the song is completely overpowered by the choir. It’s weapons-grade material to put into any song and it animates the song to such an extent that Kanye’s rapping after it feels completely subsumed by the echoes of that choral work. It makes for a powerful effect and one of the strongest songs of the album, but I feel that there’s space there for a better melding.

From there though, we go into “Follow God,” which really showcases Kanye’s ability as a rapper. In this and in “Hands On,” you can see technical rapping in a way that it feels that the earlier Kanye was just not capable of. He teases the chorus a couple of times in the middle of the song just to bull through it without taking a full breath and it’s dazzling. Even more interesting though is the center of the song, Kanye fighting with his father just to be told that it’s not Christ-like. The reality of spirituality is that it will be tested, and this struggle is one writ especially large with Kanye’s turn to God here. Kanye is famous for his emotionality, for his quickness to react, for his inability to think before he acts, and to see him address the struggle is valuable as it’s rare to see someone be honest and personal about how difficult it can be.

“Closed On Sunday” has a bit of the same. The Sabbath is a sacrifice as much as a respite and you can see the intent behind referencing Chick-fil-A’s decision to stay closed on Sunday out of respect for their faith. The production is sober and quiet and Kanye’s rapping is muted through most of it, which gives the music a heft that plays well with the theme and the wariness of the first verse, which then translates well into the second, often-shouted verse.

The Chick-fil-A association still leaves gristle in the teeth though. The company is far more famous for homophobia than for Sundays and to not only repeatedly reference them, but to end the song with a screamed invocation is overtly provocative. You have to expect that with Kanye, it is what he does, it gets the people going, but nevertheless I would have really liked it if he had backed it up a little. He explains “I Thought About Killing You” over the course of the song and that is why that piece is so strong, but here he simply provokes and runs, and it feels less than it should as a result.

The middle is a bit forgettable. It’s reminiscent of some of the more forgettable parts of TLoP to me, but I actually really like “God Is.” It’s just earnest and that’s nice to see. Earnestness is another of those things that’s critical to any understanding of religion, but it’s also one that people are often reluctant to center a song on just because of how uncomplicated it is. Uncomplicated is not the same as inferior though, and I like to see something straightforward every now and again.

For all of that though, “Hands On” calls out the Christians. It’s a necessary part of an album like this, it’s a good reminder that the struggle for spirituality is personal and not just subsuming yourself into a crowd. As above though, it’s also got strong rap from Kanye. His change of pace here is very clean. Again, it’s just nice to see how much Kanye has developed as a rapper. It was never his strongest suit, but his ability now unlocks a lot of musical space.

“Use This Gospel” helps close out the album well. Clipse are acceptable on it, but Kanye is great and bringing in Kenny G for a moment is very unexpected, but remarkably well done. It’s exactly the perfect sax interlude. The actual closer, “Jesus Is Lord” finishes right as it gets started, but that works well. It’s uplifting and beautiful and ends on exactly the right note.

Jesus Is King is not a masterpiece like MBDTF or Graduation and not as groundbreaking as 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but this is possibly the most unique album that Kanye has ever made. I’ve never experienced anything that has quite the same thing to say about religion or Christianity. It’s sincere and honest in the way that only Kanye can be and the result is as personal as a fingerprint. It’s very good music and there’s plenty here to provoke thought, no matter what Kanye himself may have intended to say. It’s not without flaws, but it’s also just excellent music and it’s the album this year that I’m most glad to have heard.

The Top Five Albums of 2018 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There’s been a lot of great music in this year, from sources both expected and previously unknown. It took quite some effort to bring the list down to just five, but these are the five that we think you should definitely listen to when ringing out the new year.

5. Chris – Christine and the Queens

Musically, Chris is a throwback. This album sounds like nothing as much as an escapee from the pop / R&B charts of the 80s and a very good one at that. It’s upbeat music with lots of interesting little quirks. It is not just effortless, but actively fun, to flow with this album and it’s embedded with myriad little flourishes that delight.

