As the bullets whiz past me, I realize just how in over my head I am. There is barely any cover to be seen. Flashbangs are blowing up in my face. My radar shows that enemies are closing in on my position. I’m s—t out of luck. There’s only one thing that keeps me from losing it—Kanye West’s “Devil in a New Dress” blaring in the background. I calm down, and as my buddy Sam comes storming through the blaze of fire suppressing me, I regain my courage. I vault over the fallen pillar I was using as protection, and as I cry out, “When the sun goes down it’s the magic hour—the magic hour,” Sam and I mow down the troops in front of us. We had won the moment, and though there were plenty of more perilous instances ahead, Sam and I knew we had Kanye to back us up.
Alright, I was actually only playing Halo: Reach, but that didn’t mean the threat didn’t feel real for us. We were soldiers on a battlefield, albeit with a sick sound system behind us.
This is how I was introduced to Kanye West. Sam had downloaded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on his computer and brought it over for one of our freshman year Halo sessions at my place. At first I was violently opposed. I’d heard “Flashing Lights” and “Stronger,” and thought they were pretty catchy, but I didn’t see myself possibly getting into Kanye West—a rapper I considered, at the time, to have a notorious, obnoxious public persona.
Even through most of my first listen of MBDTF, I was reluctant to really listen to the album. I focused more on Halo and let Sam go through the first few tracks on the album hoping I would soon be rid of Yeezy. Then, “Devil in a New Dress” came on. There’re a few instances I can vividly remember when I was hit with a song that changed my taste in music forever, or at least when a song instantaneously found it’s way to my heart and soul. Night Moves’ “Colored Emotions” and Frankie Valli’s “Grease” come to mind, but these two songs held nowhere near the effect that “Devil in a New Dress” had on me.
I suddenly realized how wrong I was—how prejudiced I was against this man who had the capacity to make such a sublime song. I played back the rest of the album, slowly finding how harshly I had misjudged what I had listened. MBDTF was soulful, mysterious, and experimental in all the right places. There were one or two exceptions. I still hate “Hell of a Life,” but hey, they can’t all be great.
The next week or so was spent gathering Kanye’s other albums. College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, and 808s & Heartbreak all found their way into my library as quickly as I could usher them in. Now, my Halo sessions with Sam were much more about Kanye West than they were about Halo. We’d spend hours dissecting Kanye’s music—picking apart lyrics and tracing back samples to find where he got his inspiration. We rarely listened to anything else, even after we’d gone through each album a multitude of times. I knew I wasn’t near his biggest fan, but Kanye had me in the palm of his hand.
That was until Yeezus came out. I was so excited for it too. I had loved Watch the Throne, but I was waiting for Kanye’s 6th studio album. With how I felt about the rest of his work, nothing else would suffice. Yeezus was the first time I felt that Kanye’s public persona and pop-rap tendencies had encroached on the quality of his music, and in my opinion, it ruined the album. The soul samples that had given Kanye’s first five albums so much flavor were replaced with these really artificial horns, drumbeats, and autotuned voices that just weren’t accessible to me. In my opinion, none of Yeezus was nearly as personal as Kanye’s other work had been. I missed his compassionate stories and impassioned instrumentation.
The same thing has happened to me with The Life of Pablo. I went through it all, and despite a few exceptions (“Real Friends,” “Fade,” and “30 Hours”), I would list the same complaints for The Life of Pablo as I would with Yeezus. Sure, Kanye’s experimenting with sound, but at least to me, it’s not anything worth listening to. For me, Kanye West’s music has lost his fun, charismatic personality that embodied a lot of the content on his first five studio albums. He’s been overcome by this persona that needs to prove that it can keep trying radically different styles and sounds—even if most people think he’s trying to prove nothing to nobody. Now, with Kanye’s new music, there are few songs I can charge into battle with, feeling empowered by a beat that’s the only thing keeping me going.
Featured Image By Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor