Kanye West – Yeezus album review

Given his latest buzz-worthy antics, it was frightening to fathom the possibility that it could’ve proven insurmountable to divorce the Us Weekly Kanye from the multi-faceted artistic genius with the insatiable hunger of a starving artist. But the stunning thing about Kanye West is that he always pushes aesthetic boundaries, consistently outdoing himself and always finding the keyhole that unlocks a new level originality, art, and emotion.

The album title Yeezus is not just a play on the provocative, but rather, serves as a mockery of Kanye’s persona, as the album quite unexpectedly restricts the narrative of a self-absorbed egomaniacal rapper who consistently flirts with audacity, and instead paints the picture of a man basking in his social stature, but still hasn’t shaken the same debilitating, profound (and sometimes callow) insecurities. We’d known Kanye had more layers than an onion, but on this album he doesn’t peel back so many. Yeezus draws a concise 40-minute picture of who Kanye is—an insecure street philosopher, wannabe, and sex addict who just wants to shine—one who screams out his faults before you can even call his bluff. But don’t go expecting him to tell you something you didn’t already know. Because on Yeezus, it’s not that he has so much more to say, he just has a new way of saying it.

Yeezus is a new wave album and abandons the saturated bass and smooth sampling of Late Registration’s past. Kanye even pairs up with Daft Punk on four songs to create a sense of authenticity. On the album’s first track “On Sight” he barely achieves this, but what saves the song is its incongruence—a techno beat impetuously paired with a gospel chorus, which somehow creates the perfect marriage. It’s nothing if not creative, and it is an element Kanye brings to most of the album’s 10 tracks. The punk edge continues on “Black Skinhead,” but the focal point of this song is difficult to infer. In fact, much of the album’s lyrics aren’t the starkest, but the brilliance comes from the moodiness and accidental honesty the second half of Yeezus brings.

Many times Kanye comes across as trying to prove himself to himself more than to the actual listener. The irony of “I Am A God” comes with the simple notion that he tries to cheat the listener into believing he thinks that highly of himself as he hides behind bravado, hierarchy and conceit, though songs like “Guilt Trip” whisper otherwise. He sings, “The door locked by myself and I’m feelin’ it right now/cause it’s the time when my heart got shot down…if you love me so much the why’d you let me go?” as a muted trumpet resonates behind video game sounds and a cello cadence. His failure to fool the listener into accepting his fictitious sense of self-assuredness is what creates such veracity. Album highlight “Blood on the Leaves” is telling. It’s a murky tale of dejection and betrayal dichotomized by a haunting “Strange Fruit” sample. It’s an exemplification that what’s to be learned from Yeezus is that Yeezy isn’t actually invincible, but almost defenseless and emotionally naked in a word of excess, status and yearning, and that maybe underneath, if all that money still hasn’t bought him happiness it probably never will.

Kanye West – Way Too Cold video featuring DJ Khaled (Theraflu video)

Kanye West – Way Too Cold video featuring DJ Khaled (Theraflu video)

Unofficial video, featuring young Kanye West imitator

*Director: Ashley ‘@Ash_Innovator’ Smith
*Executive Producer: CiEsta!
*Cinematographer: Ashley ‘@Ash_Innovator’ Smith
*1st AC: Matt Manning
*2nd AC: Aimee Thomas
*Photographer/B-Roll: Genevievee Evans
*AD: U-U Lalibela
*Gaffer: Charles Baker
*Grip: Dave
*Grip: Genevievee Evans
*DIT: Aimee Thomas
*Editor: Matt Manning
*Makeup: MUA Cheri
*Hair: Rozalyn PauPaw
*Wardrobe: U-U
*Accessories: Tina Catherine Eyewear+Opticians
*Equipment: Alex Resnikoff
*Kanye: Caleb Harper
*Rock Star: Jasmin Marilena
*Ronald Regan: Matt DeCoster
*Laura Bush: Miatta Kemp
*George Bush: Dan Parilis
*Condoleezza Rice: Jennifer Scott
*Donald Trump: Andrew Hsu
*Sarah Palin: U-U Lalibela
*SPECIAL THANKS: Peter Darmi

