I’m In It – Don’t play this song at work. Well, it depends on where you work, I guess. If you work from home, or in the adult entertainment industry, or both, then this just might be your jam. This is porn in song form. And were it composed and executed by any artist other than Kanye, it would probably be considered to be vapid. However, the honeymoon mentality of the piece attracts the ear and pulls you into the canvas of Yeezy. Dance hall artist Assassin delivers a bridge with a choppy, head-spinning flow over an ever changing beat track — from an erotic moan on the intro, to sirens and rumbling bass on breakdowns. On such a sexual song, Kanye somehow manages to reference the civil rights movement twice, exclaiming “your titties, let ’em out, free at last/ Thank God Almighty they’re free at last” , playing off of legendary activist Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and with the clever yet overt: “Black girl sippin’ white wine, put my fist in her like a civil rights sign“. The artist projects the love he finds himself in as trap-like, and the lust too exquisite to give up. He says “I’m in it and I can’t get out“. Again, can’t has many meanings. He is not able to, he won’t, he doesn’t want to. The highlight for me comes with yet another appearance from Vernon, who goes back and forth with Kanye on another transition (the song has at least five complete breakdowns), featuring masterful songwriting coupled with a shivering falsetto. In the end, Ye alludes to being married to this zeitgeist, but starting a new movement, and then hits us with a new Kanye-ism in the last bar: “they don’t play what I’m playing/ They don’t see what I’m saying/ They be ballin’ in the D-League/ Uh, I be speaking Swaghili” . Yes , Swaghili. A new language is born. In fact, linguist and writer David Peterson laid the groundwork for this new native tongue, as explained in this Esquire Magazine article:
Blood On The Leaves- As proven time and time again, Kanye knows how to choose and manipulate samples, and construct a song around a sample. It’s just what he does. This time, the foundation was Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”. The intro simply presents a chilling cut from the song, chopped up beautifully before the piano strikes. If “I’m In It” was the lustful honeymoon, this song is the quick and messy divorce. An auto-tuned Kanye starts off solemn and vulnerable, explaining away to himself, “I just need to clear my mind now, it’s been racing since the summertime” , and answering everyone in his ear, quietly muttering “I’ma need a little more time now, cuz I ain’t got the money on me right now, and I told you to wait, yeah I told you to wait” before slowly exploding into a manic crescendo where he simply resigns, saying “let’s get on with it.” An argument that looks romantic on the surface is a call out to the industry; the music industry, hip hop specifically. He claims “we coulda been somebody/ was it on your first party, when you tried your first Molly” . Good old Molly, a drug that has accompanied a hazy new-school mindset and has recently infected hip hop culture. Rap legend Jay Z subtly decried this trend on his album Magna Carta… Holy Grail with the lyric, “I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford.” As the song progresses, it is clear that the narrative is conveying double meanings. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish between the issues of romance and industry, to the point that they melt into each other, and two concepts appear: the love of business, and the business of love. West cries, “Before you called lawyers, before they tried to destroy us/ how you gon’ lie to the lawyers? It’s like I don’t even know ya” , referring to either or both marriage/divorce litigation, and the experience of making a style of music that relies on sampling — digging in the crates if you will — in the confines of law, with wolves on both sides hungry for their money. An aggressive foghorn beats in the background over Holliday’s voice and the piano riff, as Ye rattles off rhymes about trappings of The Life: gold diggers “tryin’ to get a baby” , drugs, financial problems, alimony, and superficial matrimony (yeah, they rhyme). Then, as the song seemingly winds down, Kanye gets back on the mic and experiments with the vocoder to perform a cathartic musical ramble. This heavily primal outro is done much in the mold of Dark Fantasy‘s “Runaway” with emotional hums that play through different registers. The lyrics provide some closure here, as West cautions, “Breath, and breathe…. And live and learn” .
Guilt Trip – The dark feel on the album keeps up on this track, opening with a barely-audible Kanye somberly singing “I need to call it off, I need to make it known” before a mellow trap beat injects a little life into his flow. A chopped sample of Lords of the Undergound’s “Chief Rocka” speaks for itself and is utilized very well, giving the track a ghoulish bounce and feel. This setting feels like a rainy afternoon, hungover or blunted (or both) reflecting on a love lost, but still feeling like you’re That Dude. Ye exemplifies this mentality by a ready-for-the-club-again set of bars: “On to the next saga/ Focus on the future and let the crew knock her/ Star Wars fur, yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca/ The one Chief Rocka, number one Chief Rocka ohhh” . The screwed sample returns before the versatile Kid Cudi makes an appearance, desperately crooning “If you love me so much then why’d you let me go” repeatedly, a lyric that comes with a tinge of irony, given its performer; Cudi recently announced that he is no longer with Kanye’s GOOD Music label.
Send It Up – As expected, Yeezy makes his return to the club scene, with a vengeance, proclaiming, “This the greatest shit in the club, since In The Club/ It’s so packed I might ride around on my bodyguard’s back like Prince in the club” , referencing 50 Cent’s 2003 hit smash, and painting a visual worthy of a Chappelle’s Show skit. The track features a looping airhorn melody, and does not offer much in the way of lyrical content. But perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be, given the musical disclaimer on the first track (“Give us what we need, it may not be what we want”).
Bound 2 – Finally, the closing track is where Mr. West might have given many long-time fans what they wanted. An adorably triumphant vocal sample of Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” is one of several foundations of this track. Kanye narrates a back-and-forth conversation in the club on a Thursday. He addresses stories of his character: “I know I got a bad reputation/ ‘Walk around always mad’ reputation/ ‘Leave a pretty girl sad’ reputation/ ‘Start a fight club’ , Brad reputation” . He explains himself to his love interest, as the magnanimous Charlie Wilson pipes in with the refrain, “I know you’re tired, of loving, of loving with nobody to love…” . As things progress, it looks like the two lovers seal the deal. And by the end of the third verse it becomes clear: “I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept” he raps before Wilson returns with the powerful chorus and a rangy outro. Another union consummated from a dance floor slow song, another chance to reach new heights.
So what is next for Kanye West? Well, gathering from the new interview on BBC Radio, anything is possible. He seems like a man possessed, and when the creativity flows in a visionary person such as him, it’s hard to predict where that energy will lead to. It is clear that the battery in his back is fully charged, but that cell has the potential to explode in ugly fashion or power him through. Personally, I hope the motivation he feels will be concentrated into a noble effort, and I will continue to draw inspiration from the vision of people such as himself: people who are always pushing the limit of human capability, creativity and imagination.
Here are Parts 2 and 3 of Kanye’s BBC Radio Interview with Zane Lowe: