Okay, first of all, that cover is horrible, Kanye. What’s wrong with the original one? Did we need the woman’s ass and “WHICH / ONE” splattered on it? Do yourself a favor and replace it with the one I linked above – you know, the original one. It’ll improve your day. And yours too, reader.
Second, I’d like to congratulate you on your… interesting release strategy. No doubt messy, but effective; buzz kept building and finally when the album drops we were met with… well, confusion. When you explained it was basically a gospel record with a lot of cussing, my expectations were met by about three and a half tracks, and the rest of the album felt like a ton of loose ends. Why did it sound trendy? Kanye, you set trends. You don’t follow them.
And finally, “Facts” really didn’t need to be here. Get that shit off my album. Thanks. Love, Erik.
But even so, this is way, way underrated. Like, I know it’s hard to listen to it as a cohesive whole, but that’s why we have a Shuffle function in 2016. It’s as scattered and weird as Kanye is in 2016, and while I wouldn’t call this his best album, not by a long shot, it’s without a doubt my favorite to play all the way through. I’m just gonna hit shuffle on my copy here and grade each song as they come. I’ll probably go back and add a bit to each section, but keep each take pretty raw. Here we go!
1. Freestyle 4: Fucking nuts, this one, but fun to the extreme. Balls to the wall weird, too. “Would everybody start fuckin’??” “Baby don’t get too LOUU- (noise)” Tons of odd shit in the mix too; piano, synths, thumps and loops. String section that sounds genuinely evil, too. Good shit, makes me wish I could play it in car. Not a ton to say about this really.
2. Facts: Bleh. The one bad proper track on the album, though the “Now y’ll get the message!!” screech and the sheer fact that Kanye is rapping about hating Nike (?????) manages to save it from being unlistenable or flat-out idiotic. I’d skip it, personally, though I could see someone enjoying it.
3. Famous: Now here’s a highlight for you: Rihanna fucking kills the hook here, and the beat switchup at the end is really impressive, showing Kanye’s growth as a producer. As far as problems go, Swizz doesn’t add a ton with his adlibs, and Kanye just nearly manages to knock all momentum from the track with that embarrassing first line (bleached assholes, how nice.) Fucking bomb-ass track though; everything’s worth that “Bam Bam” interpolation at the end. Also, just now noticing a tiny detail: as Rihanna sings the hook a second time, you can faintly hear the original Nina Simone song playing in the background. What a classic.
4. I Love Kanye: OK, Kanye.
5. 30 Hours: Getting Andre 3000 to do a HOOK, and a really simple one at that, is just inviting scorn, but luckily it turned out reasonably well; the most notable things about this track are the Waffle House line and the hook, which flips an Arthur Russell sample that originally went “Where the islands go”, distorted to the point of sounding like “30 hours”. Which is impressive, granted. And the instrumental is nice. The douchbaggery in the lyrics is unsettling in places, and the track runs a little long, but it’s all very natural, progressing to the penultimate line “You wasn’t mine, though / But I still drove 30 hours”, a touching and sad sentiment of love lost. Good song.
6. No More Parties In LA: My favorite song here. The single two best producers in hip-hop ever working on a track together really couldn’t have turned out any better, and the single two best rappers in hip-hop right now working on a track together couldn’t have been better either; this is 6 minutes and change of rapping, rapping, rapping, and rapping over one of the best instrumentals Kanye’s ever been a part of. What’s so amazing is that not only does Kendrick hit it out of the park with his verse at the beginning, Kanye spends the remaining three and a half minutes rapping his heart out about everything from family problems to his therapist’s kids… and it’s even better than Kendrick’s verse. The “weak content and slow jammin” line makes me giggle, and the “No more parties in L.A.” hook being interrupted by the sample is really fantastic (sounds kinda like “Shake that body, party that body!” to me, but who knows).
7. Silver Surfer Intermission: Keep it loopy.
8. [Father Stretch My Hands] Pt. 2: I’ll this part off by saying that Panda is fuckin great. Desiigner’s got energy, and the production gives him a ton of room to be hyped and do his weird ad-lib tongue-roll thing. And Panda as a song is used really well here, at least musically; the beat of Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2 on top of the opening works shockingly well, and when that beat drops out to give full way to Panda’s, it sounds even better than the original song. Yeah, Desiigner sounds like Future, and I’m not giving him any room here in terms of the obvious rip-off, but in all honesty I really just love the song. It’s got bravado, which I like, it’s not boring like most of the hits we’ve gotten this year, and it doesn’t try to be anything but a hype song. And what Kanye does with it is pretty clever too. So yes, the song fucking kills. Haven’t enjoyed a radio rap song like this in ages. Turn up.
