One of the better things to come out of our chosen genre this year is the return of the egomaniacal, and yet talented as fuck, Kanye West. After the public relations debacle that was his appearance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (where he famously interrupted a country-slash-pop music singer while she was accepting her award, in order to praise one of her competitors instead), West virtually vanished from the music scene, taking up residence in a recording studio in Hawaii and losing himself in his work in an effort to come to terms with himself.
Earlier this year, reports started coming in from artists who claimed to have worked with 'Ye in Hawaii on his as-yet-untitled fifth studio album. While it wasn't surprising that he was still making music, what was shocking was the names of the artists themselves: Pete Rock, The RZA, Madlib, Q-Tip, and DJ Premier found themselves sharing blog space with the usual suspects Common, Drake, KiD CuDi, Mos Def, and, of course, Kanye's old label boss Jay-Z.
The generally positive reaction to his first single, "Power", spurred up an excitement that Kanye apparently hadn't felt in years, and his mood turned generous: he decided that he wanted to get his music out to the people as quickly as possible. After leaking "See Me Now" on his own, he decided to start up an official series of weekly free music, called G.O.O.D. Fridays (named after his vanity label, G.O.O.D. Music), dropping a new track at the end of each week, typically of the "batshit crazy collaboration" variety. You'll see what I mean in a minute. Thus far, Kanye has succeeded in getting everyone excited for whenever the hell he decides to drop the album by releasing mostly, um, good music.
This post will discuss all of the tracks Kanye has dropped (both for free and his actual singles) as of this writing. Earlier this week, 'Ye had threatened to cancel his G.O.O.D. Friday series because someone started leaking unfinished tracks from his actual album to the Interweb, but earlier this morning, he produced proof that the next free track in the series will be called "Christian Dior Denim Flow", featuring, among others, John Legend and Lloyd Banks. That particular track hasn't dropped yet, so it isn't included here.
POWER (FEAT. DWELE)
Everyone's already familiar with this song, thanks to its placement in the television trailers for David Fincher's The Social Network and 'Ye's own ridiculous Marco Brambilla-directed “Portrait of Power” video clip that isn't really a music video (except that it totally is), but it's easy to forget that this song is actually pretty fucking powerful, commanding your attention with your very first listen. (At least, that's how it worked for me.) Kanye West is probably the only rap artist ever that could sample King Crimson's “21st Century Schizoid Man” without sounding corny, and his verses are as funny as he was prior to his self-imposed post-Taylor Swift exile. The trashing of Saturday Night Live should also make his appearance on tonight's installment (with Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as host) interesting. The coda never fails to disturb me (Dwele sings about jumping out of a window while Kanye ponders what could be a “beautiful death”), but the impact of this song isn't lessened because of it. 'Ye wanted us to know that he was back, and his diabolical scheme worked.
SEE ME NOW (FEAT. BEYONCE & CHARLIE WILSON)
For a little while, anyway. 'Ye released this six-minute track, which may or may not be included on his next album (there are conflicting reports) almost immediately after Beyonce finished recording her vocals. He was so excited to release new music that he just couldn't wait any longer. It's hard to tell why: “See Me Now” is pretty awful. The beat is pleasant but bland, and Kanye's verses are all inconsequential (and awkwardly paced to boot). This sounds like one of the weaker tracks from Late Registration, which is a terrible comparison to make, since that album was damn near perfect (it's his best effort to date). “See Me Now” should only be considered mandatory listening is you absolutely have to hear Beyonce uncomfortably sing the “n-word” (which at least isn't as awkward as when Jennifer Lopez did the same thing on one of her older songs). At least Charlie Wilson (of The Gap Band) escapes unscathed.
POWER (REMIX) (FEAT. JAY-Z & SWIZZ BEATZ)
Kanye allows Swizz Beatz, his favorite producer (thereby continuing the alarming trend of 'Ye having questionable taste in hip hop), to fuck with the original “Power” instrumental for this official remix. the first G.O.O.D. Fridays track, which features a boring Shawn Carter contribution (on which he defends his boy's honor by claiming that they are “in search of the truth, even if it goes through Taylor Swift”) and two decent Kanye verses (I still like how he announces that he had to take a nap to feel “fresh for the club”, but then again, I like naps). The newly fucked-up musical backing is too busy, at least until Swizz switches up beats and prompts our host to rhyme his heart out over Snap's “The Power”, which he does pretty magnificently. Somewhere, Chill Rob G is crying softly while mopping up aisle three.
MONSTER (FEAT. JAY-Z, RICK ROSS, NICKI MINAJ, BON IVER, & CHARLIE WILSON)
The first ridiculously goofy collaboration from the G.O.O.D. Friday series (and the second installment) eventually grew on me, even though the presence of both Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj still leave me nonplussed. The instrumental (rumored to have been co-produced by 'Ye and fucking DJ Premier, if one is to believe the Interweb) is fucking hype, and Hova and Kanye spit some of their most entertaining verses in a long while. Officer Ricky provides a completely unnecessary intro that I hope is removed if this song is actually included on the future Kanye/Jay-Z collaboration project Watch The Throne as has been promised, and Nicki...okay, I'll admit that her verse is much different that what almost any other female emcee would ever attempt, but that's the only thing she has going for her: her verse is so chock-full of style choices that she forgets to include anything of any depth (but she remembered to toss in a mention of her “thick ass” and “pink wig”). She is different, though, so at least she has that going for her, which is nice. The singing by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Charlie Wilson also fits in with the track's creepy dance club mood. I'm officially on the “Monster” bandwagon.