What truly elevates it though is the modernity it brings. While the structure is that of Michael and Madonna, the album is clearly something of 2018, both musically and, more strongly, lyrically. Héloïse Létissier’s alter-ego Chris explores the edges of modern femininity with intelligence and complexity. The character is strong and sensual but vulnerable and human. She’s a full person and she makes this one of the most vivid albums of the year.

4. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye has had an interesting year to say the least, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re just going to talk about the best of the series of seven-song mini-albums. Kids See Ghosts finally brings Kid Cudi out of the rut that his last few albums found him in and gives Kanye the grounding and focus that he’s lacked for a few years now. The two of them have a history of bringing out the best of each other and this album is the culmination of that relationship.

The rock-flavored rap of Cudi has exploded of late, but most of the current practitioners are somehow substantially more emo than Cudi ever was. It’s refreshing to see a return to his more straightforward, guitar-focused strain with this album. His deep voice and the thrum of his humming have always been his greatest strength and Kanye’s flat-edged rapping cuts right through it beautifully.

This album is a spiritual experience and clearly built to be so. “Reborn” evokes the kind of devotional feeling most religious ceremonies can only grasp at. The strength, the upliftment and the humanity of the song and the album as a whole transcends the human and reaches the divine.

Read our full review here.

3. Room 25 – Noname

Room 25  is easily the most unique album of this list and of this year. I’ve never heard anything like Noname’s blend of laid-back rap, jazz and soul before and I doubt that I will again until her next album.

Her technical skill is astounding. She takes rapid, layered lines and delivers them with a staggering nonchalance. She’s even able to mix a little laughter into the lines that she goes through at a blazing pace.

It’s not a loud album. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head with its merits. It just does what it wants to do and it does it extremely well.

Read our full review here.

2. MUDBOY – Sheck Wes

MUDBOY is basically the opposite of Room 25 in every aspect but quality and innovation. Where Room 25 is gentle and intricate and relaxing though, MUDBOY is pounding and blunt and arousing.

This is a rough and uncompromising album. It bludgeons you with ideas and innovations relentlessly. It’s also just really good rap. “Mo Bamba” is not just a viral hit, it’s the most exciting song in rap this year. He doesn’t need any kind of ornateness in this album, it’s just straightforward and strong.

I don’t actually expect to see this start a new trend in rap just because of how unique Sheck Wes’ sound is. Imitating him is not a task for the weak. Instead, we’re going to have to leave it to the man himself to show us what’s next for the most interesting music of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. Both Directions At Once – John Coltrane

Both Directions At Once was the album that I was most excited about this year and it delivered fully on that hope. Recently discovered in a copy given to his first wife, this album found Trane in the middle of that fertile period around My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. It never got the full release that his classics of the time obtained and so is quite naturally rough, but the brilliance here is undeniable.

His early takes on “Impressions” are fascinating not just for what they would become, but for the music that they were in the moment. It’s clear that this is a transitional period for Trane. He still has some of the pop sound of My Favorite Things here in “Nature Boy” and “Villa”, which may not be as challenging as the rest, but are still excellent.

The Untitled Originals are all intriguing. His variations on 11386 are all thought-provoking in different ways, Take 2 is exploratory and Take 5 is playful. They are elegant and unexpected and so beautiful.

There’s a clear difference between Both Directions At Once and the masterpieces that Trane actually released in those fertile years of the late 50s and early 60s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an album of tremendous intelligence and my easy pick for album of the year.

Read our full review here.

@murthynikhil

Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.

24 Jun

It’s unfortunate, but Yeezy season was due for a full-on bust and this is it. I had hopes from this given Teyana’s talent and the criminal degree to which she is underutilized, but it was not to be. This is just poorly executed on every axis. There is no reason to waste your time with this.