9. FML: Merely good for about 2 minutes, and then absolutely stunning, but totally worth that wait time. The Weeknd does an excellent job with the hook, and Kanye crafts several impressive verses around the sparse beat. My favorite part is at the 2:20 mark, when Kanye’s upped his flow, the snares crack in, and The Weeknd delivers the last hook; suddenly you realize the beat is full and rich and sinister, voices echoing in the distance before everything drops out, and then a rolling drumbeat that echoes “Black Skinhead” slams into the silence… it’s incredible. Probably my favorite section of the album. “They don’t want to see me love you…”
10. Highlights: Erm… what? I’m still not exactly sure what the focus of this track is, between the heavily autotuned chorus, the infamous dick-GoPro line, the swelling string section, etc. But it’s great anyways, and here’s why: “Tell my mama, tell my mama, that I only want my whole life to be hiiiiighlights!”, “One life, one night, highlights… livin the life till I diiie!” As weirdly inconsistent and tonally confused as the track is, it works surprisingly well (a running theme on this album) and the aforementioned lines, along with their respective instrumentals, are a lot closer to the “gospel album with a whole lot of cursing” than I think I’ve given the record credit for. That hook is fantastic too: that melody rules hard.
11. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1: The way that synth-bass grinds against that musty, crackling soul sample is just too perfect, and as a follow-up to Ultralight Beam in the tracklisting it works really well, continuing the gospel theme. The touches of piano and the simple drumbeat on top of the sample/bass sounds delightful. Cudi manages to not fuck up the hook here, too. The bleached asshole line at 1:10 is incredibly obnoxious, but in all honesty it’s not that bad: worse lines will come. Enjoy while you can.
12. Ultralight Beam: Speak of the devil: “We don’t want no devils in the house! We want the LAWD!” The reversed-sounding synths sound like beams of light breaking through clouds, and the choir is shocking initially when it enters suddenly and loudly, but it’s supposed to. I get a glowing feeling in my chest when Chance says, “Know what God said when he made the first rainbow? Just throw this at the end if I’m too late for the intro” and grunts out as the trumpets begin to swell over him. It’s the same feeling I got when I listened to Surf last year. Even the people who didn’t like the album admitted this was the one good track, and it’s pretty easy to see why.
13. Wolves: My second favorite track here. The Caroline Shaw wordless vocal sample is great (though not creepy as people say), the beat layering at a minute in is wonderful, and the Vic Mensa part is the really haunting part here, though it’s still as colorful and gorgeous as the rest of the song. If there was any part to cut here, it’s Kanye’s final verse, or at least the first half of it. Repeating the “I know it’s corny…” part six times is annoyingly lazy, and the surrounding lines (“I impregnate your mind, let’s have a baby without fuckin” and “You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich”) are just as bad. But it’s worth it for every other moment of it.
14. Waves: Wherein Kanye West makes Chris Brown likeable (and listenable) and takes a single loop and plays it through an entire song; there’s no real difference between verses, choruses, and the outro, but that’s ok because it sounds fantastic, right? Except for the opening lines from Kanye (rhyming like with like with like with like is terrible, even for you, Mr. West), the track is really good. I can see why Kanye wanted to name the album Waves.
15. Low Lights: Useless, but not unbearable. Knocks the momentum out of the album, especially in the regular tracklisting. If it were shorter I’d be more forgiving.
16. Real Friends: That piano sample, plus the heavy, reverberated drums give this song a really chilly feel to it, like a cold winter night on the highway, stars twinkling sadly overhead. Lyrically it’s one of the best on the album, and it probably the most overtly depressing track here. I actually used to think this was one of the weaker cuts off the album, but… no. This is excellent. Favorite moment: “I’m a deadbeat cousin, I hate family reuinions…”
17. Frank’s Track: It’s very pretty and sweet, but it works better when it follows Wolves.
18. Feedback: Contains my favorite quotable of the album (“Ayy, you heard about the good news / Ya’ll sleepin on ya boy, had a good snooooze? / Wake up nigga WAKE up / It’s time to get this paper!”), my favorite WTF Moment of the album (“Hol’ up ho’ up hol’ up, I’m the ghetto Oprah!”), and my third favorite beat. I like the drone-y feedback melody, the stomping drumbeat, and the pound of the bass underneath. On a weird note, this song actually ROCKS to some extent, with its weird percussion and catchy feedback riff. And dig 1:27, where the synth line roars into a whole new octave and the drums thump reservedly under it: THAT’S how you do a rock-hip hop hybrid song.
19. Saint Pablo: Huh. This is actually the last track on the album, one spot away from the ending. Added pretty much at the end of TLOP’s editing cycle, it’s a million times more final as a closer than Fade, especially in the context of Kanye’s life. Some good lyrical work that addresses the current state of West’s jumbled, confusing life. And I love the synths here. Good song; adds a lot to the album that was sorely needed.
20: Fade: Hey, and this is the actual second-to-last track on the original album. Not much here, really. Someone suggested a remix of I Love Kanye with Fade’s beat underneath it, and I think that’s a pretty interesting idea. The bassline is cool. Your love is fade. Peace. Love y’all.