What the fuck are you doing, man?
Seriously now: “Start a fight club / Brad reputation?” “Soon as I pull up and park the Benz, we get this bitch shakin’ like Parkinson’s?” “Star Wars fur, yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca?” “Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet-and-sour sauce?” “I keep it 300, like the Romans?” (Spartans, dude, and FYI the movie sucked.) “Swaghili?” “Swaghili???” Why??? Why here, and now? Do even your bad acid trip nightmares come with corny puns? Do you think at this point we still have to keep being reminded that it’s really you? Does every dumb idea that crosses your mind have to be vocalized, loudly and immediately, just so we can bear studied and glorious witness? Will culture care?
I mean, you wanna be an avatar, right? A cultural avatar? You’ve basically said so, in different ways on a number of occasions. Beethoven, Steve Jobs, Michaels Jordan and Jackson—it should surprise nobody who’s even vaguely familiar with you that these are self-invocations you’ve made within the last year. And hell, why wouldn’t you want that status? You’re in a powerful and well-earned position, you’re righteously angry, you’ve just dropped the most disturbing and urgent music in years, knowing that lots of people would pay attention, and at the end of the day—let’s be honest—there isn’t really any serious debate that there’s no current major musician who’s risking as much and reaching as far as you are, and certainly none whose product seems to mean as much as yours. You are not indifferent to your craft; you’re devoted, and they know it even if they don’t admit it. You’re simply a born musician with an endless thirst for music—sonic architecture—and the moods and colors that can be evoked through creating it, and for our sake I hope you never quench that thirst. You’re also lucky enough to live in a time when you can vent spleen over it, too. So hey, you wanna “pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist?” You can do it, and once again they know it even if they don’t admit it. You wanna “start a new movement, being led by the drums?” Terrific—rhythm implies a healthier future than harmony anyway. But understand that your demons can only carry you so far, and understand that if your, uhh, rhetoric is as encompassing as you say it is, then contradictions mean everything.
But we’ll ease into that. For the moment: congratulations. On your new daughter, the album, the longevity, all of it. Hell, it’s been just over nine years since The College Dropout and you’re already (and/or still) in the position of being able to put out a cover-less album with no single and not embarrass yourself at the mere notion. Nine years with six studio albums of your own, each distinct and all terrific. Dropout the happy, funny, comparatively humbled hello that almost single-handedly shifted mainstream hip-hop’s focus away from gangsta. Late Registration the lush welcome party with a lot of triumph and some bittersweet toasts. Graduation the joyous catwalk through the summer. 808s & Heartbreak the dark corner of the club, lonely and brooding. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the grand “backhanded apology”, as you yourself said in that New York Times interview. And now a nightmare.
So let’s talk about the nightmare, honey, because this is… scary. I mean, I think we were all prepped for you not having calmed down any, especially not after those stark, foreboding, incomparably bad-ass Saturday Night Live performances and subsequent promotional tactics. What’s surprising is just how… savagely hedonistic it all turned out to be. These sounds aren’t rich or lush or light—they’re compressed, instantaneous, and epileptic, flung through a harsh nocturnal sonic palette that sounds like the squeals of a huge, desolate, evil factory in the middle of nowhere at its most upbeat. You could’ve called the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, except there’s little instant/surface beauty here, and while Fantasy—not exactly Surfin’ Safari—was certainly dark and shadowy, the way you layered and tweaked all those different voices and strings and gated snares and synth haze left of the made for some truly dazzling colors. The “colors” of the new record, in comparison, are all dark, twitching in and out like caustic strobe silhouettes, nervous Longo-esque flashes of black on white… on red. Fantasy was the decadent penthouse party for all the bitter sinners, and yet it was so big and cathartic and anthemic that it all somehow felt inclusive. But if that was the party, we’re now in the panicky surge through the subterranean pre-dawn after the party’s taken a turn for the worse, barreling deep into the reds all alone and with nowhere left to hide.
