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1520 Sedgwick Avenue: What Bill Simmons Has Taught Me About Kanye West’s New Album Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Posted by Andy Hutchins in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Rockabye.
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Stay with me, here, okay?

We got our first news that Kanye West would be debuting his new single and talking about his album on the Video Music Awards about two weeks ago. Then the ‘Ye Olde Blog called it “my favorite song to date.” Hype level: high.

Kanye publically debuted that latest single, “Love Lockdown,” at the VMAs on Sunday, September 7th. (It was also performed in snippet form and with Kanye essentially roaring it at the Democratic National Conventon. Sound quality ain’t great, there.) The Steadycam-optional video footage is here, but you get a good sense for the sound of it live. The live version’s MP3 was posted with most video posts.

Then, the following Monday, the “album” version dropped and then got upped to Kanye’s blog with the awesome single cover art, making two versions.

It was received about as tepidly as I’ve ever seen something from Kanye get received, the blogosphere chirping about poorly done work on the chorus, Kanye’s warble, and underdone drums.

The next Kanye news was that his album was going to drop in December and be called 808s and Heartbreak, not Good Ass Job (which is about the best album title ever and would be the logical continuation of the The College Dropout-Late Registration-Graduation cycle) as most expected. (This story broka via Target.)

And then Kanye got arrested, and charged with felony vandalism, for a scuffle with a paparazzo at LAX. (It was bound to happy sometime; this comment wins for best take.)

The weekend passes, nothing happened, the world kept listening to “Love Lockdown,” and, then, Monday came and Kanye decided it was time for a change.

So Kanye said he was reworking it, to the joy of Maura, among others. (Also reworked: the font on the single cover. That didn’t need any work, trust.)

It took all of a half-day for the new version to come out; it features one line more drastically (and wonderfully) distorted and Auto-Tuned, a great, sinister synth after the second chorus, some more thunder on the drums, clearer work on the keys, and, well, that’s about it.

It still, then, sounds rough, on its second studio version, which is really out-of-character for a guy who’s known for his perfectionism-related delays. I can still hear some handclaps under the drums. I’m still not sure it doesn’t sound jarring in its bridgeless transitions.

And, yet, I think it’s a great, enigmatic single, and a damn good change-up for ‘Ye.

But how does Bill Simmons factor in?

Well, if you read/heard/absorbed/wiped yourself with any Simmons last fall, as the Patriots did their Sherman’s March to Phoenix, you probably recognize the concept of the Eff You TD.

Basically, it’s the idea that, after years of taking whatever they could get and winning on the margins, and, especially, after Spygate, Emperor Belichick and Darth Brady were imposing their will on the NFL and doing whatever they could to obliterate and demoralize every opponent.

I thought, then, it was just the best form of a great team; why not play that way for 60 minutes rather than 45, and get some reserves full-speed work with the first team? (It might’ve helped the offensive line in the Super Bowl.)

I had and have no problem with it. But it wasn’t until this news from Kanye that I got just how great an idea the Eff You TD was.

It spawned ‘Ye’s Eff You CD, after all.

808s and Heartbreak, will, I guarantee, not be anything like the College trilogy.

Nothing. Like. It.

Quoting whoever wrote its Wikipedia page:

The album will mark a stylistic change for West, as the album will consist of him singing with the aid of Auto-Tune, and will feature little rapping similar to his guest appearance on rapper Young Jeezy’s “Put On” single, as evidenced by the first single, “Love Lockdown.”

Those CDs were all aspirational and crown-wearing bluster mixed with self-deprecation and humility and dashes of brilliantly wiseass and sometimes tender observational journalism about Chicago and middle-class problems. (Go listen to the goosebumps-great “Family Business.” I’ll wait.)

This one’s coming from a different place. It’s the first ‘Ye album recorded after the death of Donde West,  the first one after his split from longtime girlfriend Alexis Phifer, the first one after the very emotional and very much genius Glow in the Dark Tour, the first one after he opened his soul at the Grammys:

(Sorry, that still gets me.)

Kanye’s last taunting line in “Family Business” is “We ain’t lettin’ anybody in our family business,” which, in typically paradoxical Kanye form, comes after a triumphant song about family. And one could make a case that some of the best songs on each album (“Family Business,” “Jesus Walks”; “Hey Mama,” “Touch the Sky,” “Gone”; and “Champion,” “The Glory,” “Big Brother”) are intensely personal, reflective ones. And then there’s his verse on “Put On.”

Kanye’s nothing if not an adaptive artist and producer; he’s done everything from “Stand Up” and “I.Z.Z.O.” to “Lucifer” and “You Don’t Know My Name”; from “Jesus Walks” and “The New Workout Plan” to “Good Life” and “Drunk n Hot Girls.”

There’s been backlash against his use of Auto-Tune. There’s been backlash against him “going pop.” There’s been backlash against him for “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” There’s been backlash against Kanye for being Kanye.

But, in news that should surprise no one, Kanye only cares enough about his public persona to pay lip service to the demands of fans. My guess is he, too, though that the first version of “Love Lockdown” was more than a little iffy on repeated listens; I’d bet we get a different version for the actual single, and perhaps something else entirely on the album.

And I’ll say right now that this album is going to sound more like a cross of Frank Sinatra and John Legend than the hybrid of Common and Jay-Z that Kanye’s been working on as a rapper.

This is Kanye’s chance to really showcase his range and pop genius or demonstrate his lack thereof; Graduation succeeded against 50 Cent’s more traditional hip-hop, and Kanye was the pop artist of 2007, and those twin victories, and a background with nary a spectacular failure have given him more than enough creative license to create the album that could be either a genre-bending or -inventing wonder or a parachute-free nosedive.

(This is the part where, thanks to Matt’s astute comment, I need to acknowledge Andre 3000’s The Love Below. It’s not an awful bit of progressive R&B, but it also got propped up by the excellent Speakerboxxx in that double album, and its moment of genius, “Hey Ya,” didn’t bear out over the album. Plus, Dre not being a solo artist even while dropping a solo album sort of rules him out of this conversation.)

Also, don’t discount Kanye’s need to prove himself against new pop titan Lil Wayne and his special appeal and make his own album stand apart from the Jay one he’s supposed to be producing.

If I’m wrong, so be it; I’m buying the album no matter what, and I’ll probably enjoy it no matter what.

I recognize, though, that this is Kanye’s Eff You CD. The sooner people recognize that, and the more that do, the more properly it will be viewed.

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Comments»

1. Matt_T - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Didn’t Andre 3000 already do this when he ‘got sick of rap?’

2. Rockabye - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That was called The Love Below. And it was a solo album in an OutKast project, so I’m not quite sure what I can do with that. But I’ll put something in there; good point.

3. Matt_T - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I know its called the Love Below, I was there when it got released and picked it up, and for the most part was disapointed with it.

4. DougOLis - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shouldn’t it be Emperor Belichick and Darth Brady?

You’re just trying to bump up the page views with a Simmons reference aren’t you?

While I look forward to and will purchase 808s and Heartbreak, it seems soon. But then I say that about every Ryan Adams album too.

5. Rockabye - Friday, September 19, 2008

Hey, Matt, I know you know. There’s some good stuff, but 3000 singing and not rapping just isn’t a great look.

And, Doug? Nerd. (I’ll change it.)


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