Kanye: The Mad Tracks Behind the Mad Stacks

By Tom Loughney ’16

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FACTS:

Sometimes, our favorite musicians will put a line in a song–a line that has absolutely nothing to do with the ideas or narrative of the song–because they think it sounds really, really cool, and because they think they will sound really, really cool saying it. This can pay off in rare situations, but, usually, these make for some pretty cringe-worthy bars. Kanye, as much as I love the guy, is sort of the reigning king of these lyrical blemishes,[1] and boy howdy is he earning his crown on the New Year’s Eve release, “FACTS.”

Watch the throne, everybody.

Not only is “FACTS,” comprised–almost exclusively–of lines like this, this entire track feels like one of those lines. As with most Yeezy songs, Kanye is hyping up all things Kanye – specifically his new Adidas shoe brand – but he’s so corporate-alpha about it (“If Nike ain’t have Drizzy, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, woo! / If Nike ain’t have Don C, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, woo!”[2] ) that he just sounds like a bitter CEO with access to a studio.

Maybe Martin Shkreli ghostwrote “FACTS” for Kanye?

There’s really not much left to say about this track. It’s pretty clear that minimal effort went into the actual construction of the song: the flow is entirely borrowed from Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” as a sort of structural diss towards Drake’s affiliation with Nike; the beat is uninspired; even the sampling feels obligatory–like he put it in because he’s Kanye and samples are his thing.

Fact: this is a pretty weak track. Fortunately, it looks like it didn’t make the tracklist on WAVES.

Choice lyrics:

“Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy this is pure luxury / I give ‘em grey poupon on a DJ Mustard, ah!”

“Do anybody feel bad for Bill Cosby / Did he forget the names just like Steve Harvey? (Yo!)”

Real Friends:

The Kanye on “Real Friends” is my favorite Kanye–the introspective Kanye, who’s willing to question parts of his image that he may not feel comfortable with. He’s walking on a fairly worn thematic path for rappers–once I got all this fame and success, people from my past started being real friendly to me all of a sudden–but he treats it with a surprising amount of even-handedness. In one line, he’ll get mad at his family for pressuring him into a visit, but acknowledge that he’s turned into a really busy, distant family member in the next. He also gets into some specific, personal details at points–telling a story about a cousin blackmailing him in exchange for a laptop. Yikes.

All these little vignettes of human separation come layered over some mournful, pretty production. “Non-aggressive” is how I’d characterize the sound of “Real Friends.” He’s got a mellow beat easing the listener through the song, and couples it with some soft, ethereal piano. It really helps sell the lyrical moments where he shifts from a complaint about outside pressures to a reflection on his part in cultivating them. It makes his outward observations less accusatory, which is a large part of what makes this track so effective.

My favorite part of “Real Friends” is that, while they’re definitely wealthy in scope, I don’t think the issues Kanye’s grappling with are all that obscure. Not remembering the age of a friend’s kid. Losing touch with people because you throw yourself into your professional obligations. Getting so used to working all the time that you lose the desire and ability to interact in a meaningful way with people. These are maybe some of the most personal issues that Kanye’s dealt with in a while, and I really, really like it when he does this. Hopefully we’ll see more of sensitive Kanye on WAVES.

No More Parties in LA:

Of all the singles Kanye’s released in the last month, I think “No More Parties in LA” is far and away the most interesting. It’s got some fun production–loose, shaking, high-pitched synths lay a melodic base for a guitar lead to move wildly around in. The beat is a stone’s throw from frantic. The whole thing sounds like it could shake apart at any minute, and that threateningly kinetic energy works really well to pull the flows we hear on this track – the only one we’ve heard so far that includes a feature.

The great Kendrick Lamar makes an unsurprisingly stellar appearance, but that’s not what really invested me in this song. Kanye knows who his feature is, and how good he is – but Kanye’s not about to be outdone on his own record. Hearing Kanye – especially on your first listen – really push himself to rap on the level of Kendrick is the most downright invigorating thing I’ve heard him do in a while. Kanye, despite delivering one of his longest verses ever, really shines through on this track. He’s writing interesting, clever lines, while still maintaining the thematic threads he wants to talk about. The phenomenon happening here on this track–i.e. Kanye putting in work on his bars – is, in a sense, a tangible realization of the way new, talented young rappers are really driving the old moguls of hip-hop to perform at a level that they haven’t had to in quite some time. Kanye has some energy on this track. He’s projecting so hard that he runs out of breath, and then incorporates that into his flow. Effectively utilizing your limitations within your art is an achievement, and that’s really what Kanye’s accomplished here.

Master Stroke.

I’ve talked this track up a lot, but it’s not without its flaws. Kendrick wastes his bars shaming some girl for not sleeping with him-and-only-him after he spends a lot of money on her. “That pussy should be holding exclusive rights to me.” Not a huge fan of that sentence. Really, that’s another reason why I prefer Kanye’s verse. He still dips into the braggadocio/alpha persona, but he’s rapping about how he’s getting a little old for partying. The introspection here is far lighter than that of “Real Friends,” but it’s still here – and I still like it.

Final verdict:

Check ‘em all out. “FACTS” is bad, but it’s a really good example of what happens when Kanye doesn’t put effort into a song, which, in my opinion, makes it compelling, in a grotesque sort of way. “Real Friends” is my favorite of the group–it’s the most consistent, and it’s got sweet, sensitive, shining-boy Kanye on it; and, of course, listen, listen, listen to “No More Parties in L.A.” If “FACTS” is made compelling by its lack of effort, then “No More Parties” is made just as compelling, if not more so, by its expression of effort.

I’m really excited for WAVES, you guys.

[1] Notable mentions:

“Chasin’ love, all the bittersweet hours lost / Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce”

– I’m in It

“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? / Put the pussy in a sarcophagus” – Monster

“I am a God / So hurry up with my damn massage / In a French-ass restaurant / Hurry up with my damn croissants” – I am a God (Feat. God)

[2] I think that not getting to do business with Nike may have legitimately had a greater emotional impact on Kanye than the end of his 18-month engagement with Alexis Phifer did.

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