Tuesday, July 14, 2015

With The Utmost Sincerity, We Ask...

steves sez this:

I'm not a big fan of hip-hop, but I'll often find something to appreciate in the genre. That said, I just do not get Kanye. The guy is like a bad joke that never ends. I'm guessing I'm either too old to hear it, or I've awoken in the Bizarro world.

In any case, can someone please explain to me why in the world this guy still has a career? 

I, like steves, often think the same thing and though this seems like a fantastic opportunity for anti-Westies to spew their sarcasm, I am more interested in what exactly I am missing with this boob. (And I believe steves is, too.)

So please...lead us all in the right direction. What are we missing?


buzzbabyjesus said...

He's managed to avoid a walk on part in the war in favor of a lead role in a cage. He's not an artist, but has parlayed slim talent into notoriety and celebrity. He's a brand. If he was Andy Kaufman, his antics would be comedy, but he seems to live in an irony-free zone, which renders him entirely tone deaf. There's a reality TV Kool-Aid you need to drink in order to appreciate the emperors new clothes.

Muddy said...

I don't think that you're missing anything but the great music that was so abundant in the late 1960's to mid 1970's. There was so much happening, musically, in that time frame that it was impossible to keep up with it all and, in fact, I'm still discovering bands from that era today that I had neither the time or the money to explore then. Today's music for the most part bores me to tears. It's unadventurous, unexciting and not the least bit catchy. Like you I spent years selling pre-recorded music to the masses and lament the passing of music as an art form. I can count the bands of today that I like on one hand (Decembrists, Gaslight Anthem and to some extent the Black Keys) and still have a few fingers left over.

Gene Oberto said...

For my part, I never got him and, luckily, have sat blissfully on the sidelines wondering what the deal is. John Oliver calls items like this..."Why is this still a thing?"

I have made it a point to label anything connected to the Kardashians as...toxic. Whether its a "rap star" or a former Olympic decathlon gold medal winner in a new suit, I avoid it all like a Adam Sandler -ahem- comedy. I find my life a lot easier to enjoy.

William Repsher said...

The same thing you're missing with any artist you don't get: nothing. There's nothing to be gained by forcing yourself to listen to, like or understand music you just don't want to hear! That goes for a lot more than Kanye West - he's a grain of sand on a very large beach of music I don't like and don't have time for.

A true fan of his could sit down and point you in the direction of his "best" tracks, type out lyrics he considers life altering and pontificate for a few minutes, at least, about his cultural significance.

It don't mean shit to me. Nor you, apparently! It's OK not to get everything. I don't have time to waste on music I don't get. I don't have time enough for the music I want to hear. Generally speaking, if someone has to explain to why a certain artist or kind of music is good, you're just pissing in the wind. Words aren't going to convince you of anything.

Sal Nunziato said...

William Repsher, this is rare, but I have to disagree with you. There have been many artists that I never had time for, but thanks to some patience, some people with some terrific suggestions and some willingness, I've changed my tune.

I hated the Grateful Dead for years because all I ever knew was what I was force-fed on rock radio. Truckin', Casey Jones, their horrible cover of Dancing In The Street. But a friend played an acoustic show from 1970 and I was blown away by Jerry's guitar playing. I went back into their music with a different head and understanding. Now I'm a fan. Not a fanatic, but I really like them.

Never had time for Kraftwerk or Can or Neu, but after I read the 33 1/3 book on David Bowie's Low, an all time fave of mine, I grew to appreciate the sounds and textures.

I've been turned around plenty.

I don't see myself about facing on Kanye. But I am willing to listen to someone, if he has something serious to say.

Sal Nunziato said...

"But I am willing to listen to someone, if he has something serious to say."

I'm referring to the person trying to sell me on Kanye.

Shriner said...

Hey, McCartney thinks he is talented enough to work with him -- so he's got that going for him...

buzzbabyjesus said...

I think they shamelessly exploited each other in a way I rather not think about. I don't know who looked dumber on that one. Besides, I'm having too much fun with Sticky Fingers Live (2015).

Anonymous said...

the basic story is he supplied a lot of beats to a lot of artists, got producer credits, then traded on the fame of those artists as guest stars on his own mix-tapes. I don't understand how coming up with a rhythm track and a few tacked on effects/choruses is a currency now, unless you analogize it to the distinctiveness of Ringo's or Charlie's drumming. But it's enough. Anyway, the reviews of his first album, The College Dropout, which canonized him also make it clear that, lyrically, there's not much there other than some clever turns on old clichés. Check out Pitchfork's review for an example. But once the hype became fact, and the guest stars kept rolling in, it was over. like bbj says, it's the emperor's new clothes because so many people are invested at this point.

