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Entries in Kanye West (2)


A Tale of 3 Kingz: Fathers, Sons, Holy Grails & Hip-Hop - Chris "Preach" Smith

A Tale of 3 Kingz:

Fathers, Sons, Holy Grails & Hip-Hop - by Chris “Preach” Smith

This might seem like blasphemy to write about on a Sunday for some,
but we’re here. So.

The past three weeks have basically been an adrenaline shot into the veins
of hip-hop. We’ve seen three albums dominate the landscape of the culture
in ways we haven’t seen before. J.Cole’s sophomore release, Born Sinner,
Kanye West’s highly anticipated Yeezus and the latest of the trio, Jay-Z’s
Magna Carta Holy Grail. Each album has their respective differences, but
they all also have some common ties that may take a minute to fully grasp
and appreciate. The most obvious one is the theme of religion as a driving
concept. Interestingly enough, outside of a few people commenting how
they’re tired of religion being used as a thematic tool for rappers, there’s
not much buzz about how these three MC’s use religion throughout these
albums. Or at least, their perspective on it.

And their perspectives are unique. Kanye pretty much caused an uproar
as it got closer to his release, proving how he can capitalize on gossip and
speculation to build momentum. It’s nothing new to ‘Ye; Yeezus sits with
throwbacks to the days when he had to defend himself about his infamous
Jesus piece designed by Jacob The Jeweler. Anyone who could wriggle out
of that shouldn’t surprise you when they say as he does on ‘I Am A God’,
‘I just talked to Jesus/He said ‘What up Yeezus?’I said shiiit I’m chillin’/
tryin’ to stack these millions’. It is finely blended arrogance and awareness
that Kanye has made the core of this track and this album. In some ways,
this is the evolution of ‘Jesus Walks’, but now he’s found a path that he’s
clinging to with Louis Vuitton driving gloves on, criticism be damned. ‘Ye
has gone from being a pious, populist rapper with soul and a backpack to
being a pious, preening artist with high-end fashion and an anger born
from being under-appreciated. It’s a conceptual sleight-of-hand that goes
from Christianity to Five Percenter teachings, and adds depth to a seemingly
minimalist aura that dictated Yeezus’ creation, from album covers fans
could create to the production.

With J.Cole, Born Sinner stands out because the MC made it a point to
utilize the church as a central theme for reflection. Cole then makes the
album a kind of a time capsule, baring his soul about fame, success and
his own demons along the way. With comical skits involving television
preachers and a disappearance from choir practice, there’s an appreciation
for poking fun at the more outlandish aspects of the church. With the 
track ‘Chaining Day’, you have Cole rhyming about the love of chains and
Jesus pieces in a way that advances the conversation Kanye began with
‘Jesus Walks’ ten years ago. It also shows his growing artistic dexterity
with the way the track flips halfway through from happy-go-lucky to
sobering. With ‘Forbidden Fruit’, he gets Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar
to assist on his contemporary take on male-female relationships using
the Adam and Eve story from the Old Testament, flipped over an interpolation
of ATCQ’s ‘Electric Relaxation’ beat. Born Sinner speaks to the duality of
a man with his faith in a world that tells you that it isn’t worth much
in comparison to the worldly things that can be gotten with a label deal
and a platinum card. It’s no accident that this flows into ‘Chaining Day’
on the album.

With Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z uses religion as a foil in an adept way,
although it’s not in heavy usage. For a veteran MC of this caliber, it’s 
the wise move. ‘Heaven’ is probably one of the strongest tracks, with
Hov delivering blistering rhymes like ‘I arrived at the pearly gates, I had
luggage/meaning I had baggage’. The beat is as alluring as a hymnal
offering. Jay also shows a keen awareness of the criticisms hurled at
him for being ‘an Illuminati member’ and a ‘devil worshipper’ and uses
that to stoke the fires of interest. Remember, this is the same cat that
had YouTube and other sites ablaze once he put out ‘Lucifer’ produced
by who? Kanye West. The same song that used a key sample from the
Jamaican singer Max Romeo. You don’t get to be at the top of the game
without utilizing all of the tools in varied, intricate ways. Look at ‘Holy
Grail’, the track with Justin Timberlake on the hook. It’s a mix of his
usual bragadoccio along with cited examples of Hammer and Mike Tyson
on how fame and money debilitates as much as it uplifts. And this is
with a trap-styled beat as a backdrop, much the norm these days. With
MCHG, you get these moments here and there, much like truffle garnish
on a salad accompanied by filet mignon and whiskey.

It’s funny. These albums also reflect a new territory in terms of marketing
and appeal. Think about how leaks factor in. J.Cole and his label hold a
series of intimate listening sessions to hear his album. The next day,
the album is leaked out over the Internet to the surprise of many. But
the reaction is positive. With Yeezus, the album leaks the Friday before
its release. Kanye, when asked about it, says ‘I gives no fucks’ in the new
spirit of giving to his fans with this album as he expressed before. This
leak has mixed reactions that range from absurd to calculated. Then you
have Jay-Z, on Father’s Day, during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, announce
he’s dropping an album on July 4th. But one million Samsung users will
get it first, courtesy of a new collaboration with the company giving birth
to an app that delivers the album. That winds up being a near-disaster,
with 20 million trying to access the app and crashing Samsung’s servers
at a few minutes past midnight on July 4th. We have to appreciate that
this may create a bigger divide in terms of how artists can market their
albums. Jay-Z’s done collaborations with mobile phone companies before;
he had a deal with Nokia in 2003. But constructing an effort that not only
got supreme buzz by releasing lyric sheets and studio photos via Instagram
and even convincing RIAA to count those million downloads as SALES? It
is genius. And fitting when you also consider how Kanye debuted ‘New
Slaves’ on the sides of buildings all over the world. But you can’t do that
without having the capital to back you. That is the disadvantage to those
deserving MCs with a smaller budget. But these new initiatives by these
three are pushing others to approach outreach in an entirely new way,
a needed thought process in a rapidly shifting industry. Fans are getting
their critical appreciation skills back; ‘Ye’s album sales dropped in his second
week, surpassed by J.Cole in a surprise to some. Jay-Z’s already established
that MCHG will be a success sales-wise thanks to his deal. He even recouped
his losses with the app crash in a way by having Funkmaster Flex play the
album in full on NYC’s Hot97. And as a flourish, the album artwork is now 
currently on display at Salisbury Cathedral in England. The same cathedral
where the four remaining Magna Carta documents signed in 1215 reside.

