Monday, November 24, 2008

One Down, Eleven to Go

Kanye West's new album 808s and Heartbreak dropped today, debuting his new...I don't know what style. After a couple cursory browses of the album, I don't think it's a stretch to say I think the best thing about the album is the cover art, by graf-legend/toy designer/fine artist KAWS.

I certainly understand the emotional timbre of the album. Ending his relationship with his fiance, as well as the tragic accidental death of his mother guaranteed West would be in a bad mood when it came time to release an album. But the approach he's taken, while not without promise [I'm thinking here of album opener 'Say You Will' and to a lesser extent current single 'Heartless'. But Yeezy can express his dismay that people consider Auto-Tune wack all he wants, that don't change the fact that it's wack. Or worse, overdone. T-Pain and Akon done milked that heifer for all she's got.

But I understand, he needs to do this, it's just his way. He's not the sort of artist to suffer privately, and hip-hop isn't the sort of musical culture that would allow him the luxury to do so even if he wanted to.

Some critics have apparently been comparing 808s and Heartbreak to fellow Chicagoan and frequent collaborator Common's much-maligned 2002 experimental album 'Electric Circus'. I'm more interested to see if West follows Com's subsequent career path: after 'Electric Circus', he released his certified classic, 'Be'.

So I'm still with you, Kanye. I just hope you come back to us, sooner than later.


I also found an interesting article in the latest issue of SPIN [with MIA on the cover] ponduring the death of sampling in hip-hop, in light of Kanye's latest album, which features only original electronic compositions.

Contrast that with 'Graduation', which featured samples from Elton John, Steely Dan and Michael Jackson among others, and made for a much more engaging album, I found.

From the moment block party DJs figured out how to take two copies of the same record to extend the breaks the crowds were interested in dancing to, the sampling and reinterpretation of preexisting music has been at the core of hip-hop. Everyone knows 'Rapper's Delight' is just the bassline of 'Good Times' by Chic for six minutes. Doesn't make it any less awesome.

But as hip-hop increased in popularity, people started paying attention and lawyers started getting involved. Move to the present day with the culture of vinyl crate diggers and every obscure one hit wonder in the world Googling themselves, and you have an environment where every sample has to be 'cleared', or gotten permission for. According to SPIN's article, for a top tier sample from someone like James Brown or George Clinton, you're looking at $20,000 minimum, as well as royalties.

So when someone like Soulja Boy comes out, of course he's gonna take a Casio sample and do it all himself. And when he's successful, the big boys are going to wonder why they're opening their wallets when they could save the money by doing it themselves.

Is this for the best? Probably not. I know I'm an old-school head, but can anyone really argue that a sample free song like Mims' 'This is Why I'm Hot' is a better song that Wu-Tang's Gladys Knight-sampling, 'Can It All Be So Simple?' Umm, no. But this is where we find ourselves, and there are still producers out there carrying the torch like Pete Rock, the RZA, or up and comers like 88-Keys [who's first single 'Stay Up [Viagara]' features a hot-fire verse from Mr. West that soothes me to believing everything will be okay].

I find it interesting that hip-hop gives us yet another example of the benefits of remixing and sampling that I've gone on about here for ages.

Now I'ma go find that Girl Talk album everyone's on about.


Blogger Michael said...

Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.

7:06 AM


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