Posts tagged Nas
M.I.D. Summer: Three takeaways from the Wyoming sessions

Chaos begets excellence in the strange world of Kanye West. At least it used to. It's similar to T'Challa's advanced body armor: the more negative blows Ye's accumulates, the stronger his kinetic energy becomes when working on the latest composition. History has proven that he thrives in a chaotic environment, which is often self-made by spewing outlandish statements or ranting on stage psychotically.

Source: Chris Rock

Source: Chris Rock

We've seen this narrative play out several times over his solo career. It's like a Sixth Sense for Kanye loyalists: he just made an ass out of himself publicly...but that means he's about to drop some fire for the summer. From the Mike Myers headjerk (once) to the Taylor Swift incident (twice) to the public scolding of media personalities (the keyboard need an infinity sign), Kanye has never shied away from controversy. It's the catalyst that drives the conceptually forward-thinking music creative that's within. Until 2018.

This method showed signs of deterioration during the manic frenzy that was The Life of Pablo era in 2016. Although it was widely considered to be a lower-tier release in his catalog, TLOP provided flashes of brilliance like the chilling and cinematic "Ultralight Beam" that reminded many fans why they put up with Kanye's bullshit outside of the music.

Even the shaky rollout that was all-but-off-the-rails culminated with one of 2016's biggest events in entertainment: Yeezy Season 3, a runway show that doubled as an album release party for 18,000 people at a sold out Madison Square Garden. Lasting memories were created there while his ignorance off the boards was brushed to the side (but not forgotten).

We're a little more than a month removed from the last release from the Wyoming Sessions and it's becoming increasingly obvious that the self-proclaimed genius had failed with his experiment in the grandest of ways. "Failed" because of the collective lack of care for the final execution of the projects. "In the grandest of ways," because of the collateral damage he caused along the way (see: "Slavery was a Choice" and M*GA/Dragon Energy).

When he announced the lineup of five consecutive weeks of new releases - Pusha-T, himself, Kid Cudi & himself, Nas, and Teyana Taylor - while primarily handling the production as well, it was safe to assume that G.O.O.D. Fridays were finally back.

Nope.

Compared to Hawaii and the glorious run in 2010 resulting in a classic album, the Wyoming Sessions proved to be weird cousin Arnie from Hey Arnold: recognizable, but awkwardly shaped and dull. Aside from the whole Drake fiasco, it was hardly a Cruel Summer from the vaunted G.O.O.D. Music camp. But it wasn't a complete trainwreck. 

Here are a few thoughts I had about the "experience" overall:


1. Pusha-T was the Trojan Horse of the experiment

DAYTONA had to work. As the pace car for this five-week circuit, it had to be damn near perfect; to many, it lived up to expectations. If the long-awaited true follow-up to My Name is My Name was anything less than stellar, the already mild anticipation for the rest of Wyoming would have dried up even quicker. Serving up the purest brick of Peruvian white, the G.O.O.D. Music President delivered his best solo project to date with DAYTONA; raw, cut with no filler whatsoever.

Ye & Mike Dean really shined with the minimalist production paired with gritty sampling to create a menacing atmosphere. His delivery is grimy, yet relaxed and confident like it hasn't aged a day since Lord Willin'. Most importantly, there were no stale bars or wasted lines from Push; similar to a technical boxer accruing points over the course of a fight to earn the decision in the 12th round, as opposed to the knockout artist getting winded by the fifth bell. For an added measure to retain maximum attention towards Wyoming, there was "The Story of Adidion."

Terrance and Aubrey have traded their fair share of subs in years prior (essentially over a BAPE hoody), but after the scope of the battle was lined up with "Infrared," Drake quickly responded with a clip that has presumably in the chamber for a while, saved for a moment like this. "Aight, bet," said the Virginia Beach native and proceeded to expose a lot of shit about Drizzy that the public wasn't privy to (sidenote: you're allowed to enjoy Scorpion AND still think "YOU ARE HIDING A CHILD" is hilarious too. Let these jokes breathe).

