Because the Internet – A Look At the Best Rap Album Nominations For The 65th Grammy Awards

When The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff won the first Best Rap Performance, they didn’t go because they knew ahead of time their win wouldn’t get televised. After another year, that award wouldn’t see the light of day for 22 years. However, there have been more puzzling choices in the category beyond the album award, like “Hotline Bling” winning Best Rap Song when it isn’t a rap song – I guess Drake in name alone is rap? Hey Drake, resubmit a country song as rap and see if they bite. Jokes aside, one might understand the shiftiness of presenting live; the Grammys don’t show every award because they award over 70+ categories yearly, but when it 86’d a genre – of course – there would be protests. We didn’t have Best Rap Album till’ 1996, with a few performance categories that would subsequently get replaced with Melodic Performance and Rap Song. And still, one thing many in the general audience harp at is the nominations.

Like with the most prestigious awards, we balk at the nominations for categories we hold close to heart. But for Hip-Hop, we’ve had lapses in sub-categories and the shifting choice of which award to present. I prefer Best Rap Album as it is the cream of the crop, but sometimes it’s Best Rap Song, Best Melodic Rap Performance, or Best Rap Performance. Though we aren’t the only ones subjected to it, it’s the lack of a presence in the universal Gen-Pop awards throughout the years. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen slow growth in finding general acceptance in those awards, especially with the more Alternative albums (2) – to standard hip-hop – winning the big one – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below. These days, a win is a win, but it hasn’t been honkey dory, especially for us nomination balkers who see worst mistakes than the year the Academy gave Paul Haggis’ film Crash, Best Picture. Unfortunately, they still make mistakes, and this post is about nomination mistakes, especially in 2015 and today.

One of the most egregiously what the hell moments for nominations was in 2015, Iggy Azalea’s boorish pop-rap effort on The New Classic and Wiz Khalifa’s poor attempt at creating Trap music, “We Dem Boyz” aside. If either went on to win, it would have been the weakest winner among the many, but they are safe choices. 2015 had the albums, My Name is My Name by Pusha T, Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, PTSD by Pharoahe Monch, My Krazy Life by YG, and more that could have snuck to replace them, but like the film academy, niche styles won’t see the proper praise. I say this considering how focused it is on the G-Funk/Gangsta Rap My Krazy Life by YG is or the gritty percussion and synths of Monch and Pusha T. They reflect the genre discussion in film. I’m talking about the more whimsical work from creators like Wes Anderson, who rarely get looked at due to his niche style until it becomes more generally appealing, like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fortunately, the last few years saw some consistency of diversity, as we saw artists you wouldn’t think the academy would find appeal in, like Tyler, the Creator, who has won twice, along with honoring albums that were some of the best that weren’t pop-like.

Additionally, we’ve seen nominations for Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody and Victory Lap by Nipsey Hustle, two albums by rappers whose commercial appeal never translated into the vast world of pop but got nominated in back-to-back years, respectively. Though oddly, Nipsey’s world did converge with that of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom; however, I digress. It’s been many familiar faces, aka rappers with the highest commercial appeal, some non-debatable, others more so until recently, like that triumphant moment for Nas, winning his first Grammy after 27 years in the game. It’s been part great since 2015, but with an influx in quality from the growing number of artists, debates will continue to spark about what did and didn’t deserve a nomination.

2015 wasn’t the first time I felt flustered by the array of nominations considering the vast plains of music to get discovered outside the R&B-like Pop Rap of the 2000s. But it’s the first I’ve sensed they didn’t hear everything that was out there except for what’s on the radio. Universal Mind Control by Common, a winter 2008 release, was nominated in 2010, the same year as the overly dull and sugary R.O.O.T.S. by Flo Rida over more deserving entries like the DJ Quik and Kurupt Collab Album Blaqkout or Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind. It happened and happens currently because the Academy has a wonky, designated calendar for eligibility. Usually, their calendar year is October to October, disregarding the November and December months like film companies when they were releasing more potential critical failures, like wear found footage horror films, in January and February in the 2010s. Not saying those releases never brought forth greatness, but with an influx of covers and best-of lists, reviews can get drowned beneath it.

Rare moments like 2015, where many nominations weren’t reflective of the best work that year, and another came this year, where we saw three of the nominations bring out questions from fans. We got Jack Harlow, DJ Khaled, and one of Future’s weakest albums in his discography. And this isn’t to discredit these artists, as they have delivered fantastic surfeit work, Jack Harlow, aside. Unfortunately, the love for pop we’ve seen with Eminem and Kanye winning multiple, further making past flawed nominations make sense, especially since the late 00s. The Iggy Azaleas and DJ Khaleds – Khaled, who continuously finds himself in Best Rap Album, despite mediocre releases over the past decade – and legacy nominations that don’t always get heard through a critical lens and are nominated for the name alone – see the “Hotline Bling” nomination for Best Rap Song. It doesn’t discredit the 90% + nominations that merit the nomination. This year just left me floored when there are better albums viable for the award, like The Forever Story by JID and Traumazine by Megan thee Stallion – this includes non-submitted work like Gods Don’t Make Mistake by Conway the Machine and Cheat Codes by Danger Mouse and Black Thought.

I can understand the Future and DJ Khaled nominations, but with Jack Harlow, it felt like 2015, where there was little merit within the album to even come up with an argument for its inclusion. It’s what you’d expect from some white rapper who wants to be Drake but without much swagger. It was an overall boring album riding the highs of a Drake feature and a dope Fergie sample. Similarly, God Did by DJ Khaled is riding the coattails of a few decent songs, this remarkable Jay-Z verse on the title track, and memes. Future; well, it’s sad this is his first Best Rap Album nomination, considering how many great projects he’s released over the past decade. I didn’t hate I Never Liked You, but it isn’t Dirty Sprite 2 or Evol. It just leaves me flustered that they made it look like such a give-me for either of the other nominees, which I wouldn’t be mad if either won – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and It’s Almost Dry

2022 will be like 2015 all over again, with fantastic performances and a ceremonious win, where the big shock would come if Future upset the two clear front runners. Though one could expect Kendrick Lamar to win, he did lose to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, so anything is on the table. Unfortunately, Best Rap Album isn’t always “locked,” and here you could see Jack Harlow sneaking his way in for a win. His tacky apropos style never left anything to the imagination, almost feeling standard in approach – I Never Liked You isn’t tacky but is tried and, sometimes, forgettable. I’m here thinking about past years while trying to come to grips with it. And DJ Khaled, mediocre as it is, is forgettable outside that Jay-Z verse, so it leaves me curious about how it got nominated. It doesn’t define Hip-Hop/Rap, and frankly, I tune more into the yearly BET cyphers at their Hip-Hop awards, which is a much better and understanding award show about the world of Hip-Hop. Hope Kendrick Lamar wins, and cheers to the nominees…well, most of them.

Here are some past wins and speeches I’ve loved:

Future – I Never Liked You: Review

Recently, GQ dropped a profile on Future where they declared him the best rapper alive. Though the writer may have his merits, he clearly doesn’t understand or listen to hip-hop as a whole, which may have swayed the title. It isn’t to discredit Future, as he is amongst the best to ever do it; however, his lyrical and technical prowess is only as strong as the construct backing it. We’ve heard him at peak greatness with his first three albums, subsequent mixtapes, and dwindle with his last few Hip-Hop albums. It continues to be the case with his new album, I Never Liked You. There are excellent tracks, but it flops as it juggles weak features, boring content, and poor contrasts of similar styles.

Future begins I Never Liked You strong, but it becomes a misconception of how the rest of the plays out. It’s inconsistent; Future is tapping into boastful and sensitive emotions, trying to display range, but sometimes it left me yawning. It’s what separates the appeal between tracks that go hard like “I’m Dat N****” and “Love You Better.” While the former expresses that keen flex-Future, the latter tries and fails to capture the nuances of Future’s R&B moment with HNDRXX. But there are like-minded tracks that flow better within the R&B-sphere, like “Voodoo” with Kodak Black. Though Future is primarily rapping, he brings melodic flows matching the potency of the moody-piano-driven production. Kodak and Kaash Paige add remarkable harmonies to the fold in the chorus and bridge, respectively. It all intertwines into one a great heart-break banger.

Unfortunately, Kodak Black is one of three features that land and the one that doesn’t fit the mold of the album since Future’s choruses barely reach that level of singing at its core. Most of the features fall flat, which includes Drake’s first verse, who comes dialing it in with little emotion or ingenuity. It turns “Wait For U” from a heartfelt dance track to a write-off that should have been left on the cutting room floor, like the previously mentioned track “Love You Better.” But we get a handful of Future’s boastful–rightfully so–which has a soft layer of nuance as he comes with a perfected craft and a consistent delivery that gets lost through levels of inconsistencies like the oblique verses from Gunna and Young Thug on “For A Nut.” Future is composed, instead of Young Thug who raps “I just put some diamonds in her butt (Butt)/And I seen it shinin’ when she nut (Nut).” 

Kanye West’s appearance on “Keep It Burnin” is delivered with arrogance excellently; he contrasts Future’s eloquent confidence and modesty, further creating this bombastic banger that stands as one of the best tracks. It’s there with “I’m On One,” which is the second track with Drake. Like Lil Yatchy, hearing Drake on trap beats is fun, ear-popping with his braggadocio persona coming across naturally with hard-hitting bars. His verse is snarky and smooth with dominant lines like: “I don’t know why the fuck niggas tryna test me, what/I’m just all about my goals like Ovechkin, what.” Contextually and musically, it offers a great contrast in style between features, as they elevate each track with Future. Though it doesn’t say much since I Never Liked You boasts a handful of quality tracks, and they are undermined by the bad, which are poor features and boring content. 

