Tag: style vs. sound

SOUND VS. STYLE: KANYE WEST

kanye

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

STYLE VS. SOUND: LANA DEL REY

my connection to music has always come before my connection to fashion. as a child, i would sit in front of the television watching whitney houston videos on MTV, admiring her voluminous hair & the paint splattered music video direction for ‘how will i know’. these moments weren’t me as a child, during toddler years, but as an infant. in my attraction to music, i’ve been able to directly associate style with sound.  i’ve said it multiple times- sound inspires style for me. what i find particularly interesting about music, is the incredible need for image; especially in today’s industry. here in america, that concept of ‘image’ has significantly taken over- artists are able to transcend onto billboard through great style, while lacking actual substance & talent. it’s no secret, image is everything. not just in america, but around the world. there exists this small percentage of artists that have substance, talent & are able to serve an image so slick that it cuts into your heart. there also exists a percentage of artists who have the talent but falter in the industry through lack of a proper image. these individuals exist where true art lives. in 2011, females dominated the charts & as early as it has been in this new year, a few key artists have been generating a buzz in the vein of style versus sound.

among that small percentage of artists of the new school is lana del rey. after causing a stir on the indie circuit last year, LDR has been readying the release of her first major label released album, in the form of the highly anticipated “born to die“. out today, january 31st, i have said it numerous times- lana del rey is america’s answer to adele. before you start throwing discs of “21” at me, sit back & let me count the ways in which i feel. in america, the need for astounding image, sexualized presence & diversified inspiration is needed. beyond a want, the reason these types of artists are needed in america lies in the culture. speaking more specifically to the need for diversified inspiration; america has become a multi-cultural melting pot. most individuals i know are of mixed raced, combined ethnicity or have been born in other regions beyond the united states. in school, i’ve been fortunate enough to be in the presence of such company. it’s easy for those born in america to lose their sense of heritage amidst the heavily influenced culture that america has become. with my mother & grandparents arriving in united states in the late 60’s, the term ‘that’s the american way’ was heard often. overtime, in the last 40 years, we’ve successfully intergrated into american society. while our traditions & cooking still in tact, other than my grandmother & grandfather, none of my relatives have an accent & cannot be as easily placed, ethnically, as other individualized. we’ve become americanized. in growing up, we learned the difference between our more ethnic ways & how to differentiate them from the caucasian forms of behavior that were expected of us from society. being of combined ethnicity, i learned etiquette from one side of my family & learned ways of humility, struggle & preservation from another. this portion of learning for me is what made & makes me who i am. through my own life, i’ve looked to represent myself in what i believe is american. through pride, strives to be the best & in execution. in looking for where i fit in society, ethnically, i have been able to identify with more diverse forms of style, inspiration & sound. i often look for the same themes of diversity from my own life in my own stylized interests. what i’ve grown attracted to, musically & fashionably, often represent this theme of diversity. i feel as though musical artists are the best reflection of the culture & lana del rey’s sound emulates this. her sound is not easily placed, much like me & my family, but is still distinctively american in it’s saturation of varied influences. creatively, forms of symbollism that appear be intertwined in lana’s video imagery, sound references & even just her vocal delivery, represent a diversified artist who has directly been impacted, not only by music & style, but by the culture. for the more simple minded, she’s different. del rey represents the difference- the widely inspired in the overexposed, commercial music game.  