@murthynikhil

Nas – NASIR

22 Jun

I still remember the first time that I heard The Illmatic. That album opened my eyes to what rap could be. I had never heard anything like it. It’s rightly hailed as one of the greatest rap albums of all time to the extent that I feel that it often overshadows the rest of his work, which is a shame as he has a lot of excellent music. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t add much to that oeuvre.

Nas honestly just feels bored here. He can’t summon the kinetic energy that imbued his earlier songs. He just doesn’t have the flow of his youth and lacks the skill and swagger that made his best work so great. Something like “Bonjour” just feels pointless. Kanye’s production tends to be impressive here, but doesn’t always connect with Nas. Historically, Nas does well when afforded more space than these beats allow.

However, the beat for “Cops Shot The Kid” is insanely good and the Richard Pryor introduction sets the song strongly. Ye has some solid lines here, but his rapping is weak enough to slightly harm the song and Nas’ actual bars are delivered adequately but feel forgettable. “Not For Radio” on the other hand has Nas deliver some excellent lines and he does so with aggression, but he undercuts them with some absolute head-scratchers. Still, “You’re lucky God made us compassionate” is powerful and “I think they scared of us” makes a hell of a chorus.

The centerpiece of the album, “everything” gives Nas some more space to work though and he uses it well. It feels like classic Nas when he starts his storytelling and while he can’t sustain it over the full seven minutes of the song, it still makes for one of the strongest pieces here. Additionally, Kanye’s chorus is amazing and tempers the rap well with its emotion. Similarly, the beat and chorus of “Adam and Eve” matches Nas well and it’s one of the few moments where he feels like he could recapture something of his best work. It’s solid, but Nas at his peak was a whole different animal.

This isn’t standout work for either of the people involved. It has moments though and is worth at least a quick listen.

@murthynikhil

KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

15 Jun

Yeezy season continues and Kids See Ghosts is easily the strongest release of a strong set. At the same 7 songs and 20 minutes as the other two, it doesn’t quite have the tightness of Daytona or provoke quite as much thought as ye, but neither of them have quite the brilliance of Kids See Ghosts.

Kid Cudi is one of those rappers whose influence is undeniable, but whose albums are always something of a crapshoot. His Man On The Moon days were excellent, his other stuff often less so. Still, he built a niche for himself and newer hit rappers like XXXTentacion and Young Thug definitely draw from his style of rock-flavored rap. Kids See Ghosts sees Cudi more than turn away the challenge though.

The two of them complement each other well with “Cudi Montage” amusingly being one of the best showcases of this team-up. It uses a posthumous Nirvana guitar riff as the base of an exceptional beat. Cudi’s voice matches it perfectly to open it and then he transitions beautifully into a fantastic chorus thrumming with Cudi’s deep hum. Kanye then gets his turn with a punchy verse on the cycle of gun violence and then the album goes on an extended return to the chorus to end the album.

Great though the end of the album is, let’s take a step back to the beginning. There’s a strong undercurrent of soul in this album that hits you right from the opening song “Feel The Love.” A song with a name like that was always going to have heart, but that reverberating chorus is transporting and then cutting it with Kanye’s vocalizing is a sledgehammer blow before hitting the break. It’s a powerful song.

The real highlights come a little later in the album though. “4th Dimension” is classic Kanye. The distortion of the Louis Prima song “What Will Santa Say” to make a beat is brilliant. The rapping sets a healthy pace though. First, Kanye gets off a couple of clever lines and then Cudi just runs with it. His “Kids See Ghosts off the ropes, Ric Flair on your bitch” sticks with you.

It’s “Reborn” though that’s my pick of the album. Cudi’s hook is mass-media gospel in a way that should have televangelists foaming. It holds both the tiredness it needs and the forward movement that lifts the listener as much as the song. It’s deep and resonant and captures a moment and a feeling better than most songs and most artists are capable of and does this while just being fantastic music.

There’s not a weak song in this set. “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” is muscular and rips you along with it. It keeps a plethora of really interesting shifts swimming down below an ascension of a chorus. “Kids See Ghosts” is pulsating and infectious and “Fire” thumps along to an anthem built on Cudi’s humming.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Kanye and Kid Cudi team up and an album like this definitely justifies the wait. Not only do their strengths play strongly off each other, but they each seem to have obviated the other’s weaknesses. This is excellent and unique rap and it’s clearly the album to beat for 2018.

@murthynikhil

Kanye West – Ye

8 Jun

kanye-west-ye-album-cover-1527857034-compressed

This album had a lot of potential. Some of Kanye’s best work has come from his worst times. Sadly, Ye doesn’t have the bravery of 808s or the genius of MBDTF. It is, unquestionably, the worst of Kanye’s albums. It’s still quite good though.

First of all, “Yikes” is an excellent song. The beat is out of this world. The Kanye of this album and of TLoP shifts amorphously through the styles of his past. That industrial sound that punctuates lines in “All Mine” is Yeezus at its best.

The opening song “I Thought About Killing You” feels novel however. The premise is strong and blurs artist and art in a way that Kanye is uniquely able to do. Similarly, the couplet he starts singing with “I called up my loved ones, I called up my cousins/I called up the Muslims, said I’m ’bout to go dumb” sticks in my mind. It’s dumb as all get-out, but calls back to “Clique” and is surprisingly aware of the results of his actions.

“Wouldn’t Leave” does some work in the same vein. Ye talking about the effects of his actions on his family makes for very personal and unexpected music. Viewing his statement on slavery through this lens was novel.

It’s unfortunate then how ill-informed that view on slavery is. “Wouldn’t Leave” does nothing to defend the view, and that’s really what we should expect from Kanye. He’s not well-informed. He doesn’t understand a lot of things. He’s very selfish. Expecting stuff from him other than genius in music is unfair to who he is.

His views in “Violent Crimes” are particularly regressive. Viewing other people as people shouldn’t require that you have a daughter. And yet, this is good soulful Kanye music. It even has a couple of moments of insight. For all of its very obvious flaws, it’s still just a good song.

Similarly, the baldness of the lyrics of “Ghost Town” could have been banal had it not been for the quality of the song. The music elevates a series of not particularly deep thoughts. Also, Kid Cudi shows up well with his atonal chorus. It both brings up memories of 808s and bodes well for Kids See Ghosts.

The second installment of this Yeezy season isn’t quite up to the standard of quality set by Daytona, but it is definitely the more interesting album. It’s not quite as good as Kanye’s best, but I’m sure that with time I’ll return to it as much as any of his other albums.

@murthynikhil

Pusha T – DAYTONA

3 Jun

If this is how Yeezy season opens, it’s clear that we’re in for something special. This album goes hard from the start. “If You Know You Know” and “The Games We Play” are straight bangers and then “Hard Piano” does as promised and features a great Rick Ross to boot. There’s just a lot of small things here that catch me every time.

The production here is stellar. It may be time to finally crown Kanye as the greatest hip-hop producer of all time. These beats are all excellent and thought-provoking. Their grooves are deep and easy to fall into and always seconds away from a sharp left turn. The case for Kanye was already strong, but this may be the album that pushes it past debate.

Pusha’s rap isn’t quite up to the same standard, but it certainly gets the job done. He gets off a couple of really solid lines in “If You Know You Know” (A rapper turned trapper can’t morph into us / But a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff) and “What Would Meek Do?” (Angel on my shoulder, “What should we do?” (we do) / Devil on the other, “What would Meek do?”) but he’s never quite up to the standard of his more famous contemporaries. Push has been around for a long time and deserves respect for his body of work, but it’s not just bad luck that kept him from the top tier.

In particular, “Come Back Baby” is just a weak cut and “Infrared” takes shots but not particularly potent ones. In a 20 minute album, a couple of mediocre songs can’t help but to stick out.

These minor points aside though, this is an excellent album. Push really is an O.G. and teaming up with Ye has resulted in some of his best work. Once you’ve finished this though, you should check out his beef with Drake for the real rap.

@murthynikhil

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