DEVIL IN A NEW DRESS
The worst of all of Kanye's most recent (and officially released) offerings, mainly because Bink!'s soulful beat sounds too much like Kanye going back to the well. By itself, the instrumental is alright, but when 'Ye starts practically begging his woman for some ass, the entire song becomes a turn-off. Then again, the track cuts off suddenly at the end, so Kanye might be using his time to address a couple of issues and lock in a final version for his album. This is also the only G.O.O.D. Friday song to not feature any guests. I've heard worse, but I've also heard much better.
GOOD FRIDAY (FEAT. COMMON, KID CUDI, PUSHA T, BIG SEAN, & CHARLIE WILSON)
Obviously titled after the weekly series itself, “Good Friday” features a simple and infectious drum-and-piano sample for each artist to use, but the end result is mixed. Common barely registers, and CuDi only provides the hook (which he sort-of shares with Charlie Wilson (again?), who provides some of the melody on here), so 'Ye, the newly-signed Pusha T (from the Clipse), and 'Ye's artist Big Sean (who is probably an unknown entity amongst my readers) are forced to carry the weight. Pusha excels with his typical coke raps (I hope he's sending some of his earnings Malice's way), and Kanye sounds alright, but Big Sean fucks everything up with a terrible verse that relies on gimmicks and flash instead of something as important as a decent flow. All in all, this was bleh.
LORD LORD LORD (FEAT. MOS DEF, RAEKWON, SWIZZ BEATZ, & CHARLIE WILSON)
The newest G.O.O.D. Music signee (although this song was released before anything became official, this track goes a long way toward explaining why Mos Def was mysteriously deleted from Ski Beatz's 24 Hour Karate School) spits a thoughtful verse alongside Kanye, Chef Raekwon (fresh from his Bieber tragedy – more on that in a bit), and, of all people, Swizz Beatz, whose number Kanye needs to lose immediately, since hs sounds fucking atrocious. The rest of this song is pretty peaceful, although it runs for far too long (over seven minutes) without switching things up. Swizzy calls himself a “bank hogger” during his verse: that tells you everything you need to know about his contribution. I'm left looking forward to Mos Def's first album on 'Ye's imprint, though.
RUNAWAY (FEAT. PUSHA T)
Although not part of the series, this was the song that Kanye first performed at the MTV Video Music Awards (a
video short film is scheduled to drop soon), and it was interpreted as an apology of sorts to Taylor Swift (who forgave Kanye during her own set). I'm sure if you dig into the metaphor a bit, you'll find Kanye repenting, but when taken at face value, this just sounds like he's calling himself an asshole and sending pictures of his dick to potential fuck buddies, all in an attempt to sabotage his current relationship. Regardless, this track is good: the beat is haunting and will get stuck in your head immediately, and Kanye's verses (along with Pusha T's) fit it well. Also, the version released to blogs doesn't seem to include the Auto-Tune that capped off the otherwise-great live performance, although this may be an incomplete version (Kanye likes to tinker with things well beyond the deadline). It also doesn't include Pusha hilariously censoring the word “pussy” by calling it “Jenny” instead.) Nice! I kind of liked the vocal samples 'Ye worked into the live version: too bad none of those made it to what I just listened to.
SO APPALLED (FEAT. JAY-Z, PUSHA T, THE RZA, CYHI THE PRYNCE, & SWIZZ BEATZ)
The last G.O.O.D. Friday release thus far holds the distinction of being the only song ever officially released that features both Jay-Z and The RZA, although Bobby Digital hardly even appears on here. 'Ye's beat sounds like a darker, grander version of his work on Hova's “Run This Town” (down to the duck noises), which is to say that I dig it a whole fucking lot, and his opening verse (which leaked to blogs last year in an incomplete form) is even pretty funny, especially the potshot at MTV. Shawn Carter delivers his angriest verse ina long time, turning in the best performance on a track full of promise, while Pusha T and CyHi The Prynce round things out in the best way possible. Had Swizz Beatz not been included for absolutely no reason, I would have loved this shit. Instead, I merely just really really like it.
BONUS: RUNAWAY LOVE (REMIX) (JUSTIN BIEVER FEAT. KANYE WEST & RAEKWON)
I'm including this Twitter-fueled collaboration mainly because 'Ye is offering it for free alongside the rest of his G.O.O.D. Friday tracks, even though it was never officially part of the series. Kanye West redoes the beat from the Wu-Tang Clan's “Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta Fuck Wit” for Raekwon (who didn't rhyme on the original song) and pop music's latest messiah, Justin Bieber. Even though this is allegedly a remix to his own song, Bieber is an afterthought, shoehorned in between verses from both the Chef and 'Ye that actually sound pretty good (and make Kanye sound like the biggest Wu-Tang fanboy ever). Hopefully, this absurd mishmash accomplished my imagined goal of getting millions of twelve-year-old girls to buy Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Part II (or maybe even Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), if they want to hear the source material). This “song” isn't the godawful monstrosity that everyone would want you to believe, but it most certainly isn't any good: Kanye only created this just to prove that he could, and in that respect, I suppose he succeeded.