Tag Archives: kanye west

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

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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

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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

The Top Five Albums of 2016

1 Jan

2016 has not been a kind year for musicians. We lost many greats this year, starting with David Bowie in January, to Prince in April, to the double-whammy of Leonard Cohen in November and George Michael on Christmas Day. However, a year that has seen the death of so many singer-songwriters has also been a year that has let loose some of the greatest solo music in recent years: a silver lining, if any. Without further ado, we present below our top five albums of the year.

5. Sept. 5th: dvsn

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dvsn have been shrouded in mystery from the start. When the band first signed on to Drake’s OVO Sound record label, it wasn’t even revealed who the singer was. Since then, they’ve lifted the shroud a little – the voice belongs to Daniel Daley and the beats and words belong to Nineteen85 (real name Anthony Paul Jefferies). The mysterious nature suits them, creating an allure that perfectly compliments their sparse, lusty R&B.

And lusty it is. Sept. 5th is essentially about doing the deed with your significant other. Popular music is rife with this topic, but dvsn takes a very respectful approach to the subject matter. “In + Out” (yep, it’s exactly about what you’re thinking it’s about) refers to the partner’s body in royal terms: thrones, highnesses and crowns. On “With Me”, Daley respectfully asks his partner to come over to quench his lust.And on the titular track, Daley knows he messed up and pleads to make it up through – yep, you guessed it – sex.

Beyond the tone of their lyrics, dvsn really excel at creating music that’s sparse and dense at the same time. On “Too Deep”, Nineteen85 layers subtle handclaps, funk sounds, downtempo beats and Daley’s lusty croon, with enough space to co-exist and build off of each other. “Hallucinations” also features just a handful of sounds, but there’s also immense gravity in the negative space – in what isn’t said or heard. It’s almost like dvsn have taken a leaf out of the xx’s book.

Sept. 5th is a highly enjoyable R&B album from a mysterious and highly talented duo. We’re definitely looking forward to hearing more from them.

Best tracks: “With Me”, “Too Deep”

4. Blonde: Frank Ocean

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Frank Ocean’s efforts to release Blonde are nothing short of a drama. The story begins in 2009, when the soft-natured, velvet-voiced Ocean – then inexplicably part of the violent rap crew Odd Future – signed with Def Jam Records. In 2011, Ocean released his critically-acclaimed mix-tape, Nostalgia, Ultra. Although its follow-up album Channel Orange was well-received, it was not comparable to the quality and cult following of Nostalgia.

Ocean seemed to have lost his mojo for a couple of years after Channel Orange, although rumors of a follow-up have been surfacing since 2014. Finally, on August 18th and 19th of this year, Ocean streamed a visual album called Endless, effectively completing his recording contract with Def Jam. The very next day – August 20th, 2016 – free of a record label’s controlling hand, he released his real offering: Blonde.

“Smoking good, rolling solo / Solo, solo” incites Ocean on “Solo”, yet another example of the endless battle between creative artists and corporate labels. The freedom suits him, though.

Blonde on the whole is more mellow and meditative than his previous two offerings. Moreover, although Channel Orange and Nostalgia had gospel tinges, Blonde is drenched in them. Nowhere is it more apparent than on “White Ferrari”, a dreamy R&B classic with psychedelic nods to the Beatles. The serenity of the white car offers a nice contrast to the orange Lamb on his mixtape, providing a clue into the singer’s growth since those days. “Sweet 16, how was I supposed to know anything?” he incites, perhaps speaking of the fame that was to follow Nostalgia.

On Blonde, Ocean uses minimalist, introspective music to frame his chocolate-smooth voice and troubled thoughts. Great for rainy, moody evenings.