Take the two songs you first previewed for us: “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”. (Bet you knew there were gonna be people who’d hear those titles and think, “Hoo boy.” Bet you also knew you could get them to pay attention.) “Slaves” is simply an ingenious piece of minimalist craftsmanship, in that you’ve framed your voice over a simple, never-changing six- or seven-note instrumental figure whose tone shifts from an antiseptic keyboard drip to an over-the-top synthesized choir noise that’s more akin to an ‘80s horror movie than a tension-bubbling song about indifferent subservience in a go-go era. Not only that, you did the whole song with no real chorus and barely any drums—just a low thump on the last note of each phrase—because drums would’ve distracted from the creepy overtone on every note of that riff, hanging in still air like a question that stares you in the face and demands an immediate answer. “Skinhead”, by contrast, rolls on sheer breathless menace, moved forward by galloping, bare-bones drums and a massively fed-back lurch of a bass that sounds like a horde of monsters looming up on the horizon. Lord knows, the phrase “living in the moment” is used by a lot of people these days, most of whom unfortunately want “the moment” to be as easy as possible. But “Skinhead” is a song that earns that phrase, because it’s the type of song that doesn’t leave any room for anything other than the present moment. As the panted vocal loop calls up a desperate nighttime rush down an empty highway to hell, those screams that quiver from channel to channel feel like the contorted shrieks of every cranked-out hitchhiker ghost you’re zooming past.
What both cuts exemplify about you is at this point very simple and can now be confidently stated: that over the last five years—since your mother passed—you’ve become the first major hip-hop artist to make albums that feel genuinely atmospheric, the kind of records that are meant to signify the whole the way through. I for one can’t put on any single track of your last three albums without feeling the need to linger in their territory for a long while, because when I’m feeling these types of emotional intensity, nothing else will do. And because when you’re in, you go all in. Sure, you might pause the lead cut in mid-rave, “Niggas in Paris” style, for an obscure 13-second children’s chorus sample. (“He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want”) with zero tonal relation to anything around it, just to show how much you supposedly don’t give a fuck. But you don’t just lean on the surrounding acid-house beat like a crutch—you pace it, densening up the drums and cutting them out again during the verses, then swaying the tinny little snare just a bit (as you start rapping “How much do I not give a fuck?”) before letting it ride again on its own. Sure, you might create a beat for “Black Skinhead” so terrifying that you could’ve read Dr. Seuss books over it without sacrificing any urgency, but you don’t lean on that beat, either—you keep adding little details that most of your contemporaries wouldn’t bother with, like the way a voice twangs and flickers away after the word “action,” or the way your own voice gets sweatier and more desperately out-of-breath as the song goes on, so that when you deliver the words “there’s no way to slow” for the second time it sounds more like a fear of an imminent crash than the fist-pumping mantra it was at first. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you’ve taken “Run from the lights/Run from the night/Run for your life” waaaaaay more literally than anyone could’ve predicted.
...Or at least, that’s what your artistic persona has done. And at this point it’s hard to know where that persona begins. In a fantastic review for Tiny Mix Tapes, Alex Griffin observes that you’re a guy who’s “flawed, fascinating, and problematic, but not unforgiveable and can tell us as much about ourselves while exclusively referring to himself.” And here we return to contradictions.
There’s a moment in “Black Skinhead” that I find very telling. It’s in the second chorus, when you say “But I ain’t finished / I’m devoted / And you know it / And you know it!” The way you inflect that second “know”, in a quick Prince-like yelp that still gives me a shiver, is at once terrifying and invigorating because you clearly mean it as a crazed, wide-eyed dare. You’re saying, “Yes, I am as good as I say I am, and you all know it or else I would’ve heard a convincing argument by now.”
I know you’ll probably find this ironic or offensive, Ye’, but a musician you actually compare quite nicely to is one Taylor Swift. Like Ms. Swift, you sing very personal songs about your relationships, or at least about the relationships of a hyper-realized version of yourself. Each of your strong visions of the world, personal but potent, lead you in eclectic and even ambitious directions. (Sampling King Crimson and Aphex Twin on the last album were classy moves, but this is stuff even the nerdiest of us would have to dig for.) Your efforts are noble and worthy of tremendous respect, yet both of you still have to take shit from a lot of people who are supposed to know better—often because what a lot of those people really object to isn’t the music itself, but your casual refusal to squeeze into a more comfortable and accustomed social mold. Taylor is a woman, so she tends to get a lot of her flack from men who feel vaguely threatened by any woman who points out uncomfortable truths. (Important side note: these men rarely seem to direct many of their petty ad hominems toward the many, many male singers who write songs about the same subjects.) And because you’re a black man, a lot of the flack you get comes from people who have to bury their resentment a little deeper, because your music is—forgive the cliché here—more of an aggressive force of nature that they can’t brush off so easily. (It also tends to come from people who still live in 1992 and aren’t sure about whether this “rap” fad is “real music”, but we can just ignore them.)
