“America, I’ve given you all and now I am nothing…” – Allen Ginsberg
Up there at the Brit Awards Kanye West brought everyone he could out on stage clad in black. “All Day” was set to be premiered, and his gorgeous figurine of a wife introduced him to the London crowd. Then the flames and a bored-as-fuck Ye´ went up there to do God’s work. It was underwhelming. Not because the song wasn’t good. It was. But because he looked like he was reaching for something out there in the void, in the crowd, and it wasn’t there.
Each Kanye album brings us someone new. This has been Kanye’s modus operandi for some time now. Perhaps not a change as radical as his later years would give us with 808’s, MBDTF, WTT and Yeezus showing us vastly different personalities pushing against some boundary. But it is there, bubbling quietly under the cloud of emotion he surrounds himself with. It’s that cloud of emotion that propels him forward. But now that same ion charged mixture of gasses may be sapping Ye´of some of his mojo. We’re not sure what is happening, but we do know that this year has been the most disappointing output of music of Kanye West’s career. Well, save for a few titular highlights.
Every once in a while, now, you’ll see the son of Donda West crack a smile. It’s becoming a rare occurrence these days. It should. Kanye West is scouring the earth for inspiration and he’s coming up empty. At least in music. He’s spent the last decade plus dazzling us with his penchant for soaking up the world around him and transforming it into art. On the College Dropout, he and G.O.O.D Music took the stylings of Tribe, Common, Mos’ and Slum Village — his heroes at the time — and his love of good ole fashioned soul and jerry-rigged it into a classic. But as his flawless catalog becomes older, it must be difficult to find more of the things that inspire you. There is no Taylor Swift incident this time around to spur a jilted Kanye West to dark, twisted greatness. And there isn’t the specter of being on the outside looking in and your very own celebrity use to encase you like there was on the sparse Yeezus. Equally, there isn’t the “I must prove myself at all cost” Kanye of the College Dropout and Late Registration era.
Perhaps humility is to blame. No, not that the world’s most interesting egoist hasn’t used enough, but that this year, maybe, he’s used too much. For Big Sean, he helped out on “All Your Fault” and “I Don’t Fuck With You.” He also hopped on “Blessings,” though he says Drake’s rise to king of the summer propelled him to a last minute verse on that one. But his best work has been on other people’s records. His verse on Tyler, The Creator’s “Smuckers” is easily his best in a few years and one of the best verses of the year. His ridiculous stream-of-consciousness on A$AP Rocky’s “Jukebox Joints” and his strange co-existence with Rihanna and Paul McCartney on “FourFiveSeconds” are two more examples. Then there’re the snippets we’ve heard of his banger with The Weeknd “Tell Your Friends.” And let’s not forget his tweet that implied Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly sent him back to the lab. Compare that to his own work and you may see my point. The lukewarm “All Day” sounds aged and it only dropped months ago. “Wolves” with Vic Mensa and Sia feels like a Kid Cudi single without the quirky magic of Cudster. Then there was a visibly drunk Amber Rose calling out Kanye and alleging that he doesn’t even write his new music, Travis Scott does.
He’s also just plain old preoccupied. His wife is a Venus de Milo jutting out of the sea and his child is beloved. That would put any creative person in a bind, right? Maybe he’s just too happy? Then there’s the fashion. Perhaps Kanye’s comet has gotten too big to move quickly, even for him. And maybe we are seeing the general decline of one of the greatest artists of our generation. Or, maybe, and hopefully, I’m just being too hasty. Either way, I’m worried about this Kanye West album, and you should be, too.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.