Muddy said...

In response to Shriner...eh, Pauly Mac worked with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson too and, to be honest, those were two of his crappier tracks. When Macca decides to work with another artist it rarely results in a good song.

Jeff Matthews said...

OK - I admit it - I'm a fan. I totally understand (and agree) that it's hard to separate Yeezy's assholatry from what he actually lays down on a record. I can't blame anybody who finds his celebrity and Kardashianagins intolerable, and who on principle won't listen to his music. I also find him to be an incredible jerk. But:
1) he's not a singer - he's a rapper, so everybody who is ragging on him for inability to sing Bohemian Rhapsody is sorta missing the point
2) his "beats" and source material for sampling are clever and, to my ears, there are fabulous hooks in his songs - even if I can't tell what anybody is actually playing, autotuning, or sampling. For those who criticize that he can't sing or play an instrument, I guess I would respond that his musicianship is in what he assembles, and while that is at odds with everything else I listen to, and what I personally "value" in a true musician, I find the sounds and the performance compelling. There are many other rap artists I like, and many I like better than Kanye, but at some level I find Kanye's bravado and arrogance not fundamentally different than, say, the Stones declaring themselves the greatest rock and roll band in the world, or Elvis is King, or James Brown, etc.
3) there is some startling honesty and self-criticism in his lyrics, and no small amount of humor. The whole College Dropout album, and especially the tracks Last Call and Jesus Walks are good examples.
4) living in Chicago as I do, Kanye is inescapable, and not in a bad way. Like when he headlines Lolla, or comes out to rap at a halftime, or when the Bulls enter the court to" Power" from Dark Twisted Fantasy. It's, umm, cool.
Again, he is a major dickwad. But I find him sonically interesting and lyrically compelling.

Anonymous said...

I mostly stopped keeping up with rap around the time of De La Soul Is Dead, but Kanye is one of the few contemporary hiphop artists I'll listen to, albeit casually. Agree with most of what Jeff said above. I hear more musicality in his tracks than with most rappers. Try Late Registration and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Also, give him credit for being ambitious and taking risks--Yeezus is like hiphop's Metal Machine Music. Not a perfect analogy, but maybe the way to think of what he and a lot of hiphop producers do is as something akin to a great arranger. So what if Nelson Riddle wasn't Irving Berlin?

Bruce H.

Sal Nunziato said...

"1) he's not a singer - he's a rapper, so everybody who is ragging on him for inability to sing Bohemian Rhapsody is sorta missing the point"

But it doesn't work on either a rap or rock level. He's not rapping. He's not singing. It's poorly executed karaoke being overshadowed by an ego that for my money, doesn't quite have the depth of material, like Jagger or JB, to back it up. I don't feel like I missed the point. Not this time, anyway.

Jeff and Bruce H. both make good arguments and have certainly piqued my interest a bit. I've made similar remarks in my defense of the Beastie Boys and have gotten laughed right off of Blogger. But I do love those guys and those records, and think "Paul's Boutique" specifically, hits new heights in genius, the same way both Jeff and Bruce hear Kanye.

Jeff Matthews said...

I sent a reply to the above through my iPhone but I don't think it registered - will try again.

About Bohemian Rhapsody, specifically, you are correct. It didn't work. He can't sing. It didn't lend itself to rap. It was simply awful. A huge miscalculation on his part - whether to curry favor with the British audience at Glastonbury, an ironic answer to the petitions to have him removed as headliner; whatever. I don't know what he was thinking. Kanye can't sing BR. He couldn't sing London Bridge is Falling Down, but then again neither could Joe Strummer, or Stiv Bators, or Iggy and I don't hold it against them. Difference is, they didn't try.

His ego and braggadocio are massive, and clearly out of proportion to his accomplishments. No disagreement. But the quality of the material is actually quite strong, and deep. And the performance is, at times, breathtaking and even brave (look at other clips from Glastonbury). Part of the - dare I say it - charm of Kanye is the larger than life myth building (bullshit though it is).
Kanye is not gansta - in fact one of his major contributions is bringing a more soulful, introspective "voice" to rap music. He's not as clever or humorous as the Beastie Boys (who I also like) or Eminem (who I often like). I'm not trying to open anybody's mind here - just saying that I like 99% of what we discuss here on BW, and I happen to also have found a lot of interesting, compelling work by 'Ye. I also like Nas and D'Angelo and Frank Ocean and, historically, NWA and PE and a handful of others.