One last thing that stands out is, each of these albums reflects the respective
quests of each MC. Cole sought to rise above criticisms of being lackluster
as an MC. He was viewed as promise unfulfilled after breaking on the scene,
fodder for jokes and nonsensical beefs. Kanye? Hell, the man has had a CAREER
painted with the brush of swagger and tabloid-like spectacle. He also has been
dealing with being somewhat shunted to the side by Jay-Z in recent months,
especially as Jay began working with Justin Timberlake. As for Hov, this was
another way to assert that he was still the dominant lion on the savannah in
a calculated way. You can’t tell me anything different when you get your
album announcement during one of the most-watched NBA Finals series in
history. All while you’re establishing yourself as an NBA agent AFTER being a
part owner of a franchise that you brought to your home borough. It speaks
to the constant power struggle in hip-hop. Who’s the best? What can he do
next? What has he got left? Cole is trying to move from being one of the young
cats to veteran status. Kanye is entering a new, bolder artistic realm with his
music that may not be grasped fully at first. And Jay is essentially looking to
say, ‘I can be a businessman and still out rhyme these upstarts.’ With these
questions and the drive behind each of these MC’s, you see each man’s Holy
Grail. Their latest albums being released in such a short span of time have
introduced a brand new shift in hip-hop. Maybe the new-found artistry will
bring people who lost faith in the culture back. 


A Tale of Two Tantrums - Chris "Preach" Smith

New York City, for this weekend, got some fireworks before the
official end of summer from a usual suspect and an unlikely one. It's
now been 24 hours since the interruption heard and seen around the
world courtesy of Kanye West at MTV's Video Music Awards held live
at Radio City Music Hall last night. West took to the stage and brazenly
grabbed a microphone during 19 year old Taylor Swift's acceptance
speech for winning the Best Female Artists' Video award, declaring that
Beyonce had the better video in front of a shocked audience. After being
booed lustily, West then flipped the bird to the audience. After the
display, West apparently was not only asked to leave by MTV staff but
also nearly was assaulted by Pink according to a couple of reports.

Kanye West with Hennessy in one hand and Amber Rose in the other
(MTV Photos)

There is considerable outrage over Kanye's act last night and rightfully so.
What he did was shameful and disrespectful for someone who claims to
be a staunch defender of artistry. What makes it worse is that Taylor Swift
is 19, on one of the biggest stages of her life and someone who she looks
up to as a musician comes in and drops a load of manure on her moment.
Beyonce, in a wonderful move had Swift join her on stage when she won
an award to give her acceptance speech again. Which will probably make
Kanye cringe on that next phone call to Jay-Z. But there are some people
calling for a boycott of West for his actions. While I wouldn't dispute
anyone who wishes to do so, I don't think that will happen. Mainly because
West is someone who feels absolutely comfortable in acting out this way
with little to no reprocussions. When you consider the fact that he has
done this before to MTV, and has had other outbursts yet still gets a lot
of acclaim, the fact of the matter is this: Kanye does it because it gets
people talking. He does it because he follows that cliche of 'there's no
such thing as bad publicity.' If there were a call to boycott Kanye's
music it would have the same effect as the drive to boycott R.Kelly. And
you remember what he was charged with. And how he still made money.
If MTV were to stop giving him airtime then maybe episodes such as
last night wouldn't happen again. But money talks louder than virtues
like courtesy these days. Maybe this is Kanye's wakeup call.

The other tantrum of note this weekend happened in Flushing,
Queens at the US Open during the womens' semifinal between
Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters. Serena was frustrated
throughout this match, smashing her racket on the hard court
earning her a code violation. But her frustration boiled over
and exploded in an expletive-filled tirade directed at the
lineswoman who called a foot fault on her. Williams lost the
match and was later fined $10,000.

The backlash may be greater than expected, but what may truly be shocking
is how many people are calling for Serena's expulsion from future Grand Slam
events in addition to heavier fines. Her actions were disgraceful and shocking
without question. You can safely say that such an outburst was out of
character for her. But one has to have greater perspective here. Tennis as a
sport has had a few volatile personalities, arguably none greater than John
McEnroe who has a lifetime of anger management issues. Ask Tatum O' Neal.
But he has been elevated to the status of a legend partly due to that part of
his personality. And he's been able to make a mint off of it. Serena's display
was terrible, but to ban her from future Slam events is reactionary and sets
a bad double standard for tennis. McEnroe himself suggested that as a fair
punishment, the United States Tennis Association should have her play the
fall tournaments which Williams normally avoids. I would advise them to
take it a step further and also have her submit an apology to the lineswoman
directly rather than the statement on her website which after her
unapologetic stance after the incident seems too rushed and therefore
rings hollow. But to ban one of the top players from Slam events would be
rash and give more heft to the argument that some in tennis don't want
the Williams sisters around anymore for reasons other than their play.

One can only hope that both Kanye West and Serena Williams can regroup
from their respective outbursts to the point where it would be a blip on
their careers. And leave the tirades for other individuals with less talent
and more mouth who we can ignore easily.