If Nicki Minaj isn’t yelling at the studio execs whose grimy little cracker hands are all over this album, I’ll lose all faith in her. Someone who enjoys music snuck into the studio to put a few good tracks at the beginning of the album (the good tracks are the ones where Nicki raps like a crazy person, because any vocals that sound like a mental patient are good times, as any Iggy Pop or Gun Club fan will tell you). She even gets to rap over actual hip hop beats before being told that she’s out past her curfew, and has to atone by doing a series of increasingly mediocre R&B singalongs apparently co-written by the people that make Tiesto songs and some children’s music writers with some 2004 drum machine samples to let you know that it’s supposed to be a hip hop album. God forbid they let the new rapper with a bunch of different styles actually show them off, instead of going back to the aging computer that generates songs for black singers to use as album tracks. She sings on one song, then the next one features Rihanna and I genuinely could not tell the difference at all. Why is Rihanna doing the hook here? Does Minaj seem like the sort of artist that needs Rihanna around for sex appeal or to get [demographic that enjoys Rihanna] to buy her album? Part of me wants to say that the decent songs need to be spread out through the album, but then I involuntarily choke myself for thinking like a major-label executive instead of its polar opposite, a person that enjoys hearing music.
Like a lot of people, I wasn’t intending on listening to this until I heard her verse on Monster. Kanye claims that he and Jay worked on it nonstop with her for four days, which seems completely implausible to me. First of all, if he came up with something that good after four days of work, wouldn’t his album have a hundred incredible verses instead of one? Wouldn’t he have, at some point in the past, spent a couple weeks and just blown the roof off everyone? Sorry Mr. West, but I’m going to give her the credit for that one, and just assume that other people spent four days on all of her other verses to make sure they were as generic as possible.
It’s fairly obvious that the label has no confidence in Minaj’s abilities at all, especially when it comes to rapping, seeing as they get fucking Drake to do a verse in between her semi-autotuned choruses that, again, SOUND LIKE RIHANNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA MAKE IT STOP. It even has string samples, and not even with a cool mid-90s east-coast “I’m going to beat you to death with this viola” vibe.
Then it’s the will.i.am track, and I would just refer to the Kanye review where I already called everything will.i.am has ever done awful but seriously, we’re talking about a guy that decided to rap over Imagine and then sell it to use in an ad, so I really doubt he has the judgment to decide that he should stop making any sort of sounds. This will.i.am track is so bad it actually makes me dislike the Think break, but in my defense I’ll dislike any song that has bubblegum “oh, oh” with toy-sounding pianos and fucking-hell-I-thought-we-moved-past-autotuning-every-single-vocal-a-while-back.
But thank god, we get another hip hop track after that to apologize and she actually gets to make non-singing sounds with her mouth. Okay sure, there are those lame dance-pop synths again, but they’re at least a little more acceptable here. Kanye shows up to remind us that Minaj is a much better rapper (I knew that already thanks, get back in the studio and remix this album).
Okay so quick hits on how to make the next Minaj album better:
-rap in those different personalities, those are cool, especially the angry-sounding ones
-get hip hop producers not r&b producers
-get rid of THOSE synths, the ones that sound like third graders’ recorders
-when you make an incredibly good song like Massive Attack (note: that's the song with the video in the desert where she shows off her clones of the girl from Lazytown), put it on the album
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Kanye’s new album (which will be abbreviated as Good Ass Job, because why isn’t that the name of this album?) came out last week, and it seems like all the reviews of it are on the same page: that it’s incredibly good. So, both because I’d hate to go against the consensus on anything and because it’s true, I’ll just accept that as an agreed-upon premise and go from there. It really seems like the only thing preventing people from calling it an album that’s up there with the best since the genre started is that people have been obsessively following what Kanye has said to the media, and oh no, apparently a musician is a jerk. Can’t have that. Every review seems to just be trying to tell his story and apologizing for him because look the album is just good, jeez! Talk about the music for once.