But you sure love to send these people ammo, don’t you? Not too far down, you know it’s not that anyone believes you aren’t devoted—it’s that you yourself are so constantly conflicted about what, if anything, you should be devoted to, if not merely yourself. As you admitted in the Times interview, “it’s always going to be 80 percent, at least, what I want to give, and 20 percent fulfilling a perception.” Not only is that statement refreshingly direct, but I believe it, too—20 percent would sound either naïve or dishonest coming from almost anyone else in your medium. And look, I can sympathize with your compromises. You wanna get a lot off your chest, yet you can’t burn all your bridges so easily—not these days. You wanna make a big, individualist splash with some new music to a public who you can force into attention, yet you know you’ll still have to censor lyrics on TV. So in a way, your victim complex is somewhat justified. But like a lot of people with victim complexes, you have a tendency to assume not just that you’re a righteous authority on nearly everything, but that your every thought and gesture will necessarily signify to capital-C Culture. Ever watch Siskel & Ebert, Ye’? Because I feel it’s necessary to paraphrase something Gene Siskel once said: that if you get paid week after week to say what you think, you begin to believe that you actually know what you’re talking about.
As always, your penchant for taking things too far is what keeps getting in the way. And no, I’m not even talking about your gossip-column exploits. (Although, FYI, the Taylor Swift awards show thing still makes you look like a colossal tool. Not because of the obvious fact that Taylor didn’t ask to win, but because “Single Ladies” is garbage. The more you know.) I’m talking about the music here. Example: one of the new album’s most titanic cuts is a genuinely sexy sex song called “I’m in It”. Musically, it’s deep and primal and portentous, a submission to sinful, in-the-moment carnality. The imagery, both literal and implied, is strong: phones being turned off and tossed onto a bed as two people get closer and closer to each other to do what they probably shouldn’t be doing; the low buzz of the synth, which feels like the kind of thing that echoes into the alleys in a Michael Mann movie. A slow, massive drum beat booms in after you say “Your titties, let ‘em out, free at last” like you just looked out at the Grand Canyon. And that long sighing noise, 56 seconds in, is like hopeful eyes gliding smoothly from heaven to hell. This is a sex song that wants to immerse the listener in its hedonism, and there’s even a decadent rap from Jamaican dancehall dude Assassin that aims for the same authoritative style Nicki Minaj had on “Monster”. (The beats even sound somewhat alike, although in this case the eerie bugle calls were a nice touch.) I dunno if you’ve listened to much early-‘80s gothic or art rock, Ye’, but “I’m in It” kind of reminds me of that stuff at its most darkly surreal—I’m talkin’ Siouxsie and the Banshees, Juju, or some of the more intense tracks from Kate Bush’s The Dreaming. This is the kind of song that owns up to your own grand proclamations of epic-ness, all coming to a head in that moment where you say, “...and she came like ‘ahhhhhhhh!’” You don’t just leave that “ahhhhhhhh!” to stand on its own—you stutter it up so that it feels like it’s skipping, and thus it comes out like “aaa-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!” And then the beat drops, just for a split-second, and you lunge forward with “That’s why I’m in it!” At a moment like that, you can put your flag on any deity you want.
And yet you still can’t seem to resist the stupid. “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” I can deal with—that’s a statement of purpose (or at least an implication of same) that sex songs usually ignore. But I mean, come on: not only do you go ahead and use that groan-worthy sweet-and-sour sauce line, but you add a fucking shamisen note to go with it—in case the metaphor was too oblique, I guess. And arguably even more egregious is how you decided to end the track. In the last minute or so, the throbbing synth disappears and the whole song shifts into a completely different atmosphere, a gated snare break and finger snaps rippling and echoing away into a bleak night sky while the high voice of Justin Vernon/Bon Iver shapes toward the words “star fucker.” He sings those words, and a whispy, Aphex Twin-like synth tone rises slowly up and down that sky, like satellites blearing in and out of view in a grid, a spaceship trying and trying to take off. It’s a beautiful, highly evocative section of music that quietly cuts right to the heart of some of your own doubts. (“Starfucker”/“Star…fucker.”) (Incidentally, Buzkill Bon always sounds way more haunting on these guest spots with you than he does on his own stuff, amirite?) But then, instead of easing the song down from there to make way for the track that everyone’s gonna be talking about (which we’ll get to in a minute), you decide to throw in another verse all by yourself, sans the deep synth and even the sex subject. “Time to take it too far now” is how you begin that verse, and that’s exactly what you proceed to do, ending the song on the word “Swaghili” in a way that implies that you only threw the verse into the song because you just couldn’t let that terrible, terrible pun go.
