To say there's been a buzz about some rap albums being released in recent times is an understatement indeed. It has all been very interesting.
I have listened to all the the hyped up albums "Yeezus" by Kanye West. "Born Sinner" by J Cole and even Mac Miller's "watching movies with the sound off" and I didn't really like any of them.
What has gotten me writing this blog is the whole buzz about it. It's almost like you are forced to have an opinion and join the conversation if you like rap music. Now that the first week sales numbers are in with "Yeezus" doing 328,800 and going number one in the US as well as here in the UK and J Cole's "Born Sinner" coming in 2nd with 297,922 sold and Mac Miller 3rd with 101,795. What does all this mean? Why is this conversation being had important?
Even though I think "Yeezus" is Kanye West's worst album one thing I will say is I can appreciate his desire to go in a whole new direction and try something different. That takes some kind of courage because he knows what to do to make a very commercial album, he has done it before. He has done it 5 times already ok if you don't count "808s and Heartbreak" which was a departure from the norm for him and experimental then 4 of those albums followed a tried and tested Kanye formula although each of those 4 albums had uniqueness to them.
I can appreciate the idea of stripping things back and going for minimalism. I mean the album had no artwork or radio single. Although one can say that projecting your promo video on buildings in 66 places across the world isn't really very minimalist. That is a very huge marketing campaign if you ask me.
Is the title "Yeezus" blasphemous? I am not sure and wouldn't say it is. I mean a lot of parents call their children Jesus (in South America this happens a lot and it is pronounce the Spanish way Heysous) a lot of people are called Joshua which is derived from the Hebrew name Yehoshua/Yeshua (there is no J in the Hebrew alphabet) which is actually what Jesus was called being from Israel and all that. Jesus is the English meaning of Ioseus which is the Greek way of saying Yehoshua/Yeshua. I guess many were saying Kanye was trying to call himself Jesus but is he doing that really? I don't think so although I do think he has massive persecution complex going on. I know he has a song called "I am a god" but is he saying he is Almighty God? I don't think so. The way his fans idolize him is more of a problem in my eyes because that really feeds his ego and elevates him to be placed on a pedestal beyond that which is healthy doesn't it? You tell me. I'm just thinking out loud.
"Born Sinner" by J Cole was more traditional and conservative in it's sound and marketing approach (although many would argue that him bringing forward his release date from June 25th to June 18th to compete with Kanye's album was a genius marketing move that would favour him and I think it did) It was very throwback in a way and many would say it was boring. Personally I found it not very interesting although it does have a few songs that I really liked but then again I have never been into J Cole's music although I think he is one of the top tier rappers in this new generation. His free mixtapes "The Come up" "The Warm Up" and "Friday Night lights" are way better than "Born Sinner" and if you listen to those you will feel the passion in them and appreciate J Cole as an artist better. J Cole did say in interviews leading up to the release that he made "Born Sinner" in a much more sadder and darker place so I guess that is why the album is the way it is.
Speaking of dark, "Yeezus" is just so dark, angry and overly misogynistic that I just couldn't enjoy it. Apart from "Bound 2" which is kind of the throwback Kanye sound, I just don't see myself giving this album repeat plays at all. It's like Kanye went left field to try to challenge you to like it. He went very anti-commercial/radio friendly on purpose. I really tried to like it and see if I was missing something with all the hoopla others were making about it. That the album sounds how it does is intentional on kanye's part. I mean he didn't make the album alone in isolation, he had a whole team of producers working on it. It was a communal effort under his supervision and direction. It just sounds disjointed, unfinished and not fully developed but maybe that was intentional too.
So what is my verdict? Let me just say I couldn't stand the comments I have read online where people were saying stuff like "you just don't understand it, it is too deep for you, you can't get it because it is over your head" and all those kind of elitist statements by people who want to feel superior about their musical taste. It's not that deep guys. If someone doesn't like what you like, it doesn't mean they are not "deep" All I will say is I appreciate someone taking a creative risk and experimenting but it doesn't mean the results will be good or amazing or even groundbreaking. Many will argue that Saul Williams, Death Grips etc etc have done what Kanye tried to do and better. If it challenges other mainstream rappers to push the boundaries of their sound and not play safe in order to go for the "easy" money then it is a good thing but Kanye has kind of "earned" the clout to try something like this and get people to buy into it. His celebrity status and brand power makes it possible for him to try this and get people to part with money and even acclaim it as the greatest thing ever. I think people respond to Kanye based on branding and perception not just the music. They've bought all the way into the hype and that causes them to perceive the music through the lens of that perception.
Also just because someone tries a throwback sound to a classic era of rap it doesn't mean that the results will be amazing as well as in the case of "Born Sinner" by J Cole even though Nas dropped a sizzling reply to a track off the album called "Let Nas down" titled "made Nas proud" it doesn't mean that "Born Sinner" even comes close to the quality of albums from that classic era of 90s Hip Hop. I mean that one Nas verse on the remix was more exciting than the whole J Cole album in my opinion.
In closing I will mention the new Jay Z album. Even though I got excited about the shrewd business move that Jay Z achieved by getting Samsung to pay for a million copies of his album upfront at $5 a piece just to market their phone and all, and even though the advert with all those super producers in one room working on the album looks inspiring, this doesn't ensure that the album will be classic. I think Jay Z will play it musically safe. It seems people are more caught up in the hype of the business move and the presence of "brand name" producers as if that ensures a classic album will be made. At least Kanye approaches things more like an artist as opposed to Jay who is a business, man. Once again marketing, branding and promotion triumphs but WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC MAN? haha I guess as I always say it is about everything thing else first THEN the music. That's just the way it is.