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What Does Kanye’s Yeezus Tour Mean for Kendrick Lamar?

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 06-09-2013

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Yeezus is rising again. This morning, Kanye West announced a 23-date fall tour—his first solo tour since the Glow In The Dark tour (Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D. and Nas joined him) back in 2008. Since then, he’s cancelled one tour with Lady GaGa, and embarked on another Jay-Z. Kanye West tours when he wants to, not necessarily because he has an album in stores—nothing came out of the releases of 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or Cruel Summer. Above that, when he does decide that he’s bothered enough to tour off of the strength of new music, he doesn’t bring along sideshow acts who the label throws on his bill. He brings out the best and brightest—legends, or legends-in-the-making in their own right.

Kanye isn’t the only member of the hip-hop ruling class who’s touring this fall. Jay-Z announced his own full North American Magna Carta Holy Grail tour shortly after Kanye did, even after spending the summer in bunk beds with Justin Timberlake. To back Nothing Was The Same, Drake is asking us “Would You Like A Tour?” and going ahead with one despite the hypothetical. But where’s Kendrick Lamar in all of this? The kid who’s released the only instant classic in this young decade? The King of New York. The man with “the verse.” Where’s his new album? His new tour?

He’s getting a new tour, but as Kanye’s opener. For 18 of the 23 Yeezus tour dates, Kendrick will be joining Kanye on the DONDA™ PJ™. Although hip-hop conspiracy theorists can speculate as to why Kendrick is going to be absent from the two New York legs of the tour, Kendrick’s decision to cozy up with Kanye as opposed to continuing his solo touring is momentous. It’s either a cop-out or a statement of intent for something much larger.

Kendrick is already commanding $70+ for headlining shows, is the unanimous Best Rapper Right Now, and could easily go out on his own, sell out 30 venues this fall, and continue to assert his status as the Leader of the New School while concurrently pushing the likes of Kanye, Jay, Eminem, and Lil Wayne out as elites in the mainstream hip-hop conscious. Those guys are either past their sell-by dates, more concerned with the marketability of their art than their own progression, or weirding out old fans. Hip-hop can’t collectively rally around any of the 2000s’ dominant artists anymore, but they can around Kendrick. For hip-hop heads, he’s the most talented and most accessible rapper out today, and unlike Drake, he doesn’t have any of the proverbial “soft” or “fake” tags.

So why the fuck would Kendrick—a rapper with a divergent fanbase (mostly youths and college kids/what Kanye had in the 2000s) to Kanye’s (anyone who grew up with him and took the plunge down his “Dark Twisted rabbit hole”)—decide to join the Yeezus tour? Wouldn’t it be better to propel his own brand—a message, lifestyle, and aesthetic which is so polar to Kanye’s that I wonder if he listened to “I’m In It” before agreeing to the tour—than to associate himself with Kanye’s monster? Mr. White Tees and Nike Cortez’s on tour with this guy just doesn’t add up.

If anything, it’s a power grab for both parties. Bundled with his appearance at Drake’s OVO Fest, Kanye once again proves that he’s got his finger on the pulse of hip-hop, even if his albums end up being 2-3 years ahead of their time in practice. That he can make whatever music he wants, fuck and settle down with the most infamous yet famous-for-what woman of the Internet age, say what he wants to whomever, and still make it out of the fire as hip-hop’s It guy. For Kendrick, this papal blessing of a tour gives him an even wider legitimacy—one that transcends hip-hop and touches on America’s celebrity culture—and shows that he’s worthy of having his name on the same tour poster as the biggest entertainer of his generation. You can’t reach Kanye’s levels without a co-sign from the man first. Simply put, real recognize real.

Being the best at rap can only take you so far. Kendrick has been digesting and capitalizing on Good Kid, m.A.A.D. City for almost a year now. Perhaps he sees that Drake has fast-tracked himself to claim Kanye’s crown, and doesn’t want to get left behind just because those two guys sing really nicely with auto-tune. We’ve all witnessed what Kanye West has  done with himself with his riches, women, status, and music, and what that’s all amounted to. Kendrick wants to follow the leader, but have his back-turned so he can AK-spray the rest of the game as they follow him. Kendrick didn’t name Kanye on “Control,” but he didn’t have to. Kanye wasn’t his competition then. Now he is.