I suppose it’s worth being grateful that you’re at least attempting to bring some humor back. Hell, there are even a few laugh-out-loud moments on the new album, which is more than one could say about your own tossed-off corniness on Fantasy, which felt more like it was there by obligation than the result of any natural feelings. None of this new stuff is as witty as, say, “We Don’t Care” or “Gold Digger”, but the sheer offhand quality helps a few lines stand out in a good way. “And I know she like chocolate men / She got more niggas off than Coch-a-ran?” “Had to stop at 7-Eleven like I needed gas / I’m lyin’, I needed condoms, don’t look through the glass?” (At least you’re using proper protection.) “You remember where we first met? / Okay, I don’t remember where we first met / But hey, admittin’ is the first step / Ay ay [AA], y’know, ain’t nobody perfect?” Pretty good stuff! And then there’s the way you half-enunciate certain words to leave the meaning open: is it “I know he the mos’ high / But I am a close high,” or “I know he the Mos-siah / But I am a close tie?” Is it “And I know with the hoes I got the worst rep / But hey, the backstroke I’m tryin’ perfect,” or “But they backstroke I’m tryna perfect?” And there’s the way you have the balls to rhyme “club” with itself four times in “Send It Up” (featuring King Louie sounding even more authoritatively bad-ass than usual). Of course, the “Hurry up with my damn croissants!” line (from “I Am a God”) is getting all the attention, simply because it’s so outrageous, but when I played the track for my mom (a fan of yours), what she laughed at was “French-ass restaurant.” And I myself have found myself returning to the line “Don’t judge ‘em, Joe Brown!” (from “On Sight”) with dumb glee every time. Not because it’s particularly clever (it isn’t), but because it’s the kind of line you rap along with like it’s another statement of purpose—even as you roll your eyes.
Of course, what’s been getting even more out-of-control than your corniness lately is the casual way you talk about the opposite sex like they’re an invasive species. (In your music, I mean; far be it from me to speculate on what goes on behind closed doors.) At first, it’s merely confrontational, like you’re simply trying to jump-start the populace into paying better attention. (“That’s when David Grutman kicker her out, but I got her back in and put my dick in her maaaaaaahth,” where you hold that word in a way that recalls Nicki Minaj in, of all things, Big Sean’s ridiculous “Dance (A$$)” remix. “Fuck you and your Hampton house! I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse!,” meanwhile, speaks for itself.) The addition of resident dullard Chief Keef in the woozy, angry “Hold My Liquor”, where his profundity extends to “I can’t handle no liquor, but these bitches can’t handle me” proves just as useless as the Rick Ross cameos on Fantasy. And the Madlib-esque closer “Bound 2”, which a lot of people seem to find hilarious and which does admittedly carry the album out with a well-needed sense of relief, is pretty bro-douchey from a lyrical perspective, and not nearly as clever in certain parts (“She asked me what I wished for on my wishlist/Have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?”) as you seem to think it is.
The issues are being evaded. That’s what you signify for, and that’s how and why you make us pay attention. You need our doubt, because you know that if anyone doubts you then you’ve got the talent and the devotion to rebut them—usually with a lot of uncomfortable truth. In your specific case, you assert and defend yourself with music that at this point in history feels more cinematic than most current cinema. You’re outraged, and rightfully so, that we’ve been living so diffidently; that we’ve been living in a time when utter subjectivity is favored over sociological fact because subjectivity is both easier (i.e. bearing no responsibilities or consequences) and on a skin-surface level makes a person look like nice and “open-minded”. You, however, take the route of grabbing onto everything with everything you’ve got and announcing proudly that you’d “rather be a dick than a swallower”. (Hey, me too!) And you just say it. You compress questions into statements and leave it up to us to decide if we want to say yes to the right conclusions. You’re so upfront that I think deep down you’d admit that the Devil is a more likeable character than God, precisely because the Devil isn’t a hypocrite. Sometimes it feels like you might as well be asking us questions directly: “Have the interminglings of the DEA and the CCA in America created a corrupted and back-pedaling cycle? Yes or no?” “Are you a more aesthetically accomplished musician than I am? Yes or no?” “Is a man who writes a story on a piece of paper a more aesthetically accomplished artist than someone who leaves the sheet empty? Yes or no?”