There's an unconfirmed report from a credible source that Ye learned about Aubrey's now-public son when he brought Drake to Wyoming for a writing session. If this is true, it's very possible that Kanye gave this ammo to Pusha-T, strategically use him as a conduit to create a huge controversy for maximum attention. If so, it might be time for Kanye to reevaluate his promotional tactics. The numbers and metrics may have inflated because of it, but is a (supposed) shady move like worth a loss of credibility, Ye?

2. Nas and Teyana Taylor deserved better, especially Teyana

Teyana Taylor signed to G.O.O.D Music in 2012. Since then, she's had 1. a few placements on Cruel Summer; 2. released VII, a solid, but under the radar studio album; 3. an incredibly skilled and sexy performance for the "FADE" music video. Limited as they may be, she has shined with every opportunity given to her and has been patiently waiting to show the world why she should be considered a true force in RnB. An album executively produced by arguably one of the most important producers since the start of the millennium was supposed to launch her to that height.

Keep That Same Energy deserved a traditional and proper rollout, complete with lead singles and visuals to match. Hell, at the very least, she deserved a completed album. Waking up to texts from friends, the day after it was supposed to drop (!), when it didn't, to realize it wasn't the final version you thought was coming out (!!), should never be the way to first hear your "completed" album. Teyana sang her ass off on KTSE, but the production and final mixing arrangment felt incomplete.

And with Nas, I don't know. Maybe Escobar Season was experiencing Climate Change 'cause this ain't it, chief. And he knows that. The album felt rushed and disjointed, as if the lyrics were recorded acapella and blindly matched to beat stems at the last minute, without any final input from the artist.

On the process of recording with Kanye. “Wyoming was weird.” 😅 pic.twitter.com/5dX9cv5auB

— Eric Diep (@E_Diep) July 27, 2018

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When I heard the news about NASIR, I was expecting seven "We Major" level tracks.  That bar was set way too high. But it looks like a more carefully thought out, traditional hip-hop project from Nas is coming soon:

And another Nas album on the way. He has been in with Swizz Beatz and RZA. pic.twitter.com/E9uaZLvi0o

— Eric Diep (@E_Diep) July 27, 2018

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3. Rev. Ty Dolla $ign and 070 Shake are co-MVPs of the Wyoming Summer League

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TY Dolla Sign

The five TY$ tracks every new fan needs to know

Not much to say about Ty; in 2018 he has definitively cemented his status as an RnB star with his incredible run over the past three years, a run that started with Free TC. Many jokes flew about the mediocre nature and output of the Wyoming Sessions, but none of these shots landed in the vicinity of $.  Say what you will about Kanye, but he's a veteran at utilizing his guest features as elements on instrumentals in bold and sublime ways. Ty Dolla $ign's harmonizing and gospel-esq vocals stole the show on "All Mine," "3Way," "Wouldn't Leave," and "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt 2)." 

070 Shake, however, didn't have an established base prior to the Wyoming experience. Being a relatively unknown artist, the New Jersey native had the most to prove, and, when called upon, brushed off that chip on her shoulder with ease. She undoubtly made a mark with a distinct and haunting vocal presence on "Santeria," "Ghost Town," and "Not For Radio,"; songs that feature Push, Ye, Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Nas, and Diddy. Not a terrible way to start off one's career. If she's not shelved as a background artist only brought out for experiments (*coughs* Teyana deserved better), then the sky's the limit for Shake's future with G.O.O.D.