Hurry Up With My Damn Yeezus Album Review

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 19-06-2013

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At this point in his career, Kanye West’s relationship with the public is a double-edged sword: He cares deeply about what people think of him, and gets angry when he’s framed in a way that doesn’t allow people to appreciate who he is and the “awesomeness” he creates. At the same time, his exuberance suggests an attitude that’s malleable and not giving of a single fuck. It’s all a balance that he described to the New York Times: “It’s [his creative/musical output] always going to be 80 percent, at least, what I want to give, and 20 percent fulfilling a perception.”

Yeezus shares no 80/20 compromise as previous Kanye albums have, and is an immediate departure from all past work. Instead, new calculus is needed. Yeezus is 100% what Kanye wanted to do, and it 100% satisfies the public perception of him as a hedonistic, egomaniacal, evangelical, self-aware, self-fulfilling monster who probably doesn’t put his pants on one leg at a time.

It also embodies 0% of what the perception of Kanye is musically. Soul-samples, live instruments, and lush beats are replaced by sparse parts: white noise run through an MPC, rock motifs, heaver drums, and the execution of bass sounds and patterns only seen before on 808s & Heartbreak. “On Sight” sounds like musical laser tag on acid inside of a Pac Man game. “Blood On The Leaves” mixes a Nina Simone sample, a C-Murder sample, and TNGHT’s bombastic flexing. Only “Bound 2″ resembles something familiar.

Sonically, “Black Skinhead” evokes connections to 808s cut “Amazing”—it must be what it’s like to take a lap in Kanye’s mind. The drums sound tribal, there’s panting and screaming in the background, and it closes with screams of “GOD!” as if he’s trying to spiritually release himself. It’s the power of Christ compelling Kanye in the most extreme evangelical manner since “Jesus Walks,” and that’s even before “I Am A God”‘s prophetic declarations and pounding bass rumbles on.

The end of “Black Skinhead” isn’t the only place where Kanye closes out a track in an unconventional way. “New Slaves” and “Guilt Trip” feature Frank Ocean and Kid Cudi providing outros, and Justin Vernon is handed the keys to three tracks. His haunting voice provides texture and brilliantly juxtaposes with Chief Keef’s nihilistic auto-tuned chants on “Hold My Liquor,” the album’s auto-biographical, abrasive stand-out track. Intros, choruses, and outros appear spastically, as if Kanye’s ADD causes him to prematurely jump from one idea to the next.

Idealistically, Yeezus picks up right where My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne left off. In doses, all three involve Kanye’s fight against a world dictated by male temptations for women and wealthy white America’s control of everything. Never before has Kanye been so direct and provocative with his lyrics, especially on “New Slaves”: “You see it’s broke n**** racism, that’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’ / And this rich n**** racism, that’s that ‘Come in, please buy more.'” “New Slaves” is explicitly about the Black condition in America, but the distrust of government, corporations, and the wealthy in the song can be taken to heart for 99% of America, or at least those with a social conscious.

Despite Kanye’s racial overtures and observations, Yeezus isn’t exactly effective at furthering his own race. For every apt political statement, there are many more examples of misogyny and boasts about fucking spouses, which are a bit oft-putting considering his relationship with Kim Kardashian and his newborn child with her. Kanye is, however, effective at realizing his own faults, but only through his own condescendingly indulgent lifestyle. Clarity and admittance are the first steps towards change, but Kanye is an unbreakable person. Still, his lucidness and brutal honesty are compelling characteristics in a hip-hop scene full of more characters than real people, even if Kanye’s realness includes lines like “I know he the most high / But I am a close high.”

This is a man who’s rapidly progressing in his personal life and career as an all encompassing artist, and simply put, progress cannot stop for critics, Top 40 radio, or fans. The album lacks a true single, and as a stand-alone songs, some may be unpleasant, but it all holds together well as a cohesive unit. On the whole, Kanye West albums have certain expectations attached to them—Yeezus basically crucified and tore those down. Yeezus is by far Kanye’s most inaccessible record because it’s a Kanye West album made by a musically contrarian version of Kanye, but it’s also his most daring, determined, and progressive.

Yeezus earns 4 blunts, so just get high, listen to this shit straight through, and thank me later.