in recent years, we’ve seen an uproar of new artists who have gone to greater lengths to conceptualize certain image directions with the help of more consistent image delivery through sound, advertising & overall branding. artists like amy winehouse, janelle monae & lady gaga have been a few key players in promoting these forms of musical direction. sound & style, in today’s market, have collided head on. artists are viewed as, well, artists– more than ever. these leaders of the new school have made it nearly impossible for lacking industry prototypes to even enter the charts as everything polished & poised seems to take center stage. adele’s debut album, “19″ (2008) went quadruple platinum in her native of london & the follow up, “21″ (2011), is now the best selling digital album of all time in the united states; also landing #1 in 26 different countries. both albums were promoted through sleek, modern yet classic styling as the sound of the album was driven by inspiration of motown. amy winehouse, another great of the united kingdom, had noted success on her debut album, “frank” (2003) , which seen winehouse taking on aspects of jazz & fusing them with influences of hip-hop & soul music. for winehouse’s follow up album, “back to black” (2006) she took inspiration from girl groups of the 60’s & created a breakthrough album which took home the grammy for record of the year & song of the year that same year. amy’s image of troubled, beehived & bad ass was in full effect following the release of “back to black”. it blurred the lines of image & reality so well that it actually contributed to the success of her album & it’s lead single, aptly titled, “rehab“. janelle monae, whom hit the scene with a set of concept albums in 2007, released albums in the form of suites. monae’s image of android, baby doll, soul singer has had noted success in music & mindful attention to image is to credit for monae’s signature tuxedo. the consistency of her sound, as it impacts her style, has garnered the singer grammy nominations for best contemporary R&B album, as well as a nomination for her 2010 single, “tightrope”; which was also nominated for a grammy under best urban/alternative performance. most famous of all the image driven artists of our modern musical age, hands down, is lady gaga. her larger than life, performance-art stage presence & big budget talent that backs it; has catapulted her to the top of the dance & pop charts, keeping her in the press, on the blogs & on the covers of the countless magazines, every year since her debut in 2008. with a string of grammy, MTV, billboard music, american music & world music award wins to her credit- gaga has single handedly proven that image is, indeed, everything. her 2008 debut album, “the fame“, got her just that- fame. equipped with a disco stick, platinum blonde hair & piano skills that slay- gaga has cited david bowie, madonna, michael jackson & queen as her image & sonic influences. while each artist is a complete & separate package from one another- all exist in the same lane due to their manipulation of style.

in no attempts to discredit the talents of adele, but with the intent to contrast as a reference of the united kingdom’s own; i feel that lana del rey is america’s answer to adele. with what adele has accomplished, musically, in mind- the american recording industry would be silly not to respond to this beckoning call from our friends across the pond. being the american answer, lana is backed by beautiful production, an artists’ mentality & appears to thrive in a wealth of musical inspiration that ranges from eminem to britney spears to frank sinatra- all american. much like winehouse, who was then followed by adele, lana’s image is an homage to a certain style era & that look is clearly translated through every aspect of her image from production influences, to album artwork, magazine spreads & music videos. it’s the painting of an artist, that’s what branding has become. that’s what branding is intended to be. to clearly mark separation through distinction- both artists, adele & del rey, exist in the same lane in terms of overall image- their theme, their delivery & their method of execution. not in the same lane, identically, visually- but in the same lane considering that both use image as a motor to drive their sound. as we’ve seen, this pattern of stylized acts have surfaced over the course of the last few years & upon debut, most have record shattering resumes that continue to flourish each year. lana is the latest type to hit the scene & hard. this month, in anticipation of the album, she graces the cover of interview magazine in russia & germany, as well as a cover for billboard magazine & marc ecko’s complex, to name a few. with a gang of interviews & images floating around the internet, lana is well placed in a catagory of music that seems to be hungry for what she has to offer. with her album hitting stores today, it’s already hit #1 in 11 countries & currently sits atop itunes as the #1 album in the united states. the method in which de rey uses symbollism through her music videos, plus her ability to poetically fragment words to inspire style, this will prove to be a winning combination.

when listening to the album, the feel of cinema is ever present. you cannot listen to lana’s debut record without the feel of escapism. you become enveloped in the production- entranced by the fantasy of the image that lana paints with her voice. often lyrically based in the depths of despair, through emotion that we try to forget; you can’t help but become immersed in the music which suddenly means so much more when you actually see lana sing. as it relates to fashion, del rey has proved to be quite the favorite; performing at christian dior’s beijing runway show & being heard as the runway soundtrack to the houses’ haute couture show, just last week. boasting song titles like “blue jeans”, “video games” & “national anthem” – the american theme is filtered in & out of lana’s image, inspiringly. in the way that adele has become the new face of british music, inspired by another time & effortlessly assasinating the charts, i believe lana represents this same feat, from an american standpoint. through powerful style, sexually-tinged lyrical undertones & addictive use of language- lana is all the things the american market is looking for but is too afraid to give way for. as the first of many installments to follow, lana del rey is one artist whom does not settle with just a sound or just style, rather she successfully merges the two in such a way that greater forms of creative artistry are shown & represented in the mainstream. it’s these artists that allow our musical culture to progress. 

this is an installment of the sound vs. style music feature series
click here to view past artists featured