Best tracks: “Nikes”, “White Ferrari”, “Close to You”

3. “Awaken, My Love!”: Childish Gambino

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Donald Glover challenges the very idea of a triple-threat, a term usually reserved for singer-dancer-actors like Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez. Glover, however, spreads his creative talents far further. He got his first break as a writer for Tina Fey on the legendary “30 Rock”. After whittling his comedic talents behind the scenes, Glover moved to the other side as Troy on the equally-legendary show “Community”. As if that weren’t enough, Glover released a critically-acclaimed album, Camp, in 2011. Whatever the Donald does, he does it to perfection (well, this Donald at least).

It seemed for a while that Glover would continue in a mildly-hipster route in music, as he did with writing and television. After Camp (and in between his myriad other creative commitments), Glover released Because the Internet, a Grammy-nominated ode to the World Wide Web – fitting of the world that Troy and his friends resides in. And thus it comes as a true surprise that “Awaken, My Love!” is, at its core, a thoroughly accessible album.

The creative impetus behind the album seems to be the recent birth of Glover’s first child, with a woman that the world knows next to nothing about. The baby seems to have mellowed out Glover, replacing the smug references with feelings and emotions. The deliberate and intense “Me and Your Mama” is a weed-infused love song for his baby mama, sung with the same passion that created his baby boy (“Girl you really got a hold on me / so this isn’t just puppy love”). At the same time, he seems to understand that his days with the baby mama are limited. On “Baby Boy”, Glover speaks alternately to his baby and to his baby mama.  (“I’ve never lied about us / we were never supposed to be together”), but expresses permanent, unconditional love for his child.

Apart from songs written for his baby, the other key notable theme on this album is Glover’s formidable tribute to old-school funk. On album stand-out “Redbone”, plucked staccato notes support Glover’s surprisingly adept falsetto. His lyrics, too, are top-notch. Redbone is slang for someone with mixed African, Creole and Native American ancestry, characterized by the reddish undertones in their skin. Glover calls his redbone woman a “peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid”: metaphorical, funnily accessible and sweet at the same time. “Boogieman” is a perfectly-named double-entendre: a musical homage to the Boogie but a lyrical homage to the Bogeyman.

Overall, “Awaken, My Love!” is a great new direction for Donald Glover the Musician. Glover’s other personas are doing incredibly well – he’s slated to star in a new Star Wars movie and play a part in the new Spiderman movie – so let’s hope he can still spend some time on his music. Because we love what we’re hearing.

Best tracks: “Redbone”, “Me and Your Mama”

2. Lemonade: Beyoncé

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve heard of the elevator incident. In May 2014 at the Met Ball, Beyonce’s sister Solange physically assaulted Jay-Z with almost inexplicable rage. Few things seemed to explain the intensity of her rage, but the most plausible explanation was that Jay had cheated on her sister.

Beyonce and Jay-Z largely kept mum about the elevator incident. All seemed well in the household of the second-most powerful black couple on the planet (at least by omission). On April 23, 2016 – days shy of the two-year anniversary of the elevator incident – Beyonce broke her silence with a record heard around the world. Lemonade was born.

Accompanied by an HBO film of the same name, the visual album is an exploration of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s extremely high-profile and lucrative relationship. It’s unclear whether the album is a state-of-the-nation report or an “inspired-by-real-life” relationship drama. Whichever it is, Lemonade has got us hooked from start to finish.

The album starts off with a two-level prayer: Beyonce prays she can peep into Jay’s cheating world, and also prays that Jay understands that she knows he’s cheating. The first half of the album fleshes out these ideas. On “Hold Up”, she warns Jay that she’s the best he’s going to get – braggodocio and a plea at the same time. On “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sorry”, the braggodocio takes over. In the former song (which features Jack White), Beyonce sneers at Jay as a weak man who had to cheat and in the latter, she goes full Queen Bey (“Middle fingers up, put them hands high / Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye”).

After the rage and fury of finding out about a cheating husband, Beyonce comes back to her family-centered values on the second half of Lemonade. On “Sandcastles”, she is willing to break her promise to leave him. “All Night” is a cease-fire: Beyonce has come to terms with Jay-Z and is willing to take him back, because she knows their love is deeper than that.

Lemonade is an exceptionally well-produced concept album that articulates complex feelings like few pop albums have. Its hooks are irresistible, and its lyrics are well-crafted. Clearly, Lemonade is what Beyonce made after life gave her lemons.

Best tracks: “Hold Up”, “Sorry”, “Formation”

1. The Life of Pablo: Kanye West

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In popular culture today, Kanye West is many things. First, he is a famed rapper, producing beats and albums that are way ahead of the rap game at the time. Second, he is the husband of the woman who is by far the most famous in the entire glittering category of women who are famous for being famous. Third, he is a budding designer, whose shoes and clothes capture the fine line between madness and genius: a line that is basically his home address.

In short, Kanye West is famous. Really famous.

Where does all that fame land him?

It lands him in bed (literally) with a host of other really famous people: Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, and Donald Trump to name a few. These are the world’s foremost leaders at running the hype and fame game. (See: 2016 presidential elections.)

It gives him a fascination with several incarnations of Paul. Pablo Escobar, famed druglord with an alter-ego as a Robin Hood for Colombia’s poor. Paul the Apostle, carrying forth Jesus’ words and, in essence, his fame.

It provides him a deep, undying love for the thing that matters most: family. Even if that family includes a woman whose claim to fame is a sex tape with another black man. Kanye loves Kim and Nori and baby Saint very, very much – no matter what the naysayers may say.

It also shows him the underbelly of fame: cousins stealing laptops as ransom, acquaintances fronting as friends, friends fronting as real friends.

Life of Pablo is about all of these things. It is a greatly stripped-down album compared to the flamboyance of his previous albums. Much like Childish Gambino, Yeezy has been changed by the birth of his children. But in essence, Life of Pablo is a highly accurate painting of Kanye West as he is right now. It’s a masterpiece, as always.

Best tracks: “Famous”, “Real Friends”, “No More Parties in LA”

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

26 Feb

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That The Life of Pablo is a masterpiece is immediately evident. There’s none of the difficulty of To Pimp A Butterfly or the earlier Yeezus here. This is approachable from the beautiful, gospel-like opening of “Ultralight Beam” to the end. There’s an attention to detail in all of Kanye’s albums that leads to quality that you just cannot find elsewhere.

This album sprawls pretty far though. Musically, it jumps from point to point incessantly and like MBDTF before it, the album features a wide supporting cast. Those artists are at their best here though. The Weeknd’s piece on the brutally emotional “FML” is the best hook of his career, the clarity of his voice plays beautifully against the breathless nature of Kanye’s rap and the menacing, sparse beat. Similarly, Frank Ocean’s closing verse in “Wolves” was exactly what that song needed to cap it. Even Ty Dollar $ign on “Real Friends” is excellent. His collaborators seem to have subsumed themselves for their songs. Even people as individual as Rihanna or Young Thug just appear as a part of the music and not the whole package that they normally provide.

This is why for an album as rambling as this one, there is a surprising consistency. Where Yeezus or 808s and Heartbreak were about single emotions, this is about the full spread of Kanye, and so this album can be difficult if you’re not so into him. You have him referencing the Kanye Fresh meme and talking about the old Kanye to being impossible to relate to when he takes needless shots at Amber Rose or chants the word “couches”. Both To Pimp A Butterfly and Beyonce were similar in how they forced a (possibly alien) viewpoint on their listeners and so can cause discomfort, but Kendrick and Beyonce are much better people than Kanye and that makes them easier to listen to. Neither of them really care if you agree with them, but they use that callousness for social progress, Kanye just uses it to be Kanye. This is how he can go from “I didn’t mean to instigate” on the heartfelt “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” to the intentionally instigating Taylor Swift line of “Famous”, it’s just who he is.

He is also a musical genius though. The music is deep enough to always find something new and things work together in ways that I have never seen before. The Life of Pablo is a magnificent album and I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

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