YEEZY SEASON | A brief, meaningful look at Kanye West’s Waves
Welcome to YEEZY SEASON, in which we count down to Kanye West’s new record, which is called ‘Waves’, but was recently known as ‘SWISH’ and before that it went by the name of ‘So Help Me God’. Confused? Good. So are we. First up in this compendium of Kanye, Jesse Melia offers a quick look at what to expect from Ye’s seventh studio effort, due on February 11, presuming he doesn’t cancel it at the last minute…
A Kanye West album is always more than the sum of its parts. From the blockbuster home run that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to the sizzling auditory assault of Yeezus, a record from the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Rockstar” is always a meticulously-crafted, unified piece of work. His detractors will see it as another brash statement from a self-centered rap villain, while his fans will expect another immaculately-constructed sonic gallery, with Kanye as its curator.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at the material Mr West has released in the interim between Yeezus and Waves in order to try and parse out a sense of what the rapidly approaching album will sound like.
Kanye’s first major post-Yeezus releases were ‘Only One’ and ‘FourFiveSeconds’, both of which were written with Paul McCartney – a hilariously vulgar display of power from Kanye. The recently-shared Waves tracklist revealed that neither of these songs made the cut. ‘FourFiveSeconds’ omission is understandable. Its overtly poppy sound means it probably wouldn’t slot onto this record comfortably, and it definitely feels more like Rihanna’s song rather than Kanye’s. While it’s a shame that his gorgeous ode to his mother and young daughter ‘Only One’ isn’t included, it’s well over a year old which, in hip-hop terms, is an eternity. It’ll probably appear as Japanese edition bonus track though, so there is that.
‘Wolves’, another early track, was initially previewed by Kanye in accompanying the launch of his Yeezy Season 1 fashion line. This song has been included on the tracklist for Waves, though it seems to be the penultimate song on the record, rather than the opener as originally announced. The song itself is a perfect evolution from Yeezus’ harsh, abrasive sound, with Sia’s ghostly backing vocals floating elegantly over a smooth, purring bass line, displaying a subtle refinement of the Kanye of two and a half years ago.
‘Fade’, another song used to promote the Yeezy Season fashion line, is a route one banger. With its repetitive vocals and its thumping beat, it’s a classic example of the type of supremely-produced, infectious earworm that populates all of Kanye’s albums. ‘Real Friends’, meanwhile, is a moody, atmospheric piece, with Kanye reflecting on his personal relationships while trading vocals with Ty Dolla $ign. Its sparse beat and dreamlike vibe evoke the work of Drake’s frequent collaborator Noah “40” Shabib. Paired with ‘Wolves’, it seems that Waves could be a more cerebral album, in comparison to the unrestrained attack of Yeezus.
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‘No More Parties in L.A.’, meanwhile, is a straight up rap exercise, with the genre’s current crown prince Kendrick Lamar joining Kanye on a hypnotic beat from producer Madlib. Kendrick is predictably dazzling here, weaving a tapestry of words that is baffling in its complexity. Kanye is up to the challenge, though, matching Kendrick with some equally labyrinthine bars. Of the four Waves tracks released, this one is something of an outlier. The other songs feel distinctly current while ‘No More Parties in L.A.’ is something of a throwback, but it is no weaker for it. The soul samples that permeate the track are one of Kanye’s key sonic touchstones.
The songs we’ve heard from Waves have a few things in common. They have a laid-back, reflective sound, with mood taking precedence over melody. When the initial title, SWISH, was announced, it seemed that Kanye was going to release a fun, playful album custom built for the club and the Top 40 alike. Listening to the first batch of songs, it’s apparent that this will likely be a considered, immersive album, built for long bus journeys and quiet nights in. The new title, Waves, seems to corroborate this. It’s also possible that the other songs on the album will be chart-crushing bangers. There’s no way to be certain with Kanye. One thing that we can be sure of, however, is that album closer ‘Ultra Light Beam’ will be an instant 2016 highlight. How could a song with such a title not be amazing?
When West released the tracklist on Twitter, he described it as “the best album of all time”. His famous modesty aside, a new Kanye West album is always a major occurrence. Waves will be no different. Critics and fans alike will be eager to gobble up the 10 new songs in their entirety in the hopes of finding the next endorphin-smashing ‘Blood on the Leaves’ beat drop, or the next zeitgeist-forging one liner about Yeezy’s “damn croissants”. Either way, when 2020 presidential hopeful Kanye West drops a new album, it’s always an unmissable pop culture event.