The question that’s glaring you in the face, fairest Yeezy, is a more difficult one to consider: how long will you stay angry? It’s tempting to read Yeezus as some sort of 21st century soul-purging, like the screams of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band mixed with the murky despair of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. But since you yourself are so far removed from the days of having to eat your cereal with a fork to save the milk, how can you truly know what to scream about if not what you, an elevated presence, bears witness to?
Which brings us to “Blood on the Leaves”. Yeah, you knew this was coming. “Blood on the Leaves”, just to explain it in case you wanted to show this letter to Kim, samples Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit”. “Strange Fruit” is a song made famous in 1939 by Billie Holiday. The “fruit” of the title are people: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.” “Strange Fruit”, particularly Holiday’s original performance, is one of the most chilling, quietly anguished commentaries ever made about human indifference at its most nakedly evil. What you’ve done is taken a sample of Simone’s performance, distorted its pitch to turnt it into a lonely child-like nursery rhyme, and blended it with an instrumental trap sample and lyrics that describe a decadent celebrity careening out of control, name-checking Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the way. Perverse? Probably. And yet I haven’t heard a song in years that’s made me think as hard about my own reactions to it.
It starts in the summertime. A disintegrated relationship is implied: “All I want is what I can’t buy now”; “I told you to wait”; “I thought you could wait”. And then you start letting it out, because you know it’s inevitable: “We coulda been somebody / Thought you’d be different ‘bout it / Now I now you not it / So let’s get on with it.” And then a terrifying army of horns blare in, and masks drop. Simone’s voice, singing the word “bodies”, distorts and squiggles into the background, held down by a twitching snare. The imagery gets more intense, the horns recalling the coronation of “All of the Lights”, but this time they’re coronating something that’s gone horribly, horribly wrong and is now coming over the horizon. Fragments emerge that say everything and nothing at the same time, reflecting on a party long ago where “we tried our first molly” and “came out of our body”. There’s a moment when you sing “Something strange happenin’” and then make a few “ugh!” noises, and it’s the sound of somone desperately, desperately pushing up on something that’s trying to crush you; the totality of nature bearing down on everyone. “Fuck them other niggas, ‘cause I’m down with my niggas,” you state like an angry man in denial, getting tenser and tenser. “Fuck them other niggas ‘cause I’m down with my niggas, I ride with my niggas, I die for my….” But you can’t quite bring yourself to finish that last sentence, because either (a) you know the history of the word and just can’t bring yourself to use it in this context again, or (b) you know that it wouldn’t be a true statement—you can’t honestly say you’d die for someone until the moment comes.
And then you take it too far. After that bridge, you throw in another verse that begins, “To all my second-string bitches, tryin’ to get a baby,” and goes on to say “I don’t give a damn if you used to talk to Jay-Z, he ain’t with you, he with Beyoncé, you need to stop actin’ lazy.” (Although, actually, it sounds to me like you’re saying, “he ain’t with you, he with Beyoncé, he should to stop actin’ lazy,” which would also make sense as a veiled challenge to your big brother after your “Suit & Tie” remarks a few months ago. Also, is it “apartheid,” or “product tie?”) Now, I’ve got news for you, Ye’: not many people care about Jay-Z and Beyoncé, especially these days. Not many people are gonna understand why you’d uproot a song that up until the last verse could’ve been written about someone other than yourself. Christ man, if you wanna name names, why not, say, the Koch Brothers? Or Obama? Or John Boehner? Or David Cameron? Or, I dunno, Alan Greenspan? We can’t suggest these people fix some of the world’s problems—we have to force them to. And since art can be such a fine motivator… well, I’m just saying: we could use some help from up top. “The devil is alive, I feel him breathing.”
Then again, is it necessarily more culturally relevant to write songs about other people whose specific situations you can’t personally relate to? I suppose that depends on the person who’s doing the writing. And it just may be that we need them, even if we don’t want them. Anyone who can rap a verse like that Jay-Z verse, and then somehow unwind into an Auto-tuned coda where they morph the word “angry” into “and breathe” into “and live and learn” is doing something right, and has earned that “Strange Fruit” sample. And then you turn “live and learn” into “living a lie,” just for a second. Truth? Fiction? Just keeping us on our toes? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I don’t even need to know who you’re singing about (even though I’m curious), because it should be obvious to anyone with a beating heart that “Blood on the Leaves” is coming from somewhere deep down; the sound of someone who’s truly at the end of their rope, beaten down by broken promises and evil decisions, but true to himself and thus not willing to give up. That cleansing little outro at the end of “New Slaves”, with you and Frank Ocean singing “And I’m not dying, I can’t lose, ‘cause I can’t leave it to you / So let’s get too high/Get too high again?” That’s it, right there: 40 years after Innervisions, still too high.