Watch The Throne Tour – Kanye West & Jay-Z in Montreal

Yesterday, amidst a crowd of 15,000 fans, two of the biggest names in hip-hop took the stage for a two-hour and forty minute marathon of rhymes and beats. As Ye and Jay rose above the crowd on fourteen foot platform covered in LEDs, you could tell this show would be one for the ages. Spitting their verses on “H.A.M.” from their respective “thrones,” and moving right into “Who Gon Stop Me” without a pause. And then joining each other on one stage to belt out their lead single with pyrotechnics and lasers spazzing all over the Bell Centre: “Otis.”

Did I mention this was only the first ten minutes of the show?

The Throne worked through a large chunk of their new album, and then started taking turns on their solo tracks. Hova was right at it with “Where I’m From,” “Nigga What? Nigga Who?” and coming back later on for “Hard Knock Life” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” It seemed to me like Jay wanted a lot of the stage time to be given to Kanye – who was sporting a skirt/kilt and leather leggings for the better half of the night. For every Jay-Z song, there were three Yeezy songs. While I don’t mind the imbalance, as I’m a bigger fan of Ye than Jay (crucify me now – you have my permission), it still seemed strange to me.

Regardless, Kanye was flawless when it came to renditions of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” (that had a laser light show reminiscent of his Glow in the Dark tour) “Jesus Walks,” “Touch the Sky,” and “Good Life.” Heck, the songs I’ve listed are just the tip of the iceberg. The duo went through about forty tracks in total, and Kanye even got the chance to do his eight minute version of “Runaway,” as well as  a powerful sing-a-long to finish off “Heartless.” All while standing on a raised platform, of course… in a kilt.

They got through the majority of their new album. “New Day” was definitely a highlight, with the two rappers just sitting on the stage, spitting their rhymes about being fathers one day soon. And when it came time to finishing off the night, “Niggas in Paris'” Blades of Glory sample came through the speakers – the crowd went off! And when they were finished? Again. Went off for the encore. Came back on. Guess what? They played it again. And when it was done? Jay yelled, “AGAIN!” And finally… one more time. Unless my ability to count was lost, they played “Niggas in Paris” five times. And you know what? The majority of us didn’t mind one bit, dancing and bumping to it like it was the first time it had been played. Every. Single. Time. The Bell Centre hasn’t been so electrified by a hip-hop crowd in a while.

Egotistical much? Yeah, but a well-executed show no doubt. They gave the fans more than their money’s worth in lasers, lights and pyrotechnics. I have no idea if another tour like this will hit your town after this leg, especially with Jay’s baby on the way. If you can make it out to a show, despite the pricey tickets, it’ll be well worth your time. That shit cray.

J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story album review

J. Cole has grown from Roc Nation underdog to Hip hop prince. Having made a stir this year, J. Cole proves his Hip hop status in debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story.

Cole’s strength lies in his storytelling: “Lights Please,” although a story of sexual passion at its highest, highlights issues of parenthood. “How you gon’ look in yo’ son’s face and turn yo’ back,” J. Cole says, providing a reflective perception on a common problem in today’s society.

“Sideline Story” sneers at the faces of the faithless: Cole attacks with a confident swagger, delivering rhymes that tell of his journey from sideline assistant, to MVP youngblood.

Cole has propelled himself into the spotlight in ways that are comparable to mentor Jay-Z and Hip hop’s egotistic Kanye West. Cole delivers somewhere in the middle, providing hard rhymes laced with reflection on his beginnings and his growth as an artist. His do-it-yourself ethic towards the album is noteworthy: His production is lush, filled with varied samples, intricate chord progressions and electronic percussion that takes from the nostalgic sounds of the ’80s and its present-day contemporaries.

Cole World: The Sideline Story is an impressive debut from J. Cole: He shows an understanding of the conventional side of mainstream Hip hop, while incorporating a new approach that may take a few listens to fully understand and appreciate.

J. Cole – The Album Before The Album review

Yo! Who Dat Who Dat!

I was incredibly excited to get this review under my belt. He has been releasing tracks day in and day out for the past couple months. I have caught some snippets here and there, but finally I had the chance to listen to the “The Album Before The Album” Boy oh boy! I was not disappointed in any which way.

He has Kanye West flow and Lil Wayne lyrics. After this album I wouldn’t be surprised if see him every where. Of course signing with one of the biggest and most respected artists in the world didn’t hurt him in any way. Obviously signing with Jay-Z would be the best things for anybody’s career. Yet, it takes a real man with real talent to make the most of it. If you listen to “Premeditated Murder” you will realize why Jay-Z acted so fast. In a small biography that I read about him he mentions that a lot of music tells stories. I repeat this in a lot of my reviews, but, one of the only ways for me to connect with the music, or even enjoy it Is for me to relate in one way or another. J. Cole does this incredibly well. “Show Me Something” is definitely the album’s outstanding track for it’s passion and depth.

“Premeditated murder” is just a taste of what he’s capable of. It tells a story of the journey he or any musician has had to go through to get where they are now. I have so much respect for people that have had to work incredibly hard to get to the point of success. One of the struggles that he talk about is if people will recognize him when he’s famous. For any individual, success is the hardest thing to handle. People change and become different people. He asks a question mid way through the song “Do you prefer the broke me, or rich me”? I could only imagine what the changes would be like for a spouse, girlfriend, and family. One day your wearing your bunny slippers, the next your walking the red carpet to the Grammys.

Overall J. Cole showcases his talent, passion and drive. Nothing has compared to this in a while.

What’s in a Muse?

In Greek mythology, the muse is a goddess or spirit that inspires the creation of literature or art. Popular culture often refers to the muse as she exists in the world of rock and roll. The Yoko Onos and Patti Boyds of the music world. Women who markedly changed not only the lives but the music of their respective lovers, arguably for better or worse.

Inspired by these mythical creatures, I got to thinking, do emcees have muses? I mean hip hop is art too, no? And it is a genre of music just as wildly expressive as rock and roll. Thusly, I sought to examine the existence of the hip hop muse.

I considered the catalogue of the hip hop ode to a woman. Frequently with a decidedly darker edge, emcees have historically paid homage to women. We have all heard Biggie’s “Me and My Bitch” or the ghetto love anthem “Your All I Need” by Method Man and Mary J. Blige, but I consider these songs more as thug valentines; fleeting displays of love and admiration, but not necessarily inspired works of art.

Undeterred, I was determined to find an emcee that appeared inherently changed by the presence of a female counterpart. Immediately, my mind settled upon Kanye West. Fitting that Kanye would be the only rapper I could think of with a recognizable muse as he fancies himself a true ‘artiste’ in the purest sense.

Since being spotted around town with bald-headed, buxom beauty Amber Rose, Kanye has been blessing tracks with lyrics that seem for lack of a better word, inspired. His delivery, cadence and over all style seem to possess a new-found fervor, that I will go on record to say, I didn’t think he had in him*. Accustom to Kanye’s more sing-songy style, these days, Kanye is sounding hungry!

Observe (Pre Amber Rose):
I got a Jones like Norah for your sorror’
Bring more of them girls I’ve seen in the Aurora
Tammy, Becky, and Laura, or’a Shirley
I’m tryin’ to hit it early, like I’m in a hurry
See, that’s how dude became the young pootie tang tippy tow (“School Spirit”, College Dropout)

Now, I’m sure it’s not the wackest shit you ever heard, but it’s far from the best shit you ever heard either.

Observe Kanye’s lyrics, post Amber Rose:
This the fast life we are on a crash course
what you think i rap for to push a f-cking Rav 4,
but i know that if I stay stunting,
all these girls only gon want one thing,
i can spend my whole life good will hunting (“Run This Town”, Blueprint 3)

Save for his comment poking fun at Rav 4s, currently my dream vehicle, not bad huh? The attempt at wit is decidedly more clever, tongue and cheek rather than nonsensical and corny. Admittedly, it may be a bit early to say that Amber Rose has changed Kanye’s music, a full length album would of course be a better indicator, but a close listen to Kanye’s recent work would prove that Kanye is stepping his game up. It’s debatable whether or not this improvement is due to Amber Rose’s good-good, but if a chick as bad as Amber Rose wont do the trick, I don’t know what will.

*Author’s note – Just my personal opinion. Die hard Kanye fans need not argue.

Who Killed Auto-Tune?

Jay-Z knows what’s on your mind. And on mine too, come to think of it. What is with you Rappas Ternt Wannabe-Sangas?” Why you gotta drown your songs with a sorry excuse for a voice that’s so annoying that the only reason people aren’t bleeding out of their ears at the club is because they’re too wasted to notice the (T-)pain their ears are in? Hova’s new single, “Death of Auto-tune,” is stirring up almost as much controversy in the hip-hop world as Chris-Brown’s-fist-versus-Rihanna’s-face. I know, I know; it’s a stretch, but you know what I mean. Jay-Z knows how to get attention when he wants it. Just in time to sell some Blueprint 3 records too.

Make no mistake; auto-tune’s made its rounds since way before hip-hop’s less vocally gifted jumped on the bandwagon. Remember Cher? Ever since T-Pain came onto the scene with Rappa Ternt Sanga, he brought with him that wonderful little program called Auto-tune, and detonated it all over the face of hip-hop. To give T-Pain credit though, he does know to write a catchy hook. That’s why “Buy U a Drank” was on every radio DJ’s database, “Blame It (on the goose, gotchu feelin’ loose)” was hot at the clubs, and “Freeze” was spewing out of every kid’s iPod ear buds. The guy knows what he’s doing.

But when you start having Lil Wayne and Snoop “singing” about erupting lollipops, we’ve got a problem. For the fans who love the electric atmosphere of a good hip-hop concert, no matter how good those songs sound now, they’ll never be performed live. Well, they might, but it won’t sound anything like the album version – I promise. Kanye West would know. His entire 808s & Heartbreak album was auto-tuned to pitch-perfection, and it did phenomenally on the charts when it first came out and everyone was oohing and aahing over the utter craziness that is an album fully saturated with voice distortion. While I have the utmost respect for Kanye as an artist, ego or no ego, “Heartless” and “Amazing” didn’t last long in my playlist after the novelty and catchiness wore off. I have an Auto-tune Quota, and “Love Lockdown” unfortunately filled most of it.

Back to Jay-Z’s declaration of war on auto-tune: he’s careful to not name names, but really, you know who you are (i.e. any rapper who’s tried to actually sing one of his auto-tuned songs live and have it turn out like a half-rapped, half-shouted mess). Ironically enough, Kanye is producing most of Blueprint 3, though he promises to keep the auto-tune far, far away (is that why Jay-Z didn’t call him out?). Whenever you pour on the hate though, you always get some back, especially if dissing you means instant publicity. Jay-Z’s gotten his share of criticism for “D.O.A.” already from younger rappers who think he’s getting too old for the game, but I have to give Jay the last word: “Get back to rap, you T-Pain’n too much.”

Top 5 Hip-Hop Producers in the Game Today

Singers and rappers may get all the love on-stage, but having a good producer on your hip-hop track or slow jam can jack up your chances of a gold single better than any front-page sob story… unless you’re Rihanna. The evolution of the way songs are made and marketed is earning the people behind the beats some well-deserved attention. With services that’ll set you back upwards of a hundred grand per song, there’s a good reason these five producers are still in business.

Bryan-Michael Cox

Getting his big break thanks to earlier connections with Jermaine Dupri and Beyoncé, B. Cox is one of those producers who regularly see their songs catch fire. Having cemented himself firmly in the hip-hop industry based on wildly successful partnerships with artists like Usher (“U Got It Bad,” “Burn,” “Confessions Pt I & II”) and Mary J. Blige (“Be Without You”), there is no shortage of work for this Miami-born, Houston-bred producer. He’s won Grammys for both producing and songwriting, and with new R&B artists such as Sterling Simms and Johnta Austin scrambling to get a piece of him (along with a shot at that hit single), Bryan-Michael Cox might just take over the spot of lead money-maker for So So Def.

The Neptunes

The Neptunes, aka. Pharrell and Chad Hugo, aka. two-thirds of N.E.R.D., is one heavyweight duo. Their productions are shoved tentatively under the hip-hop genre, but it’s definitely a different kind of hip-hop; there’s a little eccentric flavour that most other producers don’t embrace as fully and satisfyingly as the Neptunes. It might be the synths, it might be their funk, or it might be Pharrell’s falsetto, but really, who cares? The Neptunes pretty much made Justin Timberlake when he broke off from NSync, and their reputation for offering something more than your typical gangsta rap has earned them love from Jay-Z, Common, and even Madonna. The coolest Star Trek geeks around? Oh yeah.

Stargate

Possibly the biggest production duo outside of North America, Stargate hails from Norway, and has been churning out hits in Europe since way before Ne-Yo. Originally working almost exclusively within the pop genre, Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen made massive headway into the States’s R&B market after “So Sick.” While they’ve received some criticism for allegedly reusing material, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, as a Stargate track seems to be a guaranteed hit either way. Just ask Rihanna, Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, and Lionel Richie (who got his first number one in ten years thanks to Stargate). It would be interesting to see if this team decides to break into hip-hop, a genre that might be more resistant to their Euro-pop sound, but seeing as how they’ve already worked with rappers like Flo Rida and Nas and have a joint record label with Jay-Z, they might just have a chance at taking over all of urban music.

Kanye West

Who knew? The Louis Vuitton Don may talk annoyingly big sometimes (okay, all the time), but thankfully, he has shown that he can back it up. Using samples that span an impressive range of genres and time periods in the history of music, Kanye’s flair for the eclectic is almost comparable to the Neptunes, except Pharrell and Co.’s sound is much more defined and recognizable. His favourite collaborators include Talib Kweli, Nas, Jay-Z (he’s producing almost all of the soon-to-be-released Blueprint 3), and of course, himself. Ego problems aside though, Kanye West has a knack for knowing not only what people like to hear, but more importantly (judging from his timely collab with Jay-Z, “Death of Autotune”), when they get tired of it.

Timbaland

Undisputed hip-hop royalty, Timothy Mosley, or as you know him, Timbaland, rose through the ranks of hip-hop together with Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, and the late Aaliyah in the nineties. It’s safe to say that everyone who’s anyone – or wants to be anyone – has worked with Timbo; his efficiency with the beats and willingness to experiment with new sounds has not only helped hip-hop evolve, but also completely changed the pop genre, luring it effortlessly into the R&B/hip-hop sound. He’s ventured into uncharted territory with M.I.A., Duran Duran, and Bjork, but has always returned home to hip-hop, where his roots are firmly established. Apart from artists who are “heavyweights” in their own right (like Jay-Z, Missy, Beyoncé, and Luda), you’re more likely to hear the DJ introduce a Mosley Music collaboration as a “Timbaland track” rather than an <insert artist name here> track. While it is slightly disappointing that Timbaland is expanding his list of references all the way out to bubblegum-pop land (the Jonas Brothers? really?), there is no doubt that his touch is literally gold.