December 20, 2010

100 Calorie Gut Reactions: Keeping Up WIth Kanye Edition (Part 2)


This is the time of year when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West's fifth album, will pop up on critics' "Best Of" lists, if not topping them altogether.  (I don't do best-of lists, but I'm sure my write-up on the project will lead readers to believe that it was my favorite album of 2010.  For the record, it wasn't: it was just the best album I've heard recently, but it was the most complete album hip hop had to offer this year.)  So I figured that now was the best time to discuss the remainder of 'Ye's free G.O.O.D. Friday tracks.

After My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dropped on the Monday before Thanksgiving (in the United States, anyway), the well of free music dried up, with Kanye all but evaporating from his own Twitter feed.  Presumably, this was because all of the self-promotion had reached its zenith, and all that was left was for people to actually buy the fucking album.  However, 'Ye had originally promised to keep the G.O.O.D. Friday series going through Christmas, so something must have changed his mind.  (My money's on the fact that a song, probably incomplete, from his joint album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, leaked the same week My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy hit stores.  He had threatened to quit handing out freebies when unfinished album tracks hit the Interweb before, so maybe this time he felt no need for empty threats.)

Luckily, there are a number of G.O.O.D. Friday tracks that I hadn't yet gotten an opportunity to write about, including one that was produced by hip hop legend Pete Rock that every blogger seemed to love (and every rapper seemed to already have a prepared freestyle over...*cough* Rah Digga *cough*).  So at least I should finish what I started before the year is over.

CHRISTIAN DIOR DENIM FLOW (FEAT. JOHN LEGEND, KID CUDI, PUSHA T, LLOYD BANKS, & RYAN LESLIE)
This was the song 'Ye promised to drop the same day that my original post went up. Using a more traditional barometer, this doesn't sound anywhere close to what a cohesive posse cut should be, but when you view it through Kanye's rose-colored lenses, it makes a bit more sense, even though it still doesn't entirely work. 'Ye's distorted vocals consist almost exclusively of the names of various different models, which is supposed to be somehow impressive but ends up making our host sound even more egocentric than usual, which is weird, since his contribution is one of those “these are the women I want to fuck”-type of lists that rappers occasionally come up with when they're feeling randy and really really really want a handjob. His beat, however, is pretty goddamn interesting, especially when it changes course around the halfway mark. I enjoyed John Legend's vocals and the verses from Pusha T, Ryan Leslie (who is better known to me as an R&B singer, but still comes across as credible on here), and even G-Unit's Lloyd Banks didn't annoy me as much as he should have. Kid CuDi sucks the life out of the room with his performance, though, so it's probably for the best that the song pretty much ends after he finishes. For those of you who care about this sort of thing, Kanye quickly released an “extended” version of “Christian Dior Denim Flow” that allowed for a few more bars from Ryan Leslie, but is otherwise exactly the same: you may as well track down that particular version instead of the original, if possible.

DON'T STOP! (CHILD REBEL SOLDIER)
The story goes that Kanye West was doing a Q&A after a screening of his short film-slash-music video “Runaway”, and he announced that he hadn't forgotten about the long-rumored Child Rebel Soldier supergroup (made up of himself, Lupe Fiasco, and Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes). (I swear they were called “Child Rebel Soldiers”, which would make more sense, but whatever.)That following Friday, this song dropped. Unlike the crew's debut, “Us Placers” (which was performed over Thom Yorke's “The Eraser” and was quite good), “Don't Stop!” doesn't even pretend to be socially conscious, as all three artists spit carefully crafted bullshit, with 'Ye hogging most of the airtime, since this is ostensibly his song and all. This track may appeal to fans of the more lyrical side of 'Ye, but it doesn't truly whet the appetite for a full-length album from these three.

TAKE ONE FOR THE TEAM (FEAT. KERI HILSON, PUSHA T, & CYHI DA PRYNCE)
I get the feeling that most of Kanye's fans dismiss this song as a lesser effort, but I found it to be fucking hilarious. The instrumental is 'Ye's interpretation of a Timbaland beat, right down to the keys the beatbox used as percussion, and, to a lesser extent, the presence of Keri Hilson, who sounds alright but completely fails to get the actual title of the song right in her hook. This ode to “taking one for the team”, opting for a less attractive alternative for the greater good, is simply funny, especially our host's angry tirade against women who overuse the cucumber melon-scented body sprays and lotions from Bath & Body Works, a brand that I don't recall ever hearing discussed in a rap song prior to today. (Oddly specific rants tend to work for me, though. That's why I like Aziz Ansari's stand up act; not-so-coincidentally, he is also a good friend of Kanye's.) True, this isn't really a good song or anything, but I found it entertaining enough.