Why Yeezus Will Be The Best Thing Since Helvetica

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 13-06-2013

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As a person who sees himself as someone synonymous with the idea of vanity, Kanye West isn’t the type to hold back. Whether it’s on albums, on national television with Mike Myers, at certain award shows, concerning his style, or with his love life, the grandiose and garish have been intrinsic functions of everything Ye. Which is why it’s surprising to read about how he considers himself a minimalist, and how his forthcoming album, Yeezus, is going to be reflective of that inward-looking view. Last month, he worked with Rick Rubin on stripping away certain elements of Yeezus—elements that in years past probably would’ve been celebrated as being uniquely Kanye (although it’s trivial to speculate on how many opera bridges and extra harmonies were done away with, as we’ll just never know).

Sure, his style is now full of muted tones and a nondescript color palette, but this is the guy who recently dressed like this and this, was responsible for this stage, and hired this many ballerinas for a short film and subsequent concerts. When has Kanye West ever been a minimalist? Is this evolution purely progressive, or is it simply a fresh coat of paint on past art, past emotions, and past swag?

In talking about his past, I’m of course referring to his 808s & Hearbreak era, a time which saw Kanye dress in simple grays and record the most honest and creative music of his career. While it’s not his most critically acclaimed album, 808s is certainly his most impactful. It’s his unaccredited creative magnum opus. It was an album born out of loss, heartache, and the kind of fucked up emotions you can’t understand unless you’ve actually been through them. But all of those emotions were originally rooted in love—a place where, not to sound cliché, the best art comes from (still cliché). The 808s era, with Kanye crafting brutality plain and equally tragic songs like “Say You Will,” “Amazing,” and “See You In My Nightmares,” was the beginning of Minimalist Ye. The songs were sparse, dark, and brilliant.

Shortly after 808s, Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV VMAs, and in his words, put out his “backhanded apology” with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As he said in the New York Times interview, “I was like: ‘Let me show you guys what I can do, and please accept me back. You want to have me on your shelves.'” Given how his next two albums—Watch The Throne and Cruel Summer—turned out, it’s reasonable to view those two albums as an extension of what was done on Twisted Fantasy, sonically and idealistically. Across those three albums, Kanye begat luxury rap, and began to express his racial politicism in a post-race America more clearly. They weren’t however, his most honest pieces of work, because they were albums to mark his return to triumph and to celebrate those successes. They didn’t connect to something deeper, something more humanistic. Kanye even said about Twisted Fantasy: “That was the album where I gave people what they wanted.”

Given the impact of Yeezus cut “New Slaves,” it’s clear that those ideas are becoming intensified in Kanye’s mind, but they don’t escape the potential impact on Yeezus of Minimalist Ye. Kanye might want to be America’s Marcus Garvey in a black Balmain hoodie, but he’s going to do it through less production, more auto-tune, more Chicago influence (Chief Keef’s Chicago’s poster boy for gang and black-on-black violence through the Fox News lens, but also trap’s nihilistic punk prince, is a confirmed feature on Yeezus), and more raw emotion. Kanye’s in love again, and about to be a father for the first time. The same seed that sprouted 808s has been sewn again for Yeezus, but the fruits should be sweeter and more accessible this time. With that, Yeezus should be Kanye’s strongest work since pre-808sGraduation.

Not only is he in the best artistic space of his career, but he’s currently going through the cleanest album roll-out since Watch The Throne. That album never leaked, and the only single we receieved that made the album before the release date was “Otis,” which is why Watch The Throne was my personal favorite out of the three albums he’s released since 808s. The rush of hearing an album’s worth of new Kanye West music with virgin ears can’t be matched by any other artist in hip-hop, with apologies to Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Given that much of Twisted Fantasy was released through a summer’s worth of G.O.O.D. Friday singles and half of Cruel Summer was released through official singles, we haven’t had many pure first-time listens of Kanye West albums the past few years.

Kanye won’t release a single for Yeezus, and if you’re like me, you’ve ignored all of the Vines and projections of “New Slaves.” Like Justin Timberlake did a few months back, Kanye’s gone from a cryptic tweet to an album in almost two months. There’s been no prolonged roll-out, no changing of release dates, and up until a few days ago, no information about the album itself. Twisted Fantasy‘s G.O.O.D. Fridays, Watch The Throne‘s out of control hype machine, and Cruel Summer‘s summer of singles were all tossed to the wayside for Yeezus‘s nothingness. Kanye The Minimalist went ahead with the no frills, no drama, Angie Martinez-less album release. Outside of his SNL performance of “Black Skinhead,” his Governor’s Ball set, a few random Hudson Mohawke leaks, and the aforementioned projections, we have no idea how Yeezus will sound. On that technicality alone, Yeezus should provide the best album experience since Graduation.

Let the resurrection of Minimalist Ye begin.

Kanye West — Hold On [Remix] Feat. Consequence

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 05-03-2013

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Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 4.27.06 PM

It was all G.O.O.D. just a week a couple years ago. This unreleased Kanye-Cons track from the G.O.O.D. glory days just surfaced. Check it out below:

DOWNLOAD: “Hold On (Remix)”

Travi$ Scott Discusses G.O.O.D. Music and “Owl Pharaoh” With DJ Semtex

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 07-02-2013

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G.O.O.D. Music’s youngest rapper/producer, Travi$ Scott sits down with UK radio personality DJ Semtex to discuss his experience working with Kanye West and the G.O.O.D. Music camp, the success of Cruel Winter, and his upcoming project Owl Pharaoh. Scott also discusses the first “single” for the second G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Winter, which may or may not still be releasing this Winter/Spring.

Pusha T — Wrath Of Caine (Mixtape)

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 28-01-2013

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Pusha-T‘s long awaited and highly anticipated mixtape Wrath Of Caine is finally here. Not only does Pusha lyrically dominate this mixtape, but he also recruits strong features such as Rick Ross,Wale, and French Montana, and scouted top notch production by Kanye WestThe NeptunesB!nk, Young Chop and many others. Wrath Of Caine has been a long time in the making, and is the precursor to Pusha-T’s debut solo album My Name Is My Name, which will be released on Def Jam later this year.  Check out the mixtape below:

DOWNLOAD: Wrath Of Caine (Mixtape)

5 Rappers Who Wouldn’t Fare Well In London

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 27-01-2013

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England. MI6. Tinie Tempah. As a new resident of the United Kingdom—well technically, a “student visitor”—I’ve got plenty of acclimating to do. I’ve been in London for four days now, and I have yet to break out of my jet lagged, zombie-like malaise. I heard somewhere—a phrase that usually preludes information that’s usually myth or made-up—that you need one day of recovery for every hour difference in time you travel. Under that theory, I need five days to get back on my normal sleep and wellness schedule.

I’m really, really, really tired right now.

Throughout the past four days, I’ve managed to get scammed for hundreds of dollars (working with my credit card company to correct this), wander in wrong directions and find myself an hour away from home, spend a small fortune on three beers at a pub, and completely fail at buying the proper electronics to charge my Macbook and set up my iPhone service. I’d like to think that any Suburban Jersey Boy naiveté was wrung out of me after living in New York City for two years—actually, it totally has. I’m going to blame all of my mistakes on my tiredness. Can’t make functional decisions when your body thinks it’s 7 am at lunchtime.

I’m definitely not the only one who would mess up the start of a new life in a new country. In fact, I’m sure of it. Why? Because people have an inherent innocence about themselves, which leads to foolish choices based on a non-existent moral shield from the world. Basically, people fuck up when a hint of cynicism and better thinking could’ve been helpful.

If there’s ever a group of people to struggle to adapt to life in London, it’d be rappers. They have money, egos, crews, and handlers to fall back on, but that safety net can lead to some overly reckless decisions in the first place. Here are 5 Rappers Who Wouldn’t Fare Well In London.

He’d struggle with: Pounds
Congrats to Macklemore, who just landed a #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first independently released track to nab that top spot since 2010. Considering the hook to his hit “Thrift Shop” goes “I’ve got $20 in my pocket,” and Macklemore spends his verses rapping about his thrift buys and lamenting the world of expensive designer clothing, I don’t think he’d be too fond of London’s prices. At first, everything seems super cheap—4.85 for a pint, 6.85 for laundry detergent, 15 for a Black Cab, 9 for a pie and mash—until you realize that those prices are in pounds, not dollars, and the conversion rate is almost 2 to 1. Ouch. $20 is £12.66, which would maybe buy Macklemore a set of socks at a London thrift shop.

