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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

A general rule: I don’t like rap music. In public, this is what I say. But truly, I appreciate it, and there is even rap, hip-hop, and R&B that I like listening to, but it has to be good. Yes, that is trite, arbitrary, and vague. But so is a lot of rap music. Well not vague, Do it up slappin’ ass cause the sex gets rough.” The Ying Yang Twins. Poetry, yes? Maybe, a good beat at the very least. So good rap and the like, maybe it has to do what any other kind of music has to do, make your heart beat, make you blood pump faster, make you feel. Kanye West usually makes me feel sad for humanity. After his extremely hypocritical 2004 album, College Dropout, and then his subsiquent public displays, at the VMA’s, on the Today Show, on Twitter, Kanye West became one of my greater celeb annoyances. But, greatfully, he dropped off the radar for a bit, went underground in Hawaii to work on his next project, originally titled “Good Ass Job.” And then it came into my hipster indie rock sphere of vision, in two ways: one, it was reviewed on NPR, and two, a friend informed me that Bon Iver was a collaborator on the project. So, with a great air of disdain and pretention, I decided to listen. Little did I know (do I know? I am still unsettled) the album would provide some insight into a world I had previously dismissed into the world of dirty little secrets, to share a closet with Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha (more to follow on that, later.)

As close to a title track as you’re going to get with Kanye, Dark Fantasy launches rough, Niki Minaj’s strange watered-down Trinidadian accent giving you the ground rules for all that you are about to hear, “Zip it, listen!” before she dissolves into her own delicious insanity. She has put you on your edge, are you supposed to listen, should you turn this off and back away slowly?

Oh, wait, here comes the choir, soothing you, asking questions but expecting no answers, “Can we get much higher?” Only Kanye knows if they are wanting to know about his fame, his ego, or his drug use. The soft “ohs” swell and fill your ears until they drop into the thin, uncomplicated beat. West may not need the heavy back beat to tell his story, but as the executive producer on this album it would have been prudent for him to back up his simplistic end line rhymes with a more substantial sound. Don’t get him wrong, though, his message in this song, about growth and beginnings, may carry enough weight to over shadow any short falls musically.

In perfect Rock-Opera style lost to Queen and Boston, Dark Fantasy slides hard like a home run into Gorgeous (ft. KiD CuDi & Raekwon). This song is Kanye’s anthem (Is hip hop, just a euphemism for a new religion), his apology, and his fuck you (tell ’em hug and kiss my ass, x and o). KiD starts out with a smooth and melodic explanation of addiction, what fame feels like, “Ain’t no question if I want it, I need it. I can feel it slowly drifting away from me.” West then sets in a with a varied discussion of his initial approach to hip hop, as homage to the history of his race, with mention of a slave soul, an Ali fight, even allowing himself to be Malcolm (West/X). But it is Raekwon who brings the honesty, in the style of Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle, contrasting the want (Armani suits, fresh fruits, Bally boots and Benzes) with the reality (kites off the jails, buying sweats, running up in Stetson nigga hat game was special). Once again though, West loses the beat, the musical motivation cannot support the weight of his lyrics.

Power finds his power though. With every scratch, every rip back, every drum beat, you cannot help but bob your head, move your body, feel (forgive me) POWER. You know that West has taken control of his music again, of himself, he has taken up his own fight. You want to make fun,

You short minded niggas, thoughts is Napoleon.” Whereas Gorgeous nodded to the fact that Kanye may have gone off the deep end, (according to friend and producer Noah Callahan-Bever, he had been overworked and overstressed) Power places the responsibility for attitudes and acclimation in the hands of the media, basically telling them they get what they paid and prayed for.

All of the Lights is a full, monumental, piece of music. Once again, the beat does not grab, but it does not have to, Alicia Keys takes care of that, and the amazing assembly of artist boggles the mind past caring. West and Keys are joined by Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Elton John, Fergie, John Legend, KiD CuDi, Rihanna, Ryan Leslie, The-Dream and Tony Williams. The sheer number puts to rest any question of Kanye’s ego, in a 2010 interview, Q-Tip described the process as “music by committee,” saying [H]e’ll go, ‘Check this out, tell me what you think.’ Which speaks volumes about who he is and how he sees and views people. Every person has a voice and an idea, so he’s sincerely looking to hear what you have to say—good, bad, or whatever. (…) and we’re all invited to dissect, strip, or add on to what he’s already started. (…) so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He’s a real wizard at it. What he does is alchemy, really.”

