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A Group Of Writers Listening To Kanye, Awaiting SWISH

Kanye West at LAX in October, looking like us. i

Kanye West at LAX in October, looking like us. GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images hide caption

toggle caption GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Kanye West at LAX in October, looking like us.

Kanye West at LAX in October, looking like us.

GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Maybe we have jumped the gun. We very badly want G.O.O.D. Fridays back (we're not alone). Surprise releases are fun and everything, but the build of a month(s)-long stretch is better. We would like to talk about music together, and not only by collectively spazzing out and crashing Livemixtapes. We would like to Monday morning quarterback the art and announcement punctuation and where we heard it over the weekend and the context and the song itself. We'd like to compare this week's offering to the last couple and use all that to debate the emotional state and practical concerns of Kanye and us and try to divine, somehow, where all this is going. The Internet wasn't quite what it is now the last time this happened, and we're thinking about how that changes our coverage. So here we are, weighing in, doing our best to do our part as listeners and readers and thinkers, even though it's not real clear if #EveryFriday means G.O.O.D. Fridays Part Deux or not.

Definitely we are not dealing with the clockwork delivery and full team effort of the fourth quarter of 2010. Sample email from my inbox: "Hope you've had an enjoyable weekend! It seems Kanye is still enjoying his since there's still not a new track." And Kanye talking that "very very extremely soon" business but not really being done for another six hours, tweeting only "It's up" when the full version of "No More Parties in L.A." went public on Soundcloud, resurrected all my old blown deadline, high school term paper overnighter, the news that Michael Jackson died hit at 5:20 pm ET stress like here, take it, I think it's done, who knows what it says. The only time I've ever felt closer to Ye was when he tweeted about waking up on a plane and finding himself responsible for a water bottle he didn't even ask for.

The responses of the writers below have in common enthusiasm for the project of SWISH and the artist that Kanye is. Frustration is often present. The relief at his recovery from "FACTS" is strong, strong enough to intensify the warmth of this group's embrace of "No More Parties in L.A." In my opinion. This is a line of conversation we'd like to have the opportunity to follow over the next few weeks: What are these songs on their own? What are these songs in relation to each other? As part of the lead up to an album? To this album? What are these songs because of Kim's Twitter life? What are they while Future and Drake and Metro and Esco and Kendrick and Cole and Travis and Adele and Soulection and Bieber and The Weeknd and Chris Stapleton are doing their thing?

We'll collect reactions as we proceed; we'll keep them all here. Everybody can change their mind. Everybody is free to be disappointed. Nobody is allowed to give up. We're at @NPRHipHop if you'd like to get involved.


"FACTS"

He should've just titled this "Jumpman 2.0," or called it a remix, because what else is it? If he had I don't think I would be this annoyed. West, boastfully and brashly, takes digs at Nike for the failed collaboration he shared with the corporation before heading to Adidas. He has a point, seeing that the President now rocks Yeezys, but it's almost too much. To calm my nerves, three weeks after its release, I imagine Ye and the usual suspects getting all excited when out, leaving "Jumpman" on repeat and deciding to throw something together in time for New Years. I refuse to take this seriously. —Erika Ramirez

On New Year's Eve before the ball dropped and Yeezy was preparing to drop this song I was racked with anticipation. New Kanye music, something we've been waiting for ALL YEAR (remember we thought the album was coming last February). What I heard on first listen disappointed me. I listened a second time just to make sure my ears weren't deceiving me, but my initial reaction was spot on: Kanye was chasing Drake and Future's sound. I was heartbroken. Not Ye, not the innovator's innovator. If Kanye's new album is going to sound like this then we've finally lost him. —Cedric Shine

So ... no comment on "Facts." (Mostly because I'd rather not listen to it more than once, if I can help it.) —Kiana Fitzgerald

"Facts" is real petty. The last song of 2015, it was appropriately dropped at the end of a year of fraudulence ("Back to Back," the dress meme, Zola's story and Rachel Dolezal). On "Facts" Kanye canvases for the #clapback throne in his campaign for 2020 Presidency. Of course, Ye's Nike diss couldn't go without mentioning Drake. Lucky for Drizzy, Ye generously gave him a gentle slap on the wrist by mocking his Canadian cadence while simultaneously wishing him well on his venture with the company. Kanye reminds us that he stands on the backs of giants (and Kim's empire), while junior artists are left in his shadow. —Chanelle Adams

The Internet all but had a public burial for Kanye West going into the new year when he dropped this obviously "Jumpman"-inspired song. It was a weird outcry considering that 1) people actually thought that'd be his only musical identity going forward with SWISH and 2) that the track will even make the cut. —Lawrence Burney

I think it's really cute when toddlers dab. —Frannie Kelley


"REAL FRIENDS"

"Real Friends" is reminiscent of the vulnerable, introspective Graduation verses that secured my love for Kanye forever. An artist that has always struggled with being misunderstood, Kanye opens up yet again to share his more intimate sentiments. For the first time Kanye sounds tired. As he croons about his struggle to find genuine friendship amidst success and fame, he shares a level of loneliness and work ethic that can only be described as that of a mad scientist or lonely suburban dad. "Real Friends" is a confessional phone call at 3AM, a more sophisticated "Hotline Bling." As he starts his own family, he makes us aware of how far he's come from the days of College Dropout, a time when he would have never been called a "deadbeat cousin." On the grind for decades now, Ye's put work before all else and now it's catching up to him. —Chanelle Adams