Adjacently the content of some tracks doesn’t have enough creativity and feels half-baked, like “Massaging Me” and “Chickens.” Or they carry some redundancies like on “The Way Things Going;” it creates these oblique moments that take you away from the good on a first listen, that it could’ve used some trimming on the fat to have a more concise album, where the extra tracks are weighted properly. Though it’s more stagnant in appearance, it keeps I Never Liked You from being more than just an okay album with enough in the tank to replay. Besides Future, a lot of it is due to the consistent production from some usuals, like ATL Jacob, Wheezy, and Southside. The percussion stays on a path of vibrant consistency, giving you something fresh and new as it’s incorporated within these distinguishing overlays, like the energetic, hard-hitting “I’m Dat N****.”

There is enough to marvel and enough to throw in the trash bin, which has been the case with Future. It’s hard to mask the weak within explosive rhymes, but maybe that’s what he meant by the track “Mask Off.” I kid; this album by Future doesn’t incur the thought, as it carries the external potency expected of a Future album, without much of the gravitas.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Fivio Foreign – B.I.B.L.E: Review

Stepping out of the shadows of Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign has grown into his own, continuing to establish drill as a dominant genre/cultural movement in Hip-Hop. These artists have a limited range as a lyricist as the style emboldens different technical feats that an artist masters behind the microphone, like emotional focus and proper diction. Unfortunately, coded within some drill music is hate and anger, with Hot97 DJ, DJ Drewski banning the genre during his show because of the violent-gang-related content that engulfs these songs, and it’s understandable as drill has a lot to offer. Others would follow suit, but like any genre, you can subvert it the known lyrically or musically, and artists like Pop Smoke and Lil Durk did so. Fivio is another one to add to the list, especially after his debut album, B.I.B.L.E, which shows off Fivio at peak strength as a rapper while still progressing with his musical range.

We hear B.I.B.L.E stumbling at times, but Fivio’s musical ambition runs high, and working with Ye boosts the production value made by all producers involved. It tries to do something different with each track, whether it works or not, but there is an intrigue that amasses from it due to the lengths Fivio Foreign can go. He brings emotional depth and the element of surprise, especially with his approach to the themes lyrically. There is nuance in the way he approaches this, reflecting with confidence like on “Slime Them”–featuring a great verse by Lil Yachty–or reflexive like on “Feel My Struggle.” On a lyrical level, Fivio is twiddling his thumbs and delivering half-assery but his rap bars that never feel antiquated. B.I.B.L.E shows us Fivio’s growth as a lyricist and technical rapper. We hear him trying to push different flows and different sonic complexions, which sometimes work, and other times, leaves me feeling underwhelmed due to a lack of synergy.

That synergy is sometimes lost with the features as they become forgettable quickly, like Coi Leray on “What’s My Name” and Chlöe’s verse on “Hello.” It continues with Blueface on “Left Side,” who brings the energy down, and “Love Songs,” where the only ear-popping moment is Ne-Yo singing his line from “So Sick” at the end of a luscious chorus. On the other hand, “Confidence” is the opposite; A$AP Rocky comes and shines, but Fivio is almost non-existent, and the track left me wishing it was longer. However, beneath the fumbles, Fivio doesn’t back down; his flows and verses are better, and it shows, while others falter. But Fivio is there to still catch you in a web of music, specifically from the solo tracks, as he refines and reminds us of his technical talent. I can’t doubt his lyrical prowess under the guise of drill music conventions anymore. His ambition is high, and we hear it as he still tries to rap over uniquely odd samples.

“World Watching” is the most ambitious, of the bunch; it is a hybrid of two variations of “Lights” by Ellie Goulding–the original and the Bassnectar remix. When Fivio Foreign, Lil TJay, and Yung Blue start to sing or rap, the production’s proximity to that of “Lights” overwhelms them, and it leaves me scratching my head. Similarly, “B.I.B.L.E. Talk” feels forced and unnecessary. It’s here to repurpose the meaning of the album, but it gets lost with no fault from DJ Khaled’s delivery. The only interlude, there is little to it that elevates the album anymore. You remove that, along with “World Watching,” there is more cohesion amongst the tracklists. 

Without that cohesion, we get a slight imbalance. Fivio Foreign wants radio-friendly tracks and songs for the ladies, like “Love Songs,” but they mostly miss. “Left Side” seems destined to make a splash on both sides because of the chorus, but Blueface doesn’t add anything to it, and others are mundane in comparison. Other times, the production comes across as overly ambitious, like “World Watching.” However, he has one that works, “Magic City” with Quavo, which perfectly mixes what we should expect from a rap single on the radio. We want to hear them flex, and it does so effortlessly. It doesn’t need the captivating chorus melodies from “Left Side” or “Love Songs” to keep going through some mediocre moments. 

