SOUND VS. STYLE: KANYE WEST
by Jeremy Danté
the birth of north west came just three days shy of the street date of yeezus. after the new album’s material leaked, some speculated that this was intentional on behalf of kanye to take the heat off of his baby mama kim kardashian, one thing is certain. kanye is a genius. among the most controversial icons of hip-hop in history, kanye and his girl, kim kardashian are a match made in media heaven. prior to this post, following the headlines of kim and kanye making it official about their relationships, i initially drafted up a piece titled, “love in the limelight: kardashian-west”. as a cultural analyst of sorts myself, one cannot ignore the media power of this coupling. imagine if elvis presley got with elizabeth taylor- that’s how big this couple is. except, even better- both are of color. the impact is more wide spread, they give birth to a multi-racial child, they name her after the highest point, also combining kim’s middle name ‘noelle’ with kanye’s middle name of ‘omari’. the world of media has been in a frenzy ever since, while both kanye and kim are deeply in love. the piece never made it’s debut, as the cultural impact of their romance proved to be too heavily distracting and too far removed from the music than i liked. so i held off. then out of nowhere, kanye emerged with news that a new album would be out by june. no promotional efforts aside from that announcement, no lead single, no video, no available pre-order- no nothing. kanye had spoken in interviews saying, “radio is not where i want to be anymore”. which is powerful. the entire sound vs. style series that i’ve created here was founded on the principle that indie is now major. the mainstream now longer has as heavy a trickle effect as that of the independent musical market, and with the internet this movement gains greater traction with each artist, every song, and every chart statistic that seems to be stalled on billboard.
the concept of ‘jesus’ or higher power has been a mainstay in the musical journey and evolution of kanye west since major label debut in 2004 with ‘college dropout’. the heavy hearted instrumentation and bass and baritone layered vocals brought about a conciousness for rap music that had been missing for many years, following the materialization and mass marketing appeal of the golden era of hip-hop that seen rappers wearing gold chains, fur coats and shiny suits. when kanye hit the scene there was a basis of production that set him apart. over the years, that production style has rapidly developed, creating a musical portfolio unlike any other. thoughtfully influenced, kanye is a lover of inspiration and makes no attempts to hide the shit he loves. whether it was the candy colored polos and vuitton backpacks from the ‘dropout’ era, or whether it was the tenderness of a piano sample from ‘late registration’. remember when we first seen the takashi murakami album cover from graduation? that set the standard for japanese street style and high art in hip-hop. kanye has created more trends in mainstream music than he is credited for. that form of discredit is common these days, especially with the greatest influencers. as kanye has developed as an artist, his relationship with the press has created a departure and this odd love hate relationship that is every bit as understandable as it is confusing. though rough on the edges, misguided and misunderstood- there is and always has been a tenderness to kanye that makes him irresistable to audiences in hip-hop and the mainstream. if records don’t sell like they used, what purposes do the mainstream aspects of entertainment really serve? other than increased pressure and greater media scrutiny.
true fans understand the power and genius of kanye. our hearts went out to him during the passing of his mother, and in some unforseen twist of fate, he and kim kardashian share that aspect of loss in their relationship. kim’s loss of her father is often spoken of on her television series, ‘keeping up with the kardashian’s’. the act of publicly claiming the one you love is another aspect of love and hate. take for instance the idea of celebrity. now soundtrack that to kanye’s ‘flashing lights’ for a second. allow the symphony to guide you to that electro portion of production. now think; it’s as though the only form of success for us is correlated to visibility on a global scale, or to the idea of celebrity. celebrity here in america is interesting. it comes with increasing pressure. pressure to be perfect, to be a role model but then to push the envelope. to sell sex, but in an unsuspecting way so that mother’s can still buy it for their small children. there is a thin line between public adoration and hateful adulation.
while we’ve seen kanye celebrate his love for kim kardashian, announcing her pregnancy at his concert, there’s a layer of intent to keep things as private as possible with their new child. all these traces of energectic speculation lay the ground work for the album, yeezus to become that much more memorable as yet another era in the career of kanye west, the artist. after graduation, came ‘808’s and heartbreaks’ which arrived to mixed reviews. then came ‘my beautiful dark twisted fantasy’, which was west’s most progressive album to date. a heavy hitting roster of features and a full encompassing of his level of skill as a producer were ever present. soon after followed, a joint album with both kanye and jay-z, which has been hailed as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. the production styles from ‘fantasy’ to ‘thrown’ were relative, considering the time in between the release dates for both. carefully so, the production styles seemed to carry over to the compilation relesase of kanye’s G.O.O.D. music record label. the album boasted features from big sean, 2chainz and jay-z, respectively. the production continued to evolve on that project, with greater production elements and inspiration seemingly drawn from international dj sounds and the newly formed sub-genre of trap music. with the arrival of yeezus, the transformative nature of west’s work is at an all-time high. a constant evolution that has surpassed all other hip-hop artists within the art form, as complete artists from writing to production.
with the abandonment of the mainstream, west is seemingly able to create. without the pretense of major label expectations, the album takes music back to when you were inspired. when an album was a full project, a vision complete with a message. a marker for an artists in their quest for greater development. the album consists of ten tracks. all living entities that co-exist as brothers and sisters, with individual traits that both set them apart and pull them together. the album seemingly entertains the idea of capturing the ear of audiences that are restless, who get bored easily, are inspired by multiple production styles and varied genres. it’s soul music, in that it has heart, but it’s electronic in the ways that melodies are cut up. a headlining element of west’s style as a producer is seen in his use of samples. much like every other project he’s released, yeezus is littered with them. heavy is how best to describe the albums sonic theme. it’s weighted and thoroughly. from lyrical content, the addressing of rappers and money hungry consumers being ‘new slaves’. there are beat drops, breakdowns and pulsating beats all throughout and all the while, kanye leads the pack of sounds without a break in confidence. it’s a true masterpiece, not because it’s completely different, though it is. it’s a masterpiece as a fitting addition to west’s catalog and with that said, the album functions as an installment that brings about range. it adds dimension to hip-hop and brings new ideas into our urban market. instantly, i was drawn to the last track on the album, ‘bound 2’ as a modern love song. lyrically, the track calls to the inevitability of being bound to fall in love. the vocal interjections of charlie wilson, formerly the lead vocalist of iconic soul music group gap band, at the 1:23 mark and again at the 2:53 mark are perfect. as a listener, i seek out moments of R&B influence and throughout the album, this was the standout moment for me. ‘blood on the leaves’, another standout on the album, takes on a nina simone sample of ‘strange fruit’ and TNGHT’s “r u ready”, which brings about the greater influence that trap music will have over the next two years.
the album is hard to digest for individuals who are used to west’s mainstream appeal, and often times the direction is too progressive for consumers to understand. beyond that lack of understanding, the fact still remains- as an addition to west’s catalog, this is art. between moments of growth will always be growing pains. while those pains may see themselves in chart statistics or the acceptance of musical material from critics, the abandonment of the mainstream is necessary in order for boundaries to be broken. while my take on the record, my take on kanye west might not be the same as yours- that’s the magic of art, it’s the love that is seen in style- everyone has their own. kanye will continue to produce great work, and i feel this is some of his best. it’s feels like fashion, but it’s weighted like hip-hop. there’s an intersection that kanye dominates, whether it’s cited or credited to him, it’s true. this intersection i speak of, will soon develop into a new stream, that will act as a subsidiary to what we now know as the mainstream.
this is an installment of the sound vs. style music feature series
click here to view past artists featured