Kids See Ghosts did take us a little over a year-and-a-half to just get it tight and where we wanted it to be... Months went by, and we just kept working on it and chiseling away at it. It was funny to us when people were talking about how the album was rushed or last-minute. I knew what it took. I was there the whole time. - Kid Cudi for Billboard; July 2018

Many consider Kids See Ghosts as the most well-round project to come out Wyoming. Stripped of excessive arrogance, Kanye and Cudi (whose hums were in peak form) created a powerful 7-track diary of sorts, detailing their bouts with depression and mental health. The primary influencers of Mike Dean, Plain Pat, and Dot the Genius, as they've done on previous work (i.e. 808s & Heartbreak, Man on the Moon) made the duo sound as sharp as they've been in the past decade. Thoughts can be birthed quickly and finalizing the product could take 7 days, but that kind of focus to make sure that the arrangement of sounds and performance from the lyricists/singers normally isn't overnight.

It can work for some, but it's not for everyone. Aside from Kanye playing active defense against the opening track's attempt at not sounding like a trainwreck, KSG had a sense of completeness that ye (lyrics scrapped and recreated in 8 days), KTSE, and NASIR did not have.

Music opinions are subjective and number ratings are arbitrary but if I'd have to rate the Wyoming experience, it'd be 2.5/5; the 2 representing the successes (DAYTONA and KSG), the .5 representing the half-baked ideas of the other 3.

Each collection arguably had at least one song with replay value beyond 1-listen:

1. Push's grizzly and boastful "The Games We Play" (No jewelry on, but you richer than everybody // You laugh a little louder, the DJ say your name a little prouder //And we don't need a globe to show you the world is ours);

2. "No Mistakes" featuring Charlie Wilson (I'm definitely gonna need an hour-long Kanye-less version that loops Uncle Charlie's chorus like what someone did with the horns from SpottieOttieDopaliscious);

3. A therapeutic Cudi glides on "Reborn" which featured a Kanye that suddenly remembered how to rap his ass off on a Graduation era type of feel for the overall song;

4. "Bonjour" feels like the perfect soundtrack to sail along the Amalfi Coast to, boo'd up, with a never-ending glass of expensive alcohol in hand, without a care in the world. NASIR deserved 6 more of these.

5. From the raps and to boldly sang vocals, Teyana bodied her performance on the sample-driven and orchestral "Rose in Harlem." KTSE suffered the most from "demoitis," but she, as best as she could, rose to shine from the fractured cement better known as the Wyoming Sessions;

Grown man raps: 4:44’s predecessors

We are now a few weeks removed from the one of the most prestigious awards that are handed out in entertainment. The 2018 GRAMMYs had fooled us into thinking this year's ceremony would be different from years past. With their nominations, the Recording Academy finally gave recognition to some of the lesser known music acts on a national scale. That hype was quickly dashed and short lived.

A similar tune of results was played as relatively safe picks won each major category without any notable upsets, just notable snubs. Snubs are to the award shows as loud irrational opinions are to a New York sports fan (guilty). A GRAMMY won't entirely make or break a career, but they're not completely worthless. Among the dozens of nominees in attendance that night, the most nominated artist came up trophy-less, in front of the world but more importantly, in front of his home turf. Brooklyn's Own JAY Z went 0 for 8 on January 28th, bringing home no hardware for transparent honesty on his most personal project to date, 4:44.

HOV's 13th studio album should not be remembered as just "the Lemonade response CD." While he does address the marital infidelity, there are many different grown ass topics the 48-year-old MC speaks on through the lens of a fully formed adult. "Kill JAY Z" was the first phrase to be uttered on 4:44, making way for Shawn Carter to enter with some commentary to impart wisdom and drop knowledge through the process for discovery of true self.

Putting aside the gaudy persona for a minute to openly speak about buried family secrets, fiscal responsibility, and the Black Community knowing and tapping into our valuable self-worth. Especially coming off the heals of his prior release, Magna Carta Holy Grail (Basquiat, Tom Ford, Basquiat again, etc.), 4:44 was an unexpectedly close and personal CD for a maturing legacy rapper. In the same vein as Denzel Washington's own passion project (Fences) at the Oscars, the critical acclaim was wide-spread, but the golden trophy was nowhere to be found for either legend.

A tweet came across my Timeline on that Sunday morning of the GRAMMYs. I agree with the last 3/4 of the message, but the opening sentence almost soured the entire point. Saying that rap "has never seen"  is a gross oversight. 4:44 deserves all the praise and accolades that it has been given, but the album is not a novel concept within the genre; 4:44 had predecessors.

Prime examples of recent predecessors were created by two of his worthiest peers in the pen game, the versatile assassin, Phonte Coleman and QB's Finest, Nasir Jones. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good were released in a 10-month span in 2011 and 2012. Direct parallels can be drawn about the subject matter of lyrics on these 3 albums. For the most part, for the length of an entire project, the rappers spit some honest truththrough an unfiltered perspective about some grown man shit: family life as they age.

Age is not entirely indicative of increased wisdom, experience, and knowledge. Yes, it is worth noting that it's commendable for someone this late in their career, nearing the age of 50, made a mature pivot from their normalcy.

But different life circumstances could create different experiences that force people to pivot earlier, in different ways, at a different time in their adult life.

In September of 2011, Phonte was only 32 years old when he made Charity Starts at Home, but he was a man with a family of his own and decade-plus of the music industry under his belt. Ever since the early days as a college student in North Carolina with Little Brother, Tigallo had always presented himself as an old soul with his raps filled with observational bars about the humor in life. He's kept things real with is wisecracks and advice about the good and bad that this life has to bring, mixed in with innocuous jokes to lighten the mood.

About a decade after his main crew's inception and a little less after the official start of his RnB campaign, Phonte branched off to do a solo hip-hop record of his own, the very first of his respected career. The focus of his observational bars was drawn inward, this time zooming in on the 3rd stanza of life: the navigation of relationships in your 30s as you creep towards middle age. Charity Starts at Home was an introspective look at the start of adulthood.

Not "I just graduated college and now I split rent with 7 roommates" adulthood, but "dawg, I started a family with the person I love, doing work in a career I hate, but mortgage payment is due in a week" type adulthood.

When you wake up this morningI want you to go to the mirrorAnd I want you to look at yourself in the eyes and sayFuck you, fuck your hopes, fuck your dreams, fuck all the good you thought this life was 'gon bring youNow lets got out there and make this bitch happy

Everybody prays for the day they see the lightBut the light at the end of the tunnel is a train
5 dollar gas, and poverty rates, are rising much higher than your hourly ratesSo if you thinkin 'bout quittin you should probably waitCuz everybody gotta do a fuckin job that they hate - Phonte, "The Good Fight"

Phonte stayed par for the course by knocking another joint out of the park but the mid-career pivot came from a wise and mature mindset that's again not solely indicative of age. Highly relatable lyrics about grindin' and hustlin' legally can put the listener in his shoes for the length of the project. Everyday adult shit gets touched on, from not wanting to wake up for work on a Monday to mending relationships before and while things may be falling apart.

In the hilarious, yet poignant outro of "Sending My Love," from a place of sincerity, he speaks about beating down the strong urges of cheating on his significant other, an extremely human feeling that circles the mind of anyone, even in the most committed of relationships. "C'mon, Tigallo, Be Strong!" becomes the mantra of the moment with the following inner monologue:

I know she get on your nerves sometimes
But man, you got a good woman at home, man
Just go home, it-it-it's 'bout 4:30
Ain'tnothin open this time of night but legs and hospitals
Just go home, just take it on home
Martin Luther King did not die for niggas to be trickin off on HOES, nigga
Just, just take it home (all my love to you) - Phonte, "Sending My Love"

Important topics and life lessons dealing with family were discussed on Charity Starts at Home. Phonte briefly puts down the cloak of a rap superhero, opened up the door to his home, and showed the general public how not easy it is to not only create a family but how difficult it is to keep the core of the nucleus intact.  On the most basic level, it requires honest work and honest communication.