This one had me scrambling to find a surviving link after its convoluted rollout. On the second release in the second coming of G.O.O.D. Friday, Ye and Ty Dolla $ign vent and advise on the most effective and least affective ways to address soured relationships, low-key two-stepping through a space that reminds me of the gently introspective "Heard 'Em Say." As he categorizes loved ones into silos of family, foe or frenemy, Mr. West reminds us yet again of the hard-knock life of a rap supernova. —Kiana Fitzgerald

You know what that is that you feel when you listen to "Real Friends"? Hope. With this song Kanye West rekindles our longing for the portion of his work in which he rapped honestly, sugar free, over lush production laced with soul samples. Think of "Wedding Dress," "Gorgeous" (the majority of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, really) and, of course, College Dropout. "Real Friends" is just that, on which Ye, alongside the harmonious Ty Dolla $ign, check the loyalty of their real to so-called friends and tell it how it is. This is the Kanye West I love: brutally straightforward, heavy and true to life. It almost makes me forget "Facts" exists. Almost. —Erika Ramirez

Kanye West doesn't care about us; he never has—at least not past our ability to magnify his own sense of purpose. We, the audience, have always been surrogates for his sometimes righteous rage, lenses through which he can see and project himself. It's great that he comes close to admitting as much in "Real Friends." He cares enough to take pictures with your sister, but not enough to engage us about this series, instead empowering Kim Kardashian West to speak on his behalf, as if anyone ever wants to hear her talk about "bars," ever. It's the civil distance through which we engage our exes once we're done with them, because, as KKW tweeted, he's focused on dealing with Adidas in Italy. "I can't be bothered," he raps. "I'm just doin' my thing / Hope you're doin' your thing, too." We get it, bruh. You can keep the toothbrush and the T-shirt. —kris ex

I think I admire Kanye's heart the most. Next to Ty his voice is thin, but he's always saying more. He has more skin in the game. The tone of this song is closest to the weather I've been in recently—ignorantly cold, then artlessly warm, damp everywhere—kind of paranoid, probably should be regretful but can't summon it, fine being destabilized, gotta get up and go to work anyway type of vibe. This is the Kanye mood music that I needed. —Frannie Kelley


"NO MORE PARTIES IN L.A."

This is the closest to what Ye-purists have been begging for over the majority of this decade: Kanye getting back to his sonic roots. He's still unapologetically black, concerned with his family life (dressing Nori like Cam) and existing on his own terms. —Lawrence Burney

Was this the official soundtrack to the iconic 2012 moment when Kanye threw out most of Kim's wardrobe on Keeping Up With The Kardashians? I really hope so. It was Kim, acting like she's in some capacity A&Ring the album, who assured fans that "Noah" was flown out to Italy to finish the track with Ye. Ever since Kendrick revealed his questionable racial politics and came out with an exaggerated voice production on "Alright" that made him sound like a rapping Bob Dylan, I'm not really a fan of Kendrick. Madlib's beat from 2010 leads me to believe this album will hold fewer radical "Black Skinheads" and more 808s and Heartbreaks, with the added ingredients of love and fatherhood. —Chanelle Adams

Something unusual here: Kanye actually shows K. Dot up. (Still, they sound so damn good next to each other.) Admittedly, some of that has nothing to do with Kendrick—it's the circumstances. His brief appearance versus Ye's #90bars; Ye's penetrating voice versus his overworked one. Also, this beat was just made for Kanye, and he owns it: "I know some fans thought I wouldn't rap like this again / But the writer's block is over, emcees cancel your plans." There you are, Yeezy. —Kiana Fitzgerald

I forgive Kanye West for "FACTS." What is "FACTS" even? I forgive him for still not releasing an official CDQ of "Wolves." I forgive everything now that I have "No More Parties in L.A." The third song from the second installment of G.O.O.D. Fridays is Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar's first collaboration ever, and it's one for the books. It's luscious. The song is produced by Madlib (who flips Junie Morrison's "Suzie Thundertussy" and Ghostface Killah's "Mighty Healthy"), and features a few lines that Ye debuted in a Stones Throw documentary. Perhaps the beat is one from the stash that Madlib produced for Ye during the MBDTF days, none of which made the cut. On "No More Parties in L.A.," Ye is hungry and aware, and it's palpable. As I currently listen to "No More Parties in LA," I'm not even thinking about the Kardashians. I'm trying to figure out which of Ye's cousins stole his laptop. —Erika Ramirez

Real rap signifiers everywhere, including an unnecessary percentage of all those bars devoted to women at fault. Kendrick and Kanye feel far away from each other, reminding me of their dynamic in that New York Times Magazine profile from the Yeezus tour, and then the 38-year-old 8-year-old comes out on top. I wish Ye saying he's got a psychiatrist would destigmatize therapy. I really loved Yeezus, so I'm not rooting for a return to form. If he's gonna do this—be the anxiety-baring Ye on record, represent himself as the moody father of very young children who's got car troubles and distractions—I need him to give me more than I can get from KUWTK or Late Registration. —Frannie Kelley

This is the climax of anti-climax. The vocal mix makes it sound like a radio freestyle—and it would be great were it a radio freestyle. Kendrick's bars are astounding acts of rhyme that poke fun of lyrical/spiritual/miracle tropes with a side of Cap'n Crunch cereal and a Nichiren Buddhist mantra. Next to them Kanye sounds labored and trying too hard. But over-effort has always been intrinsic to his appeal, and here he's urgently dropping lines only he can: shouting out E!, forgiving his cousin that stole his laptop, expressing understandable concern for the safety of his camera-famous family. It's the Kanye we haven't heard in a minute, but this isn't on par with the end of the weeks that brought us the "Power" remix, "Monster" and "So Appalled." It's exciting by diminished expectations. Facts, only. —kris ex

I liked "No More Parties" better when we just had the snippet.Cedric Shine

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