None of this is meant to tame the nightmares by suggesting they can be so easily overcome. If there’s a thematic thread to the new album, it’s how anger begets despair as often as it begets motivation. There’s a frightening moment in the last minute of “I Am a God” where someone screams, like they just woke up in the middle of the night. The beat seeps away. But where a less observant artist might’ve just ended the song with that scream, you keep the scream going… and then drop the dystopic beat back in again, like the cold wretch of a machine that took a human’s place. You woke from one nightmare into another, except the scariest reds of all aren’t angry or even violent: they’re just hollow and abandoned, just you and the moon and the bitter finality of the dawn. There are a few moments in the middle of this album that are uncommonly sad, muted with existential dread in a way that would be bracing if it had come from Lady Day herself. The climax is “Blood on the Leaves”, and Justin Vernon’s aforementioned part near the end of “I’m In It” certainly resonates even if you aren’t a star fucker. But there’s something about the last two minutes of “Hold My Liquor” that are particularly bracing. Lyrically, the song cuts to the bone again, implying a one-night stand that may or may not be the last one where the girl’s aunt comes in with some bitter truth: “‘Baby girl, he’s a lo(a)ner’”; “After that he’s just soulless/Soul-mates become soulless.” And then the girl is spoken to directly: “I heard you need a new phone/I know your (’)rents ain’t home”; “Oh, I wanna phone home.’ Electric guitars rev up and soar away like stars in the rear view mirror, but the line that lingers long after the song’s over is “Shit’s all over the place.” When those layers of voices say those words, particularly the second time (around the 3:30 mark), you can feel it all: long empty highways; abandoned homes with broken things strewn everywhere; summertimes that don’t mean what they used to; the sense that something, or someone, or some feeling, is long gone into the bitter night, never coming back—never, never, never. Shit’s all over the place.
Ah, well. Everything eventually breaks—even the reds. To quote someone in a lovely movie I saw the other day: “you have to be a little deluded to stay motivated.” And since you, Yeezy, have now reached the point where you appear more motivated than deluded, I’d say you have a right to mine these reds ‘til the purging is complete. Just don’t linger any longer than you need. Remember: things don’t have to get worse before they can get better.
So again, congratulations. You’ve done it again. By the way, kudos on getting Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band, to sing over those gorgeous howls to the moon at the end of the album. (“I know you’re tired of lovin’, of lovin’ nobody to love.”) And hey, did you really re-write and re-record some of the lyrics and vocals just a couple of days before this stuff was due to ship? ‘Cause that’s hella impressive, even if I’m pretty sure it shows in a few of ‘em. (You left most of the vocals in “Guilt Trip”, the only beat that drags, up to Cudi (and Chris Martin?), and your flow in “Bound 2” sounds purposely underrehearsed and purposely in-the-moment obnoxious, albeit in an amusing way.) How does the new album rank with your others? Eh, I’d probably argue that it’s better than Graduation and Heartbreak and maybe even Dropout, but not as great as Registration and Fantasy. It’s probably a safe bet that there won’t be a finer album in 2013, though of course I’d love to be proven wrong. And if there is, you’ve given us a jump-start into the summer that I think we all needed—even if we didn’t want it. Hell, who am I kidding: I even think that Parkinson’s line is pretty funny.
And hey: it’s summertime! Hold your head up, you silly boy! Remember “We Don’t Care”? Remember “Touch the Sky”? “Good Life”? “The Glory”? God damn—remember “The Glory”? Remember Laura Nyro singing “I can’t study war no more?” I’ll bet you came up with that rap and beat together in the time it took for your dinner to arrive at the table, and yet it all felt so ebullient, so on-top-of-the-world; like every happy, sunny summer dance through the room and out into the street had been compressed into one glorious three-and-a-half-minute endorphin rush. Remember the joy? The sloppy grins, the hands in the air? Sure you do. “I’mma get on this TV, mama / I’mma put shit down.” Damn right.
Beethoven? C’mon, dude—you’ve gotta be kiddin’ me. Steve Jobs? Ehhh… arguably. Michael? Jordan, absolutely; Jackson, nah—you’re better. More of a self-respecting human being, that’s for sure. So hit the patios. Fancy drinks and lucky toasts await. And try to catch Taylor on her latest tour, she’s wonderful.
Just don’t crash, man. Really. We need you right now. (And they know it! And they know it!)
Stay honest, and enjoy the summer,
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article