Tag: kanye west

MUSIC REVIEW | Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (2016)

WilcoIn a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I liked it a whole lot of it, I just feel like I may have liked it more if Pablo was given a chance to speak for itself, instead of coming loaded with all the baggage of its lead up.”

Pablo 1

The music industry is more diverse and fluid these days than ever before.  Such easy access for the consumer means artists have to find new and different ways to stand out from the crowd.  I read one band say that in the old days, you toured to spread awareness of a new record, then make your money by shifting those units.  Now, you release a record so you have a reason to tour and live off those ticket sales.

Last year, Foo Fighters hyped the release of Sonic Highways by making an entire HBO series to go along with it.  While on the other end of the spectrum, megastars like Beyonce drop albums out of the blue.  Wilco did the same, one upping it by surprise releasing an album, and giving it away for free.  I know they weren’t the first to do it, but they were first band I liked who did it.  But I can’t think of anything that comes close to the calculated marketing genius, or massive cluster fuck fluke (it’s a coin toss which is true), that was the lead up to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)

Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. Well, at least to someone like me who only has a very mainstream, commercial knowledge of the genre, Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. While it took me a long time to get to Jay Z, I never really doubted his greatness within that world. It was just something I was never in a hurry to experience for myself. Once I did, I realised he has legitimately earned his decades of praise. And when I saw that West produced so many of the Hova tracks I especially liked, I thought he had probably earned a bit if my time too. And here it is, The College Dropout.

In my limited experience with hip hop, I have never once heard a skit or sketch that added anything at all to an album. They’re never funny, always terribly executed and nothing more than speed bumps, getting in the way of any momentum an album might be on the verge of building. Why do they exist? Does anyone ever talk about how great these shit bombs are, or how much better they make an album? All that is to say, the opening track, Intro, and three or four other attempted comic asides across The College Dropout, are nothing less than absolute shit. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail (2013)

Listening to Jay Z’s seminal 2001 album, The Blueprint, didn’t all of a sudden make me a hip hop fiend.  But it did make me finally kind of understand the rise of Jay Z over the last 20 odd years.  From drug dealer, the rap superstar, to pop culture trend setter, to corporate success, to what I assume will eventually be the unchallenged overlord of the entire planet Earth.  I liked it enough that I’ve listened to it a couple more times since.  And more than that, I respect his career a whole lot now.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise since The Blueprint is such a well regarded classic.  So where was Hove (yep, I’m so down with him now, I’ll drop his nick name) more than a decade later with last year’s humbly titled Magna Cart… Holy Grail?

With a lot more Justin Timberlake crooning than Jay Z rapping, I could have done with the ratio being reversed on Holy Grail.  Question:  Is it a legal requirement that every single hip hop album opens with a song declaring that artist is back and that anyone who doubted they would be, can basically shove it up their ass?

With its dirty bass and rough drums, Picasso Baby is the most experimental song I’ve heard in my very limited experience with Jay Z, and it’s pretty cool.  Its weird change in direction in the last third just makes it even more interesting.  The experimentation continues on Tom Ford.  And while it’s definitely as interesting as Picasso Baby, I can’t say it’s as good.  Its herky jerky beats and 8 bit computer game blips never quite build any momentum.

But the first real disappointment on Magna Carta comes with Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit,a song that’s as lazily slapped together and tossed off as its corny name.  F.U.T.W might not the first brag fest dressed up as a song on this album, but it could be the most blatant.  I get it Jay Z, you used to not have much, now you have lots.  Move on.  What did surprise is that I didn’t expect a reference to the character Brody from the TV show Homeland.  It’s funny imagining Jay Z and Beyonce just hanging out on the couch, catching up on the latest episode of Homeland on the DVR, after avoiding spoilers all week.  Later references to R.E.M and Stanley Kubrick are even more perplexing.

When I wrote about The Blueprint, I said it, “comes off as amazingly insecure.  Not in execution, that’s immaculate and shows why Jay Z is such an admire practitioner of what he does.  It’s just so insecure in lyrically and thematically”.  Well, after another decade of ever growing success, that insecurity is still there on Magna Carta, and most present on Heaven.  Dude, you’ve made it and you’re pretty good at what you do, you don’t have to keep telling us that.  Just in case we don’t get it though, he backs it up again immediately with Versus.  Andhe could have left Mrs Z on the couch watching Homeland instead of dragging Beyonce out for lazy and boring Part II (On the Run).

From Versus through to Beach is Better, it’s a pretty inessential trio that sounds like filler.  And when you’re crowding your album with 18 tracks, inessential filler is even more annoying than usual.  The only upside to those three clunkers is that they made me really appreciate the weirdness of BBC.  It might be awkward, and I’m not sure if I actually like it or not, but at least it’s not Versus, Heaven or Part II.

While The Blueprint was built on a solid foundation of vintage samples, there’s a lot more custom made electronica on Magna Carta… Holy Grail.  And while the musical approaches are far from similar, the unifying nature of Jay Z makes them both undeniably Jay Z records.  It also means I really like them both, just for different reasons.  If I had to choose, The Blueprint will probably prove more re-listenable to me, but Magna Carta is still more than worth a spin.

Jay Z

MUSIC REVIEW | Jay Z – The Blueprint (2001)

To say I don’t know much about hip up would be an egregious understatement.  It would be like saying hippies don’t know much about hygiene.    I know one or two Beastie Boys albums a little.  I like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  And I don’t know if this is blasphemous to real hip hop fans or not, but I love the good time, white boy party jams of Ugly Duckling.

One person I have never once consciously listened to and who doesn’t have a single song I could name off the top of my head, also happens to be one of the genre’s most successful…  Jay Z.  My hip knowledge might be pretty shallow, but even I know his 2001 album The Blueprint has an unimpeachable reputation.  So, does that reputation hold up to someone’s who is, at best, a casual listener of the genre?

Straight away, The Blueprint offers up a couple of examples of one thing that’s always turned me off hip hop, the unbridled, dick swinging hubris.  The opening track is called The Ruler’s Back.  The follow up, Takeover bangs on about “niggers gotta learn to respect the king”, while calling out others as lame.

Now, I’m fully aware of how this might make me sound like a middle class white guy from suburbia in his thirties, but I’m a middle class white guy from the suburbs in his thirties, so bugger it.  But I’ve always thought artists who have talk about how great they are, probably aren’t all that great.  That goes for metal and punk rock too.  Styles of music I do have a better than average knowledge of.

Having said all that, later on U Don’t Know, he manages to brag constantly for over three minutes, but it somehow has a sound that’s more earned and proud than arrogant and big headed.  I also give Jay Z the same pass that I give metal and hip hop.  I generally don’t give a shit about lyrics, as long as the music and melodies are good.

Or in this case, I generally don’t give a shit about lyrics, as long as the beats, rhythms and flow are good.  On The Blueprint, and especially on a track like Izzo (H.O.V.A), I fully understand how and why Jay Z has become such a massive force in not just rap and hip hop, but music and culture in general.

Which makes Girls, Girls, Girls a little bit of a letdown.  After an amazing trio to kick things off, Girls, Girls, Girls has such a gimmicky and hacky intro and hook.  As great as the versus are, they can’t cover the bad taste left in my mouth by those opening seconds.

The Blueprint does stand out in one huge way compared to other landmark hip hop albums I’ve heard.  I like that it’s billed as a Jay Z album and backs that up with Jay Z doing most of the work.  I hate listening to an album that’s full of collaborations and cameos that over shadow the person who’s name is on the CD cover.  I remember listing to Dr Dre’s The Chronic and liking the Dre bits, but also hating that I had to sit through a lot of Snoop Dogg, really amateurish skits and other bull shit for long stretches.

It’s always a good sign when an album that has already impressed me in the first half steps it up a notch later on the track listing.  Here, Heart of the City (Aint No Love) made me go from kind of understanding why the reputation of The Blueprint is so enduring, to fully getting it.  I might not know much about hip hop, but I can recognise this is a great track.

But like the drop from Izzo to Girls, the rapid descent from Heart of the City into the boring cliches of Never Change and Song Cry is like the traditional track 8 acoustic number on so many heavy / guitar based albums.  I don’t need to see your sensitive side, Jay Z.

As for the closing track, three different unnecessary songs spread over twelve minutes?…  All I’ll say is, The Blueprint could have only been made better if it was twelve minutes shorter. For someone who already had plenty of success before this, The Blueprint comes off as amazingly insecure.  Not in execution, that’s immaculate and shows why Jay Z is such an admired practitioner of what he does.  It’s just so insecure lyrically and thematically.

But I guess that’s what makes Jay Z the king of this world.  He wasn’t content with the “plenty of success” he’d had before this.  To my uneducated and uninitiated ears, The Blueprint sounds like someone who decided he had to really deliver something big and ground breaking, and all of that insecurity was just Jay Z’s mission statement.  And again, to my uneducated and uninitiated ears, it sounds like it was mission accomplished.

Jay Z