What makes this album unique is how no one else is capable of it. Not just because no one else is as talented a producer, but when you listen to a lot of rock albums, you get the impression that “oh, yeah, if I had twelve fantastic song ideas and a garage I could have made this album.” You could not have made this Kanye album, because you do not have $2 million of your record label’s money to spend on it, and this is a record that really sounds like it cost that much. We’ve moved past the eras of Kanye where you can just loop two bars of Mayfield or Daft Punk and add some drums over it (at least, he releases those sorts of tracks for free now instead of putting them on the record). Every song has a million things going on in it at the same time, elements coming and going for different parts of the song. Not just the sampled piano/synth line/drum beat/vocal like people expect, but choruses, orchestral flourishes, distorted basslines, and the comically large number of guest appearances. Minaj claims in her verse that she got $50k for it, which actually seems pretty low, if you look at it as a percentage of the total cost for the album, especially considering that she has the best verse on the entire thing. It was so good, in fact, that I downloaded her album and even listened to it all the way through. (Okay, fine, I skipped the Will.i.am track, but cut me some slack over here. When I saw the credit, I assumed it was some sort of inside joke, or that Will.i.am has just become what producers use as an alias when they don’t want to be associated with the album any more, like the Alan Smithee of rap.) Even the three-ish minutes of orchestral stabs with Kanye mumbling into a fauxcoder plugged into a distortion pedal isn’t something anyone else would have dared to make, because you’d probably think “who gives a shit and why would I listen to it?” But it ends up working perfectly, somehow.
The coolest thing that Kanye has discovered is that you can distort hip hop and have it sound amazing. Steve Albini (RIP) would be proud of the buzzing bassline into crashing noises on Hell Of A Life, and the lyrics about marrying a porn star and gangbangs would even be perfect for him. Someone get on this cover version, because it’ll get you so much blog traffic and I can’t make it due to lack of talent. This style is the wave of the future right here; cut it out with all those tinkly piano samples and gentle drum patterings and go for fartbasses with pounding drums into weirdo voices with lots of effects into Gil Scott-Heron sample. Albums are judged largely by the influence they have on people, and this record probably won’t have that impact immediately. Record producers will try to figure out what’s going on until their ears melt and they curl up into the fetal position and go back to making g-funk beats again. See what you’ve done, Mr. West, you’re just going to kill all the producers. Shame on you.
Okay, back to talking about what other people think about this album. Maybe the reason people are hesitant to immediately put this album in the Truly Great Albums bin is because monumentally important hip hop is expected to have lyrics that aspire higher than “listenable.” To be fair, Kanye doesn’t embarrass himself 100% of the time, and he managed to get a good verse out of Jay-Z, even if it was overshadowed by the aforementioned Minaj. Apparently Hova and Kanye are doing an album-length collaboration, which could even mean that Jay will finally make a song explaining to everyone where he came from, maybe something about how he made ends meet as a teenager. On the other hand, the beats Kanye made for Blueprint 3 were reduced in sound quality by their nature of being delivered exclusively via phone, but he was probably too busy making this album and pretending that, sorry guys, those beats were really the best I can do. Jay must be a pretty forgiving guy, because damn, I’d be pretty mad if I had a producer holding out on me like that. Maybe instead, Kanye will attempt to expand on one of the best parts of the album and just exclusively produce for Gil Scott-Heron. Seeing as GSH’s last album had a total man-bites-dog moment of sampling Kanye, it’s not too far-fetched of an idea.
The only way I can conceptualize the idea of “is this an all-time classic?” is thinking about whether I’ll play it all the way through every six months from now until the end of time, and be taken aback when someone mentions they’ve never heard it many years from now. Yeah, I can see both of those happening. Already, trying to listen to other new hip hop, even good stuff, is kind of a letdown, like “why does this sound not-completely-new-and-unique instead of being great like Kanye?” Fine. It’s the best album of the year, best album since [other album], 10/10, whatever.