Ultimately, there is a lot to like about Fivio’s debut, and I’ll be spinning for years to come. But like any debut, you will have growing pains, and for Fivio, it’s song construction. A few times, there were moments where I felt songs could have been longer, taken off, or reworked for a better return. It could have elevated B.I.B.L.E to a higher plateau, but it stands firm strong as a solid debut that will leave fans hungry for an even better follow-up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Weekly Coo’s – Top 15 Hip-Hop Albums of 2021

All reviews are linked to the album title.

Baby Keem came from under the shadows of his superstar cousin Kendrick Lamar to properly define himself after a few test tapes in swampy waters. Hip-Hop isn’t always the kindest, but the niches have allowed any artist to strive – to a certain point, sometimes – and Keem seemed to have something that may not have given him staying power. I’m talking about his vocal tendencies, melodies, and production. The Melodic Blue strives by subverting our thoughts and giving us a proper debut that rolls out monstrous hits, catchy hooks, and a multi-faceted Baby Keem.
Teetering between finding himself spiritually and finding himself musically, DMX’s career over the last decade has been forgettable, to say the least. Listening to Exodus, it was refreshing to hear DMX revert – sonically – to his roots. He whips up a whirlwind of songs that deliver nuances to the old while keeping itself modern – from a classic posse cut with The Lox, a classic triad with Jay-Z and Nas, a standout performance alongside Moneybagg Yo, who does the same, the path is limitless. Unfortunately, I thought so from looking at the tracklist. However, the few rough patches come with artists that tread into poppier sounds – his originality still holds it together tightly.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe Donda, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review as it explains my true feelings.
Gotham took a chance with a sucker punch, and it lands firmly on your face. I can attribute that to Diamond D’s masterful production and rhyme skills alongside another NY veteran and master lyricist in Talib Kweli, which takes me back to that classic gritty boom-bap style of the past you sometimes want now and then.
LP! is raw. It is filled to the brim with interpersonal raps and linguistic gymnastics as JPEGMAFIA delivers how he feels like a creator. The visceral imagery on both sides of the coin continuously glows in front of the many aspects that make the music great, especially in Part II of “TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE! (SICK, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!),” where JPEG and Kimbra create a melancholic unison. It may not be my favorite JPEG album so far, but it packs enough punch to be a solid follow-up to his last album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” From Review. 
One thing that I’ve always admired about Joell Ortiz is his hunger. Amongst prominent New York rappers, he has never stood out like his contemporaries – The Lox, Cam’ron, and Fabolous, to name a few. But that hunger gives us a potent personal reflection on his career and life in an excursion through great production and multi-faceted layers of character depth in his verses.
Nas improves his craft heavily on King’s Disease 2, from the lyrical depth to stylistic constructs. He still fails to find his footing when creating “hits,” though Nas isn’t the one who fails, his features sometimes don’t bring that same energy like A Boogie on the song “YKTV,” or they are underused like Blxst on “Brunch On Sundays.” But most of the album hits as Nas takes everything by the horns and delivers us some heavily introspective work that drops knowledge bombs like on “Death Row.” It’s an overall fantastic listen.
"I Died For This?! is far from your typical debut, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC; it is about telling his story and upbringing. The only difference is the universal appeal that comes from the music. Grip’s debut takes us through his upbringing and everyday situations burdening him and his community. Grip’s creativity sounded limited in the past, with simple bounce production weighing his style down from growing." From Review.

Grip’s raw energy and determination to prove his worth only embolden his strengths to mask some basic chorus deliveries – it’s sometimes common for new artists, especially for rappers privy to his style of lyricism. Unfortunately, a few tracks don’t stick the landing – it derives from Grip’s breather from different angles of his craft.
"Of the four projects Boldy James and The Alchemist have made together, Bo Jackson is the best. It never creates friction allowing everyone to breathe on the track in their distinctive ways." From Review.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review.
"Tempus exceeds beyond the parameters of the walls it imposes on itself for a marketable reach, but Issa Gold has never been one to glamorize success as his mental health still hits him in strife. These recurring themes have been a looming shadow on the rapper as he comes to grips with the way life changed. He may not have the appeal of New York rappers who encompass, the currently trendy, New York Drill sound and expand it to fit the unique niche of their verbal artistry." From Review.
4. Blu – The Color Blu(e)
"The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations." From Review.
"Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days." From Review.
"Vince Staples gives us Vince delivering his most personal work to date in a melancholic and depth-filled album. For some, the album may deter you due to its length and others may be deterred due to the uncanniness of the sound. Though it isn’t uncanny as Vince has been everywhere and on different instrumentals, that this subdued direction isn’t anything new. It is an album that is as fresh as they come, especially with the wrought trend going on in hip-hop today and I highly recommend you give it a listen and more than once." From Review.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best work – it’s introspective, clear-headed musically, and offers a mix that gets us her lyrical best. The production never wanes into becoming a distraction, as it only amplifies her strengths. From incorporating sounds that bridge hip-hop and Afrobeat to luminous hip-hop with soul and electronic undertones, the music has a consistent path where the switches are fluid without hindrance. 

Check out the review by clicking the link above.

Kanye West – DONDA: Review

A little over a year and one month have passed since Kanye West first announced his 10th LP, Donda, his long-anticipated follow-up to Jesus is King. In 2020, Kanye dropped two songs fans thought were singles in anticipation for his 10th LP, but only one of those songs matched the kind of energy and sound his new album brings onto center stage: “Wash The Blood.” After about a year, fans got three different live stream album listening parties, and each time a new version of Donda, whether improved or rearranged. Donda is a new creative journey for Kanye that sees an album conceptualized and delivered with broader ideas; at the same time, Donda is a personification of an established career with a treasure trove of features, despite having its missteps.

Listening party after listening party, we witnessed the creation of Donda slowly, as Kanye tried different mixes, track listings, features/his verses blended into one. Kanye is privy to an amphitheater-like performative art as he has done similarly with Jesus is King and The Life of Pablo. Like them, Donda isn’t a cohesively linear album, as he tests waters by containing alternatives to the songs and allowing us to create our version, which may shorten the overall length. Donda benefits from having a conscious idea of sounds to make your version as smooth as most albums.

Donda has two sides; one where we hear Kanye and his features on production that is operatic and bombastic; another where he brings gospel elements, like the array of organs and choirs elevating the production and vocal performance from Kanye and the featured artists. It becomes telling with the features that appear in the first half compared to the second — Fivio Foreign, Playboi Carti, Lil Yatchy, Baby Keem, and Travis Scott, instead of subdued lyricists like Jay Electronica, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine, to name a few. 

Many songs work in each half, and the few don’t work because of uneven tonal shifts. It sounds like Kanye is trying to represent a journey toward Heaven as he deals with his emotions, denial, grief, and past misgivings/mistakes while escaping Hell. These tonal shifts deliver new levels of depth from each respective featured artist. Fortunately, Kanye’s inclusion of alternatives allows for certain songs to carry different meanings. Before his Soldier’s Field listening party on August 26th, we received news of an exclusive Stem player — a device made for editing and mixing songs smoothly, though not an alternative — the performance made it evident why the promotion was there. Kanye introduced other versions of songs that day, specifically a longer version of “Junya” and “Jesus Lord” and an alternate version of “Jail” and “Ok Ok.” Instead of Jay-Z, the new version features DaBaby and Marilyn Manson.

“Jail Pt. 2” is problematic on paper due to controversial comments and allegations about the featured artists; however, one can’t neglect that DaBaby delivered the best verse of his career. Though one probably won’t understand Marilyn’s involvement, as his vocals are subtle within the chorus. Maybe it was for the sake of controversy, but a part of me wants to believe Kanye is just ignorant of the world. DaBaby’s verse, on the other hand, is a beautiful painting of his life and his rise from the ashes, relating back to the lord and family as his cruxes. 

Similar to DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, some of the features may not be free of sin, like the previously mentioned, and some have remote eyes on them due to allegations and affiliations that may overshadow one’s opinion, like Lil Durk and Don Tolliver. However, separating the art from the music, their respective songs are fantastic and slightly tame and hollow.

“Moon,” with Don Tolliver, is a high-pitched choral-centric song that lifts the listener’s spirits to an elevated plane. The symphonic organs, eerie electronic beeps, and haunting guitar riffs emphasize Don’s performance on the chorus, in turn contrasting Kid Cudi’s lower-pitch melodies on his verse. The beeps appear prior, on the Lil Durk and Vory featured, “Jonah.” “Moon” follows a similar path to “Jonah,” as the latter incorporates the beeps and spacey traits to Vory’s chorus and each verse by Durk and Kanye. Unfortunately, I’m not that crazy about “Moon” as others. It’s too focused on a mood instead of being this luscious lullaby that can have it both ways. Every time it plays, my focus shifts to Tolliver’s beautifully haunting vocals and the guitar riffs while everything gets muddled.

But on Donda, Kanye is more direct, displaying an understanding of the world around him. His emotions are in control, and we hear him at his rawest and lyrically astute within a triad of songs that precede the “closer,” “No Child Left Behind.” These songs — “Lord I Need You, Pure Souls, Come To Life” — represent a sullen nature he has been showing over the last year, which he has been fighting; especially, as he speaks to his mother in part of the verses of “Come To Life.” So whether it’s showing regret for his behavior and lack of understanding or subtle context clues like the line, “Brought A Gift for Northie/All she wanted was Nikes” on “Come to Life.”