Honorable mention for struggling with the prices in London: Consequence. His Baby Mama is unemployed, and despite riding around in a Bentley, he struggled to pay for his child’s first birthday party. I wonder when he’ll drop his first album.

He’d struggle with: Rejection
Last night was my first adventure out on the town, and I came home feeling tired and impaired. There’s a whole new world out there for a 19 year old living in a country where the drinking age is 18. Before coming to the UK, I had heard about the joys of legal pub-hopping from an NYU friend of mine. He visited some friends in London over Thanksgiving, and came back with tales of drunken debauchery. One story, however, was less than flattering. He and his group of friends were dancing at a club, and across the dance floor, there was another group of girls dancing with themselves. My friend, who was woefully underdressed compared to the proper suit and tie get-up of club-going British males, decided that he’d make he way over to those girls later in the night. A few drinks would be needed to build some confidence.

Instead, only minutes later, one of those girls took it upon herself to become an ambassador for her friends. She walked right up to my friend, and told him that she and her friends didn’t want to dance with his friends. My buddy got rejected without even asking first. It was a scaring moment, but the cut would’ve been deeper had it happened to Drake.

We’ve actually seen a similar situation happen to him:

If Aubrey was in my friend’s shoes, he would have an entire album’s worth of material to record. It’d be simp-tastic.

Hit the jump to read about the 3 remaining Rappers Who Wouldn’t Fare Well In London.

Best Songs of 2012

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 28-12-2012

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2012 was something of a musical awakening for me. I was exposed to more music than ever before, and I opened my ear to sounds, artists, and styles that I wouldn’t have given a chance in 2011. For too long, I limited myself in the music I chose to listen to, and the music that I chose to enjoy. I realized that not every song has to have some sort of life-altering purpose or politically twisted message—there’s nothing wrong with liking a song because it’s fun as fuck to get dressed to, or because it only sounds good when you’re drunk. I’m comfortable enough with my taste to admit that Lupe Fiasco’s latest album sucked, EDM has a legitimate place in hip-hop, Young Chop is the DJ Premier of my generation, and Future is one of the best at finding melodies.

By now, you probably figured out that I listened to a lot of trap music and pop in 2012, and I did. And you know what? I’ve never enjoyed music more. It’s okay to genuinely love Justin Bieber’s new album, Lil Durk’s last mixtape, and Kendrick Lamar’s debut album all at the same time.

Without ranting any further, I now present my songs of 2012. This Spotify playlist I made covers all 50 tracks I deemed worthy, so sit back, and enjoy my tastes of 2012:

A few songs, however, are so good that they need to be recognized individually. Hit the jump to read about my Top 5 Songs of 2012.

Kanye West — 12/12/12: Concert For Sandy Relief Performance

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 13-12-2012

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Last night, Kanye West and Co. hit Madison Square Garden for ’12/12/12: The Concert For Sandy Relief’. Yeezy’s 20-minute set included all of the essential Ye’ classics, as well as some of his newer tracks, such as his remix to Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” (10:40). As per usual, Kanye’s setlist and performance were energetic and filled with raw emotion.
Virgil Abloh, one of the essential creative minds in Ye’s camp, mixed in some very rare #BEEN #TRILL drops during “All Of The Lights.” Kanye was also rocking one of Virgil’s Pyrex Vision hoodies from the upcoming Spring/Summer 2013 line. Peep a preview of Virgil’s collection below:

Kanye Takes Us Back While Keeping it Fresh on “White Dress”

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 15-10-2012

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I hope Kanye West calls his next solo album The Dress, because my two favorite post-808s tracks from ‘Ye have been about a female’s dress. Both “Devil In A New Dress” and “White Dress” are two expansive soul beats that would’ve had 2004 Kanye going nuts, and both feature the kind of honest, endearing Kanye that seems to have died right as ThroneYe was being born. “Devil In A New Dress” details his torment with his girl of the moment, while on “White Dress,” Kanye is clearly infatuated with his new woman—I want to say he’s got a bout of Puppylove, but imagining Kanye and Kim Kardashian sharing a plate of spaghetti like Lady and the Tramp is upsetting for reasons I won’t get into.

Hit the jump to continue reading.