Monster terrified me, taking one of my favorite alternative folk rock bands, Bon Iver, and placing them in another world. Their voices are edgy and distorted, nasal, evoking visions of a young woman walking down a darkened street followed by, lead on by, West’s Monster. Only this is a fame monster, full of arrogance and self-indulgence, of fucking, not making love, Mali(booya) and money. But West is giving you a nod and a wink, caging and displaying the heavyweights of Top Forty hip hop Jay-Z as the overthrown Ring Master (“Love I don’t get enough of it (…)all I see is these niggas I’ve made millionaires, milling about, spilling there feelings in the air”) and Niki Minaj the side show (“now look at what you just saw I think this is what you live for. Ah, I’m a motherfucking monster!”) a smooth Reggaeton melting into a morbid hip hop poetry. Bon Iver closes this show, trying to grant some sort of comfort to the discomforted, slowing the music down, bringing some reality back, and some rhythm and blues to a hip-hop album.

So Appalled, am I, that West starts to repeat himself with the seventh track, again harping about his wealth and fame and all the pressures that come with it. However, being back by a distorted string quartet, West displays his background, and once again his ability to collaborate is commendable. Kanye has something to prove though, perhaps repetition is him driving his point home, telling the industry and the fans that they needed him whilst he was gone. Collaborator Pusha-T maintains that throughout the entire album, even twin tracks So Appalled and Gorgeous, there is a “collage of sound.”

Devil in a New Dress is Kanye circa 2005, an old sound on a new album. No worries though, it moves smoothly into Runaway, a rap song that goes the other way, simplistic and beautiful, building instrumental lines like Death Cab for Cutie, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd. Rick Ross and Kanye West find some sort of soul, a contrast to harsh words and anger, a resolve perhaps, that things that seem to satisfy to last forever, and the people that make you want to “runaway fast as you can” still may have their place in your life. The song also seems to be an apology from the playa to the played, letting all the soft beautiful things know that they are there to be enjoyed, and seeing as they are bought and paid for, they have been given the rules of behavior.

When Kanye ran out of his own (at times weak) beats, he turned to Black Sabbath, sampling Iron Man heavily in Hell of a Life. But when pussy, porn, metal and rap converge in this song, oddly enough they tell a song of love and redemption. Initially, Kanye is falling in love with a porn star (whereas T-Pain just fell for a stripper), at the height of romance things get physical (You could hear the loudest screams, comin’ from inside the screen, … she ever fuck a black guy Or do anal, or do a gangbang. It’s kinda crazy that’s all considered the same thing.) Before the song is over, so is the love, they married in the bathroom, but were divorced by the end of the night. As the beat fades, all you hear is Kanye, his breathing suggesting his spent the wedding night alone, watching his brides work.

John Legend brings us back to mainstream romance on Blame Game. This song is refreshingly honest, caught in the middle of a fight that you cannot get out of and, as the title suggests, do not want to take responsibility for. Kanye knows the cycle though, the inability to hate and love someone at the same time without letting some of your insanity to show through (where is Niki Minaj when you need her?). His distortion of voice and use of static and white noise is the perfect setting for a story that plays more fully in ones mind than in real life. Ultimately though, there is the realization that maybe the perfection, that perfect person who wants all the same things that you want, isn’t really the one you will fall truly in love with (And I was satisfied being in love with the lie…I can’t love you this much). Annnd, as he often does, Chris Rock ruined it, one of the most artful and romantic songs on the album comes down to “pussy town” and “my dick thanks you.” High class.

Thank goodness that a sampling from Bon Iver’s Woods redeems that misstep, allowing West to rework a stripped down and simplistic melody into a classic dance mix, letting it build and build to a near boil, and then letting it fall back again, until there is a strange feeling ecstasy, unexpected but welcome. Justin Vernon’s Woods, my Woods, are translated into Kanye’s Chi-town world, and for some reason, it just works, makes you want to move your body and exist in multiple universes.

Who Will Survive in America is easily the shortest, most simple, and best track on the album. Here West is not the indulgent fame monster, he is not the pussy nabber, he is not the nigga comin’ up. He is a speaker, a testifier, reminiscent of (you my strike me down) King, Malcolm X, and blazing the election trail Obama. He acknowledges that there is a world outside the one he has made for himself, holed up in his private studio in Hawaii. West rips through all the history and grandeur that was written by white men for white men, and recognizes the bastardization of a country he was taught to garner inspiration from.

There was more to dislike than like, but at the same time, there is something here. Kanye is scraping at genuine music, knocking on the door of art. After five albums, I would hope he was at least in the neighborhood, maybe in five more albums he can get in the same room. I would hope so, because the potential (shockingly) is there.

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