Kanye’s latest album is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and on first listen, I wasn’t sure it was mine either. It’s an original beast: frenzied and relentless one minute, mellow and plaintive the next. The lyrics are raw and his screams fit right in. This is an album by someone who’s genuinely frustrated with the ridiculous nuances of modern life – from the perspective of both a very famous person, and an ordinary AfroAmerican man.
The first track reminds me of Leftfield’s “Afrika Shox” and the others also remind me of underground London/British sounds rather than US hip hop. In terms of Electronic Dance Music, they’re certainly a step up from the atrocious tracks Americans have been making with the likes of David Guetta and Calvin Harris.
I’ve often thought about what it would be like to hit that strata of fame from which you can never return. You might eventually drop out of the scene, change your career or speciality, but you’ll always be known for that thing you were doing when your profile soared. And from that point on, you are in a sense, trapped. Pigeon holed. Branded. Beyonce said in a recent interview that if she wasn’t famous, she’d like to stroll through Times Square – that she’d never done that. And imagine if she did? She’d need bodyguards to keep back the crush of citizens and paparazzi wanting to snap her picture.
I’ve also felt grateful I haven’t done anything irrevocably bad in my life, or nothing irrevocably difficult has happened to me. Like losing a limb, for example. Meanwhile, Kanye lost his mum through complications caused by cosmetic surgery (surely a regrettable way to die, if ever there was one), then there was the Taylor Swift mic-grabbing incident, and now he’s had a baby with Kim Kardashian – one of the most reviled (and worshipped?) women in our 1st-world, TV-watching society.
There’s no doubt that Kanye is a gifted rapper and he’s clearly compelled to make music, given his prolific output (about 10 albums in less than 10 years). He also has the contacts to work with many of the world’s best producers. I think it’s fitting, then, that this album sounds slick and extremely current, with lyrics that reflect a man who in one sense has the world at his feet and is free to do whatever he wants, and in another is completely hemmed in by his own identity.
He cannot not be Kanye. And though some people might object to the self-righteousness and retro misogyny of some of the lyrics, I think angry is a good way to sound when the geopolitical condition of this planet is messed up and yet countless people can find nothing better to do than track celebrities, while begging, stealing, and borrowing to acquire the trappings of a lifestyle they cannot afford.