Frustrating or innovative? Breaking down Kanye West’s five album G.O.O.D Music season roll-out…

2018’s G.O.O.D. Music season began in April while Kanye West claimed to be writing a book in real time via Twitter. After tweeting about truth, controversy and originality, Kanye began announcing album release dates: first his own, which he said would be seven songs long, then Kids See Ghosts, his group with KiD CuDi, followed by Teyana Taylor and Pusha T. A few days later, after sharing photos of footwear prototypes, he returned to announce that he was also working on an album with Nas.

While many wondered whether these albums would actually happen - and in some cases if the artists in question even knew about their existence before Kanye’s Tweets - the excitement began to dampen when a few days later Kanye appeared on Twitter wearing a signed ‘MAGA’ hat, a tweet from Trump (“Thank you Kanye, very cool!”) and a TMZ appearance in which he claimed “slavery is a choice” while trying to explain his broader theory about “free thought”.

Then came the inner conflict. Fans were once again questioning everything Kanye stood for, as well as his mental health and his political views. They debated whether everything he’d said and done over the past few weeks was just to provoke a reaction, draw attention and subsequently promote his upcoming releases. To many, Kanye West became “cancelled”, and it looked like the divisive roll out for his multi-project campaign might be damaged beyond repair. That was until Pusha T actually delivered upon Kanye’s promise with ‘DAYTONA’ on May 25th.

The impressive follow up to ‘Darkest Before Dawn,’ sees Pusha scrapping the ‘King Push’ album that he’s been talking about for the past few years, going back to the drawing board over Kanye’s sample-heavy instrumentals. ‘DAYTONA’ homes in on what both artists do best and is an impactful lyrical introduction to the series of concise seven track projects.

Kanye’s influence as an auteur is clear, from the aesthetics to the sample-heavy beats. Before the album was released, Ye reignited controversy when he reportedly paid $85,000 for a photo published in 2006 of Whitney Houston's drug-filled bathroom to use as the cover art. ‘Ye's idea to push for the photo to be used. “I’m not really too, too, too entrenched in the art world like that,” Pusha T told Angie Martinez in an interview the day before release. “I’m just going to let him do that thing. And he’s paying for it.”

Kanye’s control over the first of the five releases also extended to the seven track theme. “That’s something that just, you know, hit me. That was just a gut feeling,” Kanye explained in an interview with Big Boy at his Wyoming listening party, a week later. “Then I read information about it afterwards, about the power of the number 7, and completion, and the God number… I knew a little bit about it, I always heard about 7s, I saw 7s. I went to Michael Jackson’s archive and he had all these jackets that had 777 on them… so, yeah, it just feels complete.”

Pusha T’s theory about the number seven was simpler, as he explained in an unapologetically hip-hop fashion on his Beats 1 radio show. “Man, if we can't kill you in seven songs, we don't really need to be doing the music.”

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At a time where new-age rappers with multi-coloured hair are regularly waging war against each other on social media, with ‘DAYTONA’, Pusha T reintroduced real rap beef. The outro track, ‘Infrared’, references his ongoing feud with Baby and Lil Wayne, and the alleged exploitation of Cash Money artists – which had previously reached its musical peak in his track ‘Exodus 23:1’ in 2012 – and also targeted Drake, making references to his ghost writer, Quentin Miller: “It was written like Nas but it came from Quentin.”

This led to Drake’s ‘Duppy Feestyle' reply, an expertly delivered undressing of Pusha and Kanye, that sounded calmly delivered from an armchair, with a drink in hand. However, Pusha wasn’t playing around and came straight for the jugular with ‘The Story Of Adidon’ exposing Drake for having a hidden child to adult star Sophie Brussaux, and even questioning how long Drake’s producer - who suffers from multiple sclerosis - has left to live.

Before things went any further, Rap-A-Lot’s J. Prince reportedly intervened, squaring the beef before Drake’s response - which Prince describes as a “career-ending blow” for Kanye, was released.

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Over the past few years, since his ‘Saint Pablo’ tour was cancelled following a public breakdown, Kanye West’s mental health has been a conversation that’s surrounded and overshadowed his music. On ‘Ye’, his 8th studio album, which landed a week after Pusha T’s ‘DAYTONA’, he approaches the subject head on.

The album cover, shot on Kanye’s iPhone on the way to his listening party, proclaims ‘I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome’ and the intro track, ‘I Thought About Killing You’, which touches on some of his darkest thoughts: “See, if I was tryin' to relate it to more people, I'd probably say I'm struggling with loving myself. Because that seems like a common theme. But that's not the case here. I love myself way more than I love you. And I think about killing myself. So, best believe, I thought about killing you today. Premeditated murder.”

On ‘Yikes’ - which ironically includes writing credits for Drake - Kanye delves even deeper exclaiming that rather than a weakness, his ‘bipolar shit’ is his ‘superpower’ and it ‘ain’t no disability’. ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ and ‘No Mistakes’ lyrically continue Kanye’s introspective journey, and recall some of the mishaps of his ‘shaky-ass year’. But, as with his feature on Pusha T’s ‘What Would Meek Do?’ his lyrics are very much caught in the news cycle, exposing the rushed nature of his creative process.