Donda has a lot going behind it. I could progress and break down every aspect of this album, but the keen one is the idea that one can make their version. As mentioned prior, the alternatives are personifications of an artist trying different things to find the right one. If you prefer the version of “Ok Ok” with Rooga and Shenseea, then make a playlist and replace it the one with Fivio Foreign and Lil Yatchy. You can do it with others, and at the same time, create one where it has a consistent tone with your favorite songs. It has been an evident theme throughout each listening party, as he tried different track listing orders, versions, mixes, and so forth. It isn’t unlike Kanye to make this be a bigger spectacle than expected, and he has done so with what he has given the fans, as opposed to the more structured albums of the past. But within this theoretical island and others is the notion that Donda is more than just a tribute to Kanye West’s mother; it is the legacy of an artist who has shifted the musical climate in hip-hop and pop. 

With Donda being his 10th LP, it almost feels like a poignant mark in his career — he has been consistent and relevant throughout, despite negative publicity — it has shown a steady progression with his character as he finally listens to advice from others. Kanye wants to atone and be reborn, and he does so on the album. It is beautifully represented by being torched on fire for around 15 seconds as “Come To Life” transitioned into “No Child Left Behind” of the Chicago Livestream. It may not be Kanye’s best, but it leaves enough intrigue to keep returning.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

A Descent Into Madness – Breaking Down The Kanye West Album Ye

Like many fans, I, too, have been stressing with the Donda album rollout by Kanye West. But as someone with patience, it’s easy to keep my head held high as I return to his past work and indulge in its brilliance. I’ve spoken about College Dropout and MBDTF in the past, and instead of treading familiar water, let’s return to the dirtier pastures of Wyoming. 

I remember that night vividly. I was in the early stages of my probation for marijuana and trying to find a new way to get inebriated. And like any white woman in her 50s, I turned to wine, specifically white zinfandel. The listening party was a vivid and comforting experience. You saw people from all walks of life (creatively) in their hoodies and jeans, smoking blunts around a fire. The last time an experience felt like this, was ironically, a time when Jason Kidd signed my New Jersey Nets baseball cap at a game in 2006. I could go on being faux about how this album made me realize I was constantly looking for external means to satisfy my happiness. It didn’t. But it made me realize that Ye was far more than the ecstatic crowd made it seem.  

A little over three years have passed since the release of 2018 Ye and the seminal live stream release. And I’m left wondering how this critically loved album saw Kanye West at his bleakest, leaving minimal impact on the context. Unlike most Kanye West albums, Ye embraces its dark overtures with rampant drum patterns and moody tones. At this point, we knew he was bipolar and isn’t trying much to fix it. And his stubbornness was a known personality trait. However, the public wasn’t aware of why he kept himself away from help. He answers this on the album, while adding layers to the WHY?

Understand that this is my dissection of themes and lyrics of Ye concerning his mental health in 2018.

Ye opens with “I Thought About Killing You,” a perplexing duality of man, where Kanye’s shadow comes out to play and interjecting himself in many of Kanye’s moments in life. His mind is closed off from true happiness, reeling in the now instead of fixing the burgeoning weight on his shoulders. It opens to floodgates for an album composed in a state of crisis, switching between heightened emotions and gleamingly haunting vocal performances.

Kanye West refers to himself in the third person, seemingly contrasting his open-face persona, adamant about one’s authenticity, despite the cost. His waning mental health saw him finding new avenues to explore. If you take the concept of the devil and the angel on your shoulder with Kanye’s last two albums, then Ye spoke his true nature: distant and distorted, while JIK reminded us of his footing in front of religion. “I Thought About Killing You” opens with a spoken word poem with an eerie parallel to the shoulder concept. His shadow is composed of every negative thought and purported energy from Kanye’s life. And due to these thoughts, the shadow decided that Kanye should kill himself for the better.

The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest

Today, I seriously thought about killing you

I contemplated, premeditated murder

– I Thought About Killing You.

With this constant battle between minds, Kanye fights with logic. Since he’s bipolar, one side of him loves himself, and another side wants to die, but he has been adamant, in the past, about not seeking help. And the more a mental illness goes untreated, the more unstable the person can get. And Kanye expresses that instability throughout the album. So as Kanye nears the end of his poem, he breaks down underlying issues that contribute to this, like his innate focus on a consistent opinion and relation to others to compensate for his insecurities.* 

*He fleshes this out on “No Mistakes,” which explores other reasons behind his depression, like his financial debt and inherent arrogance. We know this from his broad stance on advice, specifically people less successful than him.