DON'T LOOK DOWN (FEAT. MOS DEF, LUPE FIASCO, & BIG SEAN)
I guess this could be seen, subject matter-wise, as a spiritual cousin to “Runaway”, as each rapper who gets a verse (The Mighty Mos only handles the hook) discusses a failing relationship (with Big Sean, a G.O.O.D. Music signee who has never impressed me before, taking the crown overall). The comparison becomes even more apparent when Kanye molds the middle third of “Don't Look Down” into yet another symphonic reconstruction of a dying robot's final moments, but the instrumental is a bit too experimental for that same trick to work twice (although did it really work on the nine-minute version of “Runaway”? I don't think it did). The verses were alright, but the song as a whole didn't connect with me. Also, Dante uses the word “aerials” during his chorus, which is also the name of a song from 24 Hour Karate School that didn't make the final cut, a move that Mos Def was partially responsible for when he neglected to grant Ski Beatz permission to use his vocals and signed with Kanye's label instead. It's almost as though he was trying to taunt Ski through this song. Was that shit really necessary? Apparently, yes.

THE JOY (FEAT. PETE ROCK, CURTIS MAYFIELD, JAY-Z, CHARLIE WILSON, & KID CUDI)
The old guard (represented here by producer Pete Rock, who originally gave this Curtis Mayfield “The Makings Of You”-sampled instrumental to Strong Arm Steady for their “Makings Of You” (I wonder where they got that title from) before our host offered him a lot more money for it) connects with the new blood (as portrayed by Kanye and, to a much lesser extent, Kid CuDi, who simply doesn't deserve to be on here) for a track that I initially dismissed, but now cannot get enough of, thanks to the hypnotic soul sounds masquerading as the beat. Shawn Carter, acting as the bridge between the two generations, drops an impressive verse, making one wonder exactly why Jay-Z has never worked with Pete Rock before now. (His solid verse on Jay Electronica's “Shiny Suit Theory”, which uses the same Ambassadors “Ain't Got The Love (Of One Girl On My Mind)” sample that Peter rocked on his CL Smooth collaboration “I Got A Love”, leads me to believe that Hova could thrive in that kind of jazzy environment if he so chooses.) My understanding is that this dope-as-shit song is intended for inclusion on the 'Ye/Jay joint album Watch The Throne: hopefully it makes the final cut, even as a bonus track, but maybe Yeezy could edit out some of Pete's looped ad-libs toward the end? Also, maybe we can agree to disagree on the listing of Curtis Mayfield as a guest star: just because his sample is so prevalent throughout the song doesn't mean anybody should be tricked into thinking he shared studio time with these guys.

LOOKING FOR TROUBLE (FEAT. PUSHA T, CYHI DA PRYNCE, BIG SEAN, & J. COLE)
This G.O.O.D. Music posse cut (with Jay-Z's artist J. Cole tacked on at the end for good measure) is completely underwhelming. The instrumental simply sounds boring as shit, and there is no way that any of the artists involved can overcome that great of an obstacle. It helps that all five rappers sound pretty fucking awful anyway, so you two will never have to actually suffer through this shit like I just did. I still hope that Cole scores a Kanye best for his debut album, though: when that kid is on, he's enjoyable as hell.

CHAIN HEAVY (FEAT. TALIB KWELI & CONSEQUENCE)
Originally set for inclusion on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but downgraded to a rumored iTunes bonus track and then deleted altogether, 'Ye unleashed this Q-Tip-produced confection the Friday before his album hit stores. And it sounds really fucking good, even though all of the hyperbolic praise heaped upon Kamaal by his fans on Twitter was a little much (I remember one guy comparing the beat to something from the era of The Low End Theory: are you fucking high?). I'm still trying to figure out how M.I.A., the original rumored guest artist, would have fit in on this song, as there is nothing remotely experimental about it: the beat simply bangs, and 'Ye, Cons, and Kweli all turn in pitch-perfect performances. According to Q-Tip on his Twitter account, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is to be re-released (possibly around Christmas, although that should have been announced this late in the game, right?) with “Chain Heavy” as a bonus track. Is that shit really necessary? Regardless of what happens with that, I'm glad that Kanye saw fit to release this song to the fans. Now if only he would do the same for “Mama's Boyfriend”...