“I completely redid the album after TMZ,” Kanye explained at his album launch when asked about how he responded to the controversy, “I feel like, you know, the best thing I could do is sit there, and go in that studio and keep chopping that thing that only I know how to do, and only me and my crew know how to do.”

Kanye’s impulsive and unpredictable nature in the studio without a doubt extended to Pusha T’s, Kid Cudi’s, Nas’s and Teyana Taylor’s work and it seems each of their respective projects, which have been in the pipelines for years, may have also embraced similar, more reactive ideas and might not necessarily have been the same albums that were almost ready for release before Kanye took over.

 

KIDS SEE GHOSTS ALBUM ART BY TAKASHI MURAKAMI

A post shared by Willis (@kidcudi) on

KIDS SEE GHOSTS was the third release in the series and its ingenuity and fragmentation made it feel like a creative mixtape, providing a reprieve from the intensity of ‘Ye’. However, after taking a tangent, by the time it gets to the fourth track, ‘Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)’, the project circles back to the theme of freedom from ‘Ye’ standout ‘Ghost Town’.

While it has some great moments - ‘Reborn’ and the Yasiin Bey-assisted title track in particular - KIDS SEE GHOSTS lacks the focus and conciseness of the two previous records and arguably gets buried in Kanye’s Wyoming avalanche.

Nas had different but equally significant problems with his contribution to the G.O.O.D. Music series. Since his 2012 album, ‘Life Is Good’, the status of his follow-up has been confusing - in 2016 he teamed up with DJ Khaled for a song entitled ‘Nas Album Done’ and nothing followed. It’s unlikely that anything that appears on ‘NASIR’ is related to whatever he and Khaled were talking about, and again, perhaps due Kanye’s creative control, his messages are slightly detached and convoluted here.

The veteran rapper’s usually hard-hitting points feel diluted as he tries to address cases of prejudice, conspiracies and politics on tracks that, at times, don’t feel like they were built to cater for it. ‘Cops Shot The Kid’, which features a sample of Slick Rick’s 1988 classic ‘Children’s Story’ that transports you to the New York park jams, definitely stands out as a unique product on the album, but it’s impossible not to note the irony of having a Trump-supporting Kanye West appearing with a guest verse.

‘everything’ is the most Kanye-influenced moment on the album, following the “free thought” themes that he’s been pushing across interviews, social media and his music recently. Kanye and The-Dream’s vulnerable duet, along with Nas’s bars about making it as a successful black man in the face of white America, combine for one of the highlights of the five projects.

One of the most pressing conversations around Nas right now is noticeably absent from ‘NASIR’. During an hour long interview on Hollywood Unlocked in April, Kelis described her five year marriage with Nas as “tumultuous and toxic” describing the emotional and physical abuse that she endured.

The subject is largely ignored on the album, however on ‘Bonjour’ he drops the line: “Watch who you gettin' pregnant, that's long-term stressin’", making reference to the two kids he has with two different women, leading on to “I got a mil for every bump on your face, that's what I call a blessing.” It’s a reference to the 2002 film Paid In Full, but surely Nas must have been aware of how it could be taken, in current circumstances.

While Teyana Taylor’s album, ‘K.T.S.E’ (Keep The Same Energy), was supposedly in the works a lot longer than the rest of the month’s G.O.O.D Music releases, it suffered a frustrating delay that even had Teyana herself wondering when it was going to drop. Kanye reportedly completed the project on the plane back from Paris Fashion Week on Thursday, and by the time it was released on Saturday it was reportedly very different to the album Teyana thought she was dropping.

In an interview on Big Boy’s Neighbourhood, she expressed her disappointment in hearing the unfinished product that had been released, which was due to sample clearance issues. She also revealed that she’d be re-releasing the album as it was supposed to be heard, but later tweeted that: “At this point I will leave album the way it is & will just debut the extended records thru my visuals!”

In a 2015 interview on The Breakfast Club, Kanye described Teyana’s ‘VII’ album as amazing, and expressed regret in not giving her enough support. “I need to do more,” he told DJ Envy. “I need to rap on some remixes. I need to shoot some videos… I haven’t put enough focus into her.”

And while she certainly got a lot more attention this time around, it’s unfortunate that the result sounds as incomplete as ‘K.T.S.E.’ The project uses less abrasive beats, carrying the singer’s soulful vocals over blissful hip-hop and R&B, with help, once again, from Ty Dolla $ign, until the rug is pulled from under you with the final track ‘WTP’ featuring Mykki Blanco – a Vogue-inducing, camp club anthem clearly targeted at those who were introduced to Teyana via her performance in Kanye’s ‘Fade’ video.

From the initial Twitter rant to the final, controversial release, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music season was as frustrating as it was innovative. The real-time creative process and sequential releases fed a generation of hungry, restless music fans, supplying them with weekly new music drops, alongside existential questions to keep them occupied until the next release.

However, Kanye’s reinvention of the format of an album and quick product turnover, which is arguably one of the series’ most inventive elements, does raise the question of whether the projects, individually, have the content to remain timeless, or whether it is more the campaign, rather than the music itself, that will be remembered.

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Words: Patrick Fennelly

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