Re: Anonymous "...the reviews of his first album, The College Dropout, which canonized him also make it clear that, lyrically, there's not much there other than some clever turns on old clichés. Check out Pitchfork's review for an example." Check out Pitchfork's 10/10 review of My Dark Twisted Fantasy which captures much of the controversy and contradictions about Kanye the celebrity vs Kanye the artist. An interesting read.

Michael Giltz said...

What Jeff Matthews says, but less so. I thought "Jesus Walks" was a great single but was underwhelmed by the rest of The College Dropout. (Did I peer pressure myself into naming it one of the best of that year? I'll have to check.) Ever since then I found his albums flat and uninvolving; like Drake, whatever was interesting (mildly so in Kanye's case) got subsumed by the boring rap trappings of talking hard about ho's and the like. Why someone initially embraced for speaking about education and religion should not be called out for reinforcing the stupidest stereotypes of "urban" life (ie. glorifying the gangsta aesthetic rather than documenting it or taking it down a peg) was beyond me. UNTIL the album Dark Twisted Fantasy. Finally, he let his freak flag fly and came out as the paranoid, nutty bizarro personality one always suspected. I thought it was strange and funny and WEIRD in a really good way and far distant from ghetto rap. I really liked that album though I certainly don't play it a lot. After that, he dropped the ball again. I didn't care for Yeezus lyrically BUT I thought it was extremely interesting melodically in both his samples and use of music in the context of rap. Really thought it was sonically fascinating, making it all the more annoying that his lyrics were so banal. To make myself feel really old, my nephews saw him in concert and said it was the best show they'd ever seen (and they've seen Mumford & Son, their previous favorite! to put it in context). I did hear repeatedly that the show was really innovative in its staging which almost made me want to see him. So you're right: for me, not much there there, but he's hardly Milli Vanilli, just a commercial smash with moments of wit and style. Like 95% of all acts, if they're lucky.

big bad wolf said...

I like Kanye. i think he is very clever, very smart, very playful, though his public persona long ago grew absurd. He cannot sing at all, and I don't listen when he tries to. His rapping is idiosyncratic; he doesn't have a great flow by conventional standards, but i find he uses his limitations to impart more nuance. in this, the apt comparison might be dylan. yes, yes, dylan cannot "sing" he's just a better vocalist than almost everyone. kayne is kind of like that; he may not fit the template, but he's much more interesting than just about any rapper.

If you want to give it a try again, Sal. i think there are two ways to do it. start at the beginning or start at the artistic top.

i'd recommended the beginning. the college dropout and late registration, both have many good tracks (as almost always on CDs, the albums are too long, and, like eminem's these two have stupid talking parts that will annoy). this early on, kayne can be quite sly and funny. work from there, but maybe skip 808s, too much "singing."

the other way is to try my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. there is a lot going on allover that record. it ain't easy, and it ain't always satisfying but it's impressive.

if you still don't like him you've tried and you should not worry it anymore.

Robin said...

@Bruce H "who cares if Nelson Riddle is not Irving Berlin?"...I imagine you mean West's mainly an arranger and that's where his talent lies. I agree but someone needs to tell KW that because he thinks he's Irving Berlin. Nelson never thought he was Berlin, Gershwin or Sinatra (as far as I know)!

"I'm the greatest rock star!!!" Yep. Okay. How old is Kanye??? Anyway this thinking he is "Irving Berlin" or the greatest rock star (or rapper, certainly he's neither) is what causes the misunderstandings about his work to an extent.

Sal- Paul's Boutique is considered a masterpiece by most anyone with knowledge of the genre. I don't know who the heathens were who laughed you off Blogger! ;) :) Ha!

Knocking the Beasties is like knocking Run DMC or Dre, or A Tribe Called Quest or yes, Eminem, at least for me! I don't think anything Kanye has done is on the level with these other artists though mileage varies there and yours might too even vs Paul's Boutique, but I don't think so. I don't think he's hit heights of genius. Having said that there is more to Kanye than his attitude and trappings and behavior would lead one to believe as Jeff and Bruce and others have said. He is clever and has some heart, has great ears, but gets in his own way.