“Yikes” builds upon his personality, particularly his bipolar nature and addiction. At the end of “I Thought About Killing You,” Kanye claims that the public wants to him go ape. And he does it as a contrast to the chorus and last verse, which expresses the potential frights from being addicted to opioids. It is part of Kanye’s struggle with the idea of drugs, meaning: doing these drugs can get frightening, but it has me feeling relaxed at my apex. In the first verse, Kanye raps:

I done died and lived again on DMT, huh

See, this a type of high that won’t come down

This the type of high that get you gunned down

Yeezy, Yeezy trollin’ OD, huh

Turn TMZ to Smack DVD, huh

– Yikes

Kanye is saying that his drug use became a reflection of himself, using what people thought of him after his infamous TMZ appearance, where he proclaimed slavery was a choice. And in the second verse, Kanye takes us back to 2016. During a stop on the Life of Pablo Tour, he fainted from exhaustion and stress. He awoke in a hospital feeling loose from the drugs, and he describes a feeling like he is on top of the world.

Ayy, hospital band a hundred bands, fuck a watch

Hundred grand’ll make your best friends turn to opps

I hear y’all bringin’ my name up a lot

Guess I just turned the clout game up a notch

See, y’all really shocked, but I’m really not

– Yikes

As someone who had a slight itch for opioids, this feeling can get addicting. However, for me, it was the euphoric high that made me feel happier and relaxed. It disoriented my reality, and I became a shell of my former self, similar to Kanye after getting sober. So it doesn’t surprise me that these visions of grandiose and greatness warped his mind and making him feel like a young, arrogant rockstar. Within this zone, he mentions his name’s popularity in the news. He attributes it to his name and his increasing clout, but that isn’t the case. It’s from the few controversial statements, speeches, and so forth, through most of the second half of the 2010s that he has delivered. From here, Kanye’s views get distorted, and he begins to rap on his savage shit. See, his sounds have changed more than his overall character. Kanye is consistently imposing too much stress on himself because he wants to remain seen at his apex. Despite his contrasting views, the outro returns to the second verse, where Kanye feels superhuman. He ends it by saying being bipolar is like being a superhero.

Kanye doesn’t consider being bipolar a deterrent, and instead, he thinks it is an effective tool to his success. This unique mindset can be great, but as fictional media has shown, superheroes attract more destruction than peace. He is fully embracing his mental disease; however, it isn’t for the better. Maybe it is why Kanye is adamant about this ironic proclamation:

Niggas been tryna test my Gandhi

Just because I’m dressed like Abercrombie

– Yikes

Whether Kanye ponders about neurological reasons behind celebrities who cheat on their significant other or describing to us what his mind is like as a musical genius with bipolar, Kanye becomes telling about his self-destructive nature. When Kanye first ventured into fashion, he received off-color confusion. He reaches for the unattainable. Kanye wants to be a revolutionary in the fashion industry, relating himself to the levels of Gandhi; however, people note his style isn’t revolutionary with his Abercrombie-like ideas. So for subsequent years, it was seen as a gamble. From his erratic behavior to consistent mind changing, it is a dangerous path to proceed. Kanye reminds us of this behavior in the following song as he continues with his demeanor. He expresses his erratic behavior through random and provocative rap bars, like the obvious “none of us would be here without cum” off the song “All Mine.”

“All Mine” follows “Yikes.” It focuses on his carnal desires and how fighting against them has been part of fixing his self-destructive nature. He comes across as an arrogant macho who has boyish moments that can be a bit crass, like most of his public actions. But this is one of two aspects of the relationship that Kanye tries to mediate, with the other being non-sexual and more nuanced. He is coping with unwarranted happiness, as his mistakes could make anyone leave. He questions all this on the following song, “Wouldn’t Leave.”

Transitioning to “Wouldn’t Leave,” Kanye West reveals his progression as a person. Realizing his mistakes, Kanye brings to Kim acceptance of any potential divorce or separation due to his radical nature. He brings up his many mistakes, including a reference back to his slavery comment on TMZ. He shows that his mind has an issue keeping his mouth from speaking randomly, creating these altruistic controversies.

In the song “Yikes,” Kanye claims that people believe he was on drugs for his controversial statement on TMZ but played off with two contrasts. However, on “Wouldn’t Leave,” his self-destructive personality is under a microscope as he continues to tiptoe around the truth, despite constantly telling Kim he’ll change. This ranges from his money woes to becoming headline news. It’s his juxtaposition to the previous song, which vindicates cheaters as Kanye humbles his loyalty. Nevertheless, this isn’t the number one quality he needs to reaffirm to Kim, but with his loose behavior, this felt compelling. He is more than understanding, but it isn’t levying any anxiety induced by the thoughts he mentioned he had on “Wouldn’t Leave.”

Kanye finds his actions harder to redeem, but seeing the tight-knit family structure built upon trust has kept him afloat. As previously mentioned in the song “No Mistakes,” Kanye continues to rap about his woes, monetary and mental, that it becomes part of his identity. He is at war with his mind as Kim’s reasoning to stay with him is beyond just for the kids. These thoughts are reflected in his verse, as he raps the lines:

Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day

Now I’m on fifty blogs gettin’ fifty calls

My wife callin’, screamin’, say we ’bout to lose it all

Had to calm her down ’cause she couldn’t breathe

Told her she could leave me now, but she wouldn’t leave

– Wouldn’t Leave

Everything that I’ve said about the songs that precede “Ghost Town” is a path toward the landscape of Kanye’s mind. “Ghost Town” paints the scene; you’re in a hollow place, full of buildings that contain aspects of Kanye’s personality hidden behind his true self and his shadow. His verse describes contrasting ideas, which has made it hard for him to have a centered and fleshed-out conversation about his opinions without being the butt of the joke. We all think these controversial statements come from a man seeking attention or just plain nuts, and not in a clinical way. It’s unfortunate, because he is speaking his truth but we don’t see it and eventually, it becomes part of his shadow and allowing it to grow.

I’m on one, two, three, four, five

No half-truths, just naked minds

Caught between space and time

This not what we had in mind

But maybe some day

– Ghost Town

Unequivocally, Kanye has his authentic opinions, but the lack of knowledge disavows us from seeing it as such. He is constantly guilty and never innocent. His feelings are reflective of this as New Jersey singer 070 Shake delivers a two-minute solo about being a kid and feeling free. She elongates the harmony of the word free to emphasize Kanye’s insecurities behind speaking his mind. He wants to feel free of these stressors and be his authentic self, but people neglecting that because it’s a common occurrence for Kanye now. His mind is a Ghost Town, and this absence of thought is caused by a fear that he can’t speak his truth without being the butt of the joke.

Ye ends with “Violent Crimes.” After everything he has been through, Kanye understands that the goal is to be the best father for his daughters. And this song is a proclamation that he will be a shotgun father or the dad you’d have to work off an arm and a leg to receive his blessings. It isn’t about being overprotective but instead a mentor. He has gone full circle. In this ongoing battle with his mind, he has a sense of clarity around family. Kanye tackles this subtly on Ye, specifically on “I Thought About Killing You.” He opens the second verse of this song by claiming he made a call to his family for clarity and help.

In an ironic twist of fate, “Violent Crimes” ends with a vocal recording of Nicki Minaj re-taking a set of lines in which Kanye notes his hopes that his daughters end up like Nicki. Today, this idea is a little more taboo considering Nicki’s negative baggage, like attacking victims of sexual assault as a means to protect her family. But she is married to a rapist, her brother is a known pedophile, and she supports them. When Kanye mentions he wants his daughters to be monsters, he is referring to her confidence. Nicki takes back these words by repeating them in the outro. Kanye jokingly jabs that Nicki slept around a lot, but not in poor taste as is usually the case. It’s a touching focus, as he lets his daughters know about their parent’s love for them.

Ye can be a lot to unpack, especially when it comes to his psyche. Throughout Ye, we saw glimpses of Kanye acting hazardous as he lets his bipolar disorder consume him and his music. One minute Kanye is contemplative and sensible; another minute, he is acting crazy off the drugs. The fears he underlines in his music speaks to many things zooming through his brain — non-deserving love, new ways to cope, trying to be on top of the world, while course-correcting past mistakes that made him a controversial topic in the media. It has created an internal conflict with himself as he is in a constant state of doubt. And his provocatively callous nature does not help him.

It’s hard to make up how to feel about listening to this. One minute I’m eviscerated, sonically, as the production flourishes and Kanye’s consistency makes you act buck wild, but hearing Ye is almost like a calling card. Even if Kanye doesn’t seek help, you shouldn’t pin yourself at the same mental tier as him. He may look strong, but not many are. On a side-note: watching Bachelor In Paradise this week, one contestant calmly said that she bottles her emotions, then followed the statement with a nervous cry-for-help chuckle. She is gorgeous and shows a lot of confidence, but like Kanye, it’s hidden by not entirely real.

As you choose to listen to Ye, amongst others, as preparation for Donda next week at Soldier Field in Chicago, know that Kanye has been through a lot over the past five years. He dropped an album and pulled it back to fix wolves. His indecisive nature has taken fans through similar mental turmoil since his music is equivocal to a powerhouse Marvel film, and they live and breathe off the hype. But his music reconfirms that it’s worth the wait as we don’t want to see him taking a step back on finding inner peace and being a wonderful father for his children. I hope you enjoyed reading my piece on Ye, and I hope you hear and understand what Kanye has been saying, whether it is a plea for help or not.