CHRISTMAS IN HARLEM (FEAT. TEYANA TAYLOR, CYHI DA PRYNCE, PUSHA T, BIG SEAN, VADO, CAM'RON, JIM JONES, & MUSIQ SOULCHILD)
Before we start the obvious “but Kanye is from Chicago, not New York!” argument, let me point out that the title for this holiday track, released nearly a month after Kanye apparently shut down the G.O.O.D. Friday series, can be interpreted as a reference to the guest artists on here from DipSet, who claim Harlem World as their stomping grounds (or at least Killa Cam does/did). DipSet is represented on here by Cam'Ron, Jim Jones, and Vado, who has apparently replaced Juelz Santana in the lineup (that would explain why Santana was so mad at me the other day when I wouldn't let him wash my windshield at the intersection). The beat was handled by Hit Boy, who successfully evokes the emotions of Christmas without getting too cheesy, which is to say that the beat is pretty fucking good. For the most part, Kanye plays it straight, although he can't resist tossing in some sexual innuendo (the man is a master of the unsubtle single entendre) at the end of his verse, and his boy CyHi decides to rap as Santa Claus, although it must be said that he does a pretty good job and even shows religious tolerance at the end of his performance: when was the last time you heard that in a rap song, let alone a Christmas song? (War on Christmas my ass. Fuck you, Fox News.) Apparently the one-sided beef between 'Ye and DipSet has been squashed (as it only began because of Cam'Ron's loyalty to Dame Dash and the fact that Kanye obviously chose to run with Hova, it's nice that these guys were able to put their differences aside); it's too bad that Jimmy can even make a holiday as generally happy as Christmas sound completely fucking miserable with his shitty contribution. Everyone else sounded okay, if a bit lost in the shuffle, “All Of The Lights”-style; I'm hoping a final version drops soon, as the only copy available online right now is a shitty radio rip with Funkmaster Flex dropping bombs instead of presents. Still, this was enjoyable enough.  (UPDATE: The final version is now available over on Kanye's site.)

BONUS TRACKS:

THAT'S MY BITCH (KANYE WEST & JAY-Z FEAT. ELLY JACKSON)
This album track from the Watch The Throne project leaked shortly after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy hit stores. Kanye's current obsession with La Roux continues on here (Elly Jackson also appeared on “All Of The Lights”, although I couldn't place her in that particular lineup if you put a gun to my head), but her hook, which doesn't fit the mood of the song in the least fucking bit, helps this Q-Tip-produced concoction (which sounds good, and entirely different than “Chain Heavy”, which helps) not sound like the average rap song. This track may not be complete, since right now it sounds more like a Kanye song featuring Hova rather than a collaboration, but it sounds promising enough. Besides, Q-Tip uses the “Apache” breakbeat in his instrumental. Come on, that shit's just fucking awesome.

G.O.O.D. MUSIC CYPHER FROM THE 2010 BET HIP HOP AWARDS (FEAT. KANYE WEST, PUSHA T, BIG SEAN, CYHI DA PRYNCE, COMMON, & DJ PREMIER)
This freestyle session, which is readily available online, is interesting to hear, if only because Kanye sounds really fucking happy to be rapping alongside his friends-slash-employees. More of the focus is shifted to Big Sean, CyHi Da Prynce, and Pusha T (Common barely registers on here), and everyone sounds decent enough, as freestyle cyphers are notoriously difficult to grade, unless you're just a terrible rapper and you suck, in which case all bets are off. (These freestyle cyphers have turned into a consistently enjoyable part of the Hip Hop Awards, even if some of the lineups are suspect at best: this year's event also showcased Raekwon alongside Wiz Khalifa and Royce Da 5'9” working with Tyga. The fuck?) Kanye reuses some of his “Dark Fantasy” lines on here (although, to be fair, they were new at the time), mostly the setup for the Family Matters joke, and he even gets in some decent one-liners, probably because he had an album to promote and needed to outshine everyone else over this DJ Premier-spun loop. Since we're here, let me ask this: why the fuck didn't Common appear on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? And where was Mos Def? They're both signed to 'Ye's label: shouldn't they have been granted an automatic cameo?

Here's a video clip of the dirty version of the cypher, which didn't air on for obvious reasons.



-Max

(UPDATE: As of December 22, the final version of "Christmas In Harlem" has been posted on Kanye's site as a part of the G.O.O.D. Friday series, so this post has been modified slightly to reflect that.)

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8 comments:

  1. "looking for trouble" is the best song of the bunch, with "the joy" being number 1a.

    don't understand how you don't like "looking for trouble"...

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  2. totally agreed, "looking for trouble" is the best of the G.O.O.D. Friday tracks, and I have no idea why it wasn't included on the album. Only weak spot is Big Sean's verse, dude has yet to really impress me ever...

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  3. Some quality material here that I never really cared to look into (as I didn't really enjoy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy).

    Also I think you should do a "Gut Reaction" to Lonely Island's new song with Akon "I Just Had Sex".

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  4. "just because his sample is so prevalent throughout the song doesn't mean anybody should be tricked into thinking he shared studio time with these guys."

    I'm sure Kanye could afford it.







    ...

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  5. I agree. Kanye should have enough money to resurrect the dead. He would just probably spend it on on Louis Vuitton shoelaces or a waffle iron or something first.

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  6. Looking For Trouble is the shit!

    So is Don't Look Down, but that's just me I guess.

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  7. Looking for Trouble the BEST G.O.O.D. Friday track? Wow, it's probably in my bottom 3 somewhere... Max was right, this was one of Kanye's weakest instrumentals (when compared to the rest of the songs he's put out this year, at least)

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  8. ProfessorHipHopApril 10, 2011

    Chain Heavy... that is all i wanted to add.

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