Kanye West has officially become the bad guy, people. He's rich, he's rude, he's entitled, he's a rock 'n' roll legend who's awaiting a legit artistic backlash any year now, and he's also a smart businessperson. After Taylor Swift-gate and record sales of his third Pazz & Jop-winning "masterpiece" forced him to take sanctuary in Katy Perry financially, he knows he should lay (relatively) low for a minute. So while I (we?) loved all six of his albums, it's time to back off and let his crew do the talking a little. Too bad they're not as good at it -- hopefully Jay-Z and Ghostface's names in these too-long-for-Winamp artist credits will balance out Big Sean et al.
"To the World"
A beauteous start, with R. Kelly over digitally crumbling pizzicatos stuttering out a melody that appears to go on as long as Pi in decimal form. Kanye's first word is "hmm?" a tic that's now as familiar as Michael Jackson's "sham on." But the boasts are running on fumes: "Picture Rick James tonight/ I don't give a fuck," "Mitt Romney/ I don't pay no tax," and the not-Wayne-level "R. Kelly and the god of rap/ Shittin' on you/ holy crap." Proof that money can't buy cleverness.
Having winced at Big Sean's hook when this song first dropped (say it with me ad nauseum: "CLIQUE CLIQUE CLIQUE CLIQUE CLIQUE," arrgh), I suppose I'll take this opportunity to notice the mildly ghostly beat. Sean employs an annoying post-Drake cadence, and the operatic (synthesized?) vocals on the chorus still sound more silly than ominous. Jay-Z sounds as graceful as any athlete bobbing and weaving through his verse (even though I didn't remember a thing from it). Meanwhile, Yeezy provides a new twist on Chris Rock's bit on the differences between "wealthy" and "rich" ("You know white people/ Get money but don't spend it") that it's hard to tell if he's lamenting or endorsing.
It's quickly becoming apparent there's a joylessness to this album, and part of that has to do with the fallacy where Kanye thought being friends with Rick Ross would find him new ways to have fun. Here he just counts his money over and over on skeletal, readymade beats, which now signify airport lounges and escalators rather than the Dirty South. And these Republican obsessions! "To the World" had Mitt Romney, and here Ye namechecks Sarah Palin. Thinking he's jealous? These guys think they're trying to be funny about only caring about money, but the only funny moment on this track is when the big fancy prog-bridge under Kanye's verse is interrupted by a triumphant yell of "2 Chainz!" and the titular guest brings the tune back to ominous Earth -- if not worse. The dis about how your girl "looks like Precious" is the moment we can finally say Kanye West doesn't care about black people.
"New God Flow"
"I think it's good that Ye gotta blow Dilla" -- did Pusha T just open by bragging that Kanye ripped off the dead legend? Love Clipse, but these guys have no camaderie together -- Kanye never pushed "Duncan Hines," and his villainy's supposed to be theoretical. "Rest in peace to Whitney Houston" is awkward, too. But this is the first track where the raps dominate, where Ye follows up "That could mess up with your whole life like an uncle that touched you" with a rhyme ending in "312." Then the greatest rapper on the premises announces "I've had my Jesus piece since '94" -- Ghostface shows these nervous badasses how to retain charm and imagination while being a total dickhead: "I've got soccer moms paying for cock/ Angels get it from behind while they cleanin' their wok."
Never thought I'd be sick of Pusha T, but these beats aren't grimy enough for him -- I prefer 2 Chainz' pinched-nose grunting. The weird little reggae breaks sound like they'll grow on me. For the huge amount of familiar crew members on this track, from Common to Raekwon, none of them manage to stand out from that coolly-underneath vibe. I'm prepared to get sick of these single-note synth-bloop beats real quick. None of them are on "Niggas in Paris"' level, except for maybe the next one.
Already one of the best singles of the year and the star's wickedest sarcasm rapping since ..."Barry Bonds"? But you know he's a sellout because it's just not supposed to be called anything but "Theraflu." (Maybe they sued, who knows, could've done better than "Cold" though). Superb growl, excellently disgusted voice and flow, wonderful baits from the headline-making PETA line to the title that leads in a coughed (natch) chant. If only Ye was capable of "motherfuckin' embarrassing" people for non-fashion reasons these days.
This is a trip, with atmosphere snare sound like razorblades on a mirror, a spooky chipmunk voice beat (the ghost of Ye's old productions perhaps?) and Autotuned skank-&-B from The-Dream. Plus Ma$e! His voice sounds great. Also he gets to be the one to mention "Reagan" on this track, plus he ends his verse with a "cham on." No Michael Jackson album was this cleanly uniform though -- when did the rappers become more OCD than the pop stars? Someone named Cocaine 80s takes the track out on a comically grim note a la Lil Wayne's "I Feel Like Dying": "She dying in this motherfucker."