One of the main complaints from critics of 4:44 say the praise for the lifestyle and family advice was not life altering or super impactful. I disagree. With these kinds of projects, they're not supposed to be thesis papers using scientific data to reinvent the wheel. They offer a different side of rappers who share family principles that aren't a secret but serve as important reminders from time to time.

Storytelling has always been a major staple in the career of Nas. In his Book of Rhymes, Nas' "pen taps the paper" to create some vivid and detailed imagery from a pure lyricist standpoint. Life is Good, the 11th studio album by the Queens native, shares more career and biographic similarities with the creator of 4:44, but the content strongly remains comparable to Charity Starts at Home as well. Like Phonte, Nas was under 40 years old when creating his album, but the then-39-year-old had already lived out a full career at this point. 2 decades after his first official recording, with 2 children and 1 nasty divorce that still affects him to this day, Nas had experienced a great deal of triumph and adversity.

The heavily produced No I.D. and Salaam Remi project has an equally somber and rejuvenated balance to it both sonically and lyrically. Nas sounds energetic, refreshed and youthful. Aside from a few musical and topical misfires (*coughs in "Summer on Smash"*), Life is Good has a throwback sound in many spots on the album like genuinely upbeat tracks that captures the bounce of mid-90s NYC (i.e. "Reach Out" featuring Mary J. Blige). On the surface, Life is Good is a project that mixes old-school ideas with new school sensibilities as an older, matured individual. Nas, very transparently, shares details about having to deal with two dilemmas with two important women in his life: disciplining his teenage daughter and a divorce from his ex-wife, Kelis.

On "Daughters," an adult is facing a rewarding, yet terrifying time in the life of a father: the baby steps into the early stages into their child's adulthood. Nas created this song to speak directly to men out there that are also going through this father/daughter relationship. Not necessarily to the extent below, but he openly discusses potential hypocrisies that he notices from himself while trying to give the best possible advice to his daughter to make sure she lives her best possible life.

I saw my daughter send a letter to some boy her ageWho locked up, first I regretted it, then caught my rageLike, how could I not protect her from this awful phase?
Never tried to hide who I was, she was taught and raisedLike a princess, but while I'm on stage I can't leave her defenselessPlus she's seen me switchin' women, Pops was on some pimp shitShe heard stories of her daddy thuggin'
So if her husband is a gangster, can't be mad, I'll love him
Never, for her I want better, homie in jail – dead thatWait 'til he come home, you can see where his head's at - Nas, "Daughters"

Growth and self-awareness all come with time. Failures in life happen very often, but what you do with the detriment is key to success. Dwelling on something negative and not learning from the mistake or minor setback can leave you stuck.  Whether you're going through a messy divorce or relationship problems, having trouble with how you fit in with new-aged people in your profession or the "chinks in the armor" is becoming more noticeable to the kids, life is going to throw you a curveball.

"No matter what, Life is Good" was repeated several times throughout the project. It's a simple and effective phrase that could be a subtle reminder during a rocky time.

Again, I don't believe the original tweet was completely off-base, just a bit heavy-handed when saying "the rap genre has NEVER seen an album like 4:44." We have seen the introspective, late career, soul music influenced, rap album that was critically praised. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good are two high-quality examples of that from this past decade. This piece is not a subjective discussion about which grown man project was better. It's an objective reminder that 4:44 had predecessors.

Because hip-hop, comparatively speaking, is a newer genre in the grand scheme of things. We haven't seen all of the most popular stars reach the pantheon of JAY Z and Nas (with Phonte on the precipice). We don't have a Stevie Wonder...yet. We don't have a Mick Jagger...yet. Is the introspective rap trend from the game's legends the next trend? The next decade or so will be a telling factor on whether or not more of the critically acclaimed and legendary lyricists from the 90s will adopt the same model of being extremely honest and open about daily stressors for the length of an entire project. Fingers crossed for an Andre 3000 joint executively produced by Organized Noize.