Kanye West, the self-professed Louis Vuitton Don, is back but there’s nothing materialistic about the message within his two new tracks Black Skinhead & New Slaves, apparently. Sampleface is on the case to dig a little deeper and see what the fuss is about.
In case you haven’t heard or your respective social media feeds haven’t been crammed to high heaven full of talk about Yeezy’s latest tracks from his forthcoming album, allow me to fill you in. Kanye West recently debuted the music video for New Slaves and had it screened on the side of buildings in 66 different cities worldwide. On top of that, he recently paid the cast of Saturday Night Live a visit to perform said track along with another new one entitled Black Skinhead. Now don’t get me wrong: both tracks are militant, menacing, and neither of these tracks would look out of place on either of his first two albums. Considering how excellent the first two albums from ‘Ye were, that would mean that these tunes are also excellent, right? Well… sort of.
The problem isn’t so much the music. The problem is Kanye. If Graduation; 808’s & Heartbreaks; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; and Watch The Throne never happened, then you could argue the themes and subjects explored in the two new songs from ‘Ye would at least show some consistency from what tracks on The College Dropout or Late Registration began to explore. Unfortunately, I can’t get past that massive detour Kanye took and this makes it a bit of a challenge for me to feel these two tunes. Had it been someone like Dead Prez on the mic for these two tracks, then my approach would be entirely different and I could bang the tune out loud without having to justify the hypocrisy of the messenger spittin’ the message… but that’s exactly the kind of conundrum we’ve got on our hands here: is Kanye for real? Is he reborn? Is he genuinely sick and tired of the bullshit that he’s had to swallow and digest a la celebrity culture and is he finally back at that place he abandoned so long ago?
My answer is an emphatic ‘I don’t know. I can’t tell.’ I don’t know if this Kanye repenting and getting back to his lyrical best or if this is just a clever campaign to boost his PR rating, which is rather low amongst the non-Kanye stan. The infamous Taylor Swift tirade at the MTV Music Video Awards and the non-stop, nonsensical ranting during his recent London performance (all while looking like Clayton Bigsby, the black and blind Klansman from one of Dave Chappelle’s skits) are really just tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeing where the line is drawn at Kayne The Artist and Kanye The Human Being. Now that I’ve heard New Slaves and Black Skinhead, that line is even harder to draw. Think about the journey Kanye has taken his listeners on for a second: we went from social commentary and satire (College Dropout) to more social commentary with a more darker tone and much more personal subjects (Late Registration). Then it all changed starting with Graduation and despite a rather deceptively brilliant opening track in Good Morning, the rest of the album became a self-congratulatory pep rally; topped off with what I believe to be the largest display of brown-nosing ever recorded. He then went into an experimental phase (808’s & Heartbreaks) that left me largely unimpressed and then followed that up with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Despite the rave reviews and recommendations from personal friends to give it a chance, I was left unimpressed again. It’s hard to see how self-mocking he really was when in the midst of the message, he still took plenty of time to inflate his own ego and that – in my humble opinion – completely scuppered the message carried in tracks like Power. Watch The Throne speaks for itself. Now, I’ll admit: N*ggas In Paris is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, particularly when it’s being dropped in DJ sets at gigs I go to. When you listen to it on your own, you realise that the track is the same kind of misogynistic, materialistic, Cristál-fueled, diamond encrusted braggadocio that every other rapper these days is coming with. Multiply that by twelve and voilà! You have Watch The Throne.
All of this brings me to my overarching and crucial point: how can I take the messenger seriously when the message is tarnished by the messengers very presence? At the moment, I don’t think I can. If Kanye remains consistent from here on in then perhaps I’ll be able to say ‘Ye is back to his best. Right now though? I’m leaning towards calling Black Skinhead and New Slaves the latest in ‘Ye’s flamboyant and radical publicity stunts.
That’s my take on it. What’s yours? Watch the videos for each track below: