Like some sort of desperado, Kanye West has holed himself up in a Wyoming ranch. But instead of going down in a blaze of glory like the star of a Sergio Leone movie, Kanye has instead decided to release a hail of albums, in one summer, all produced by him.
According to Kanye’s mid-April announcement, we’d be getting a solo album from Pusha T in late May, along with a Kanye album, a Kanye/Kid Cudi collaborative project and a Teyana Taylor album all in June. (As I’m writing this, I also just saw some rumors that Kanye will be releasing an additional collaborative album with Ty Dolla $ign, but we’ll deal with that one if/when it gets formally announced.)
To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical that he’d be able to pull this off. For reference, see Kanye’s messy roll-out of his previous album, “The Life of Pablo,” which was fraught with push-backs and renaming after renaming.
But he were are: only in the first week of June, and Kanye has been able to keep up with at least the first half of the scheduled releases. And while it might be impressive that the G.O.O.D. Music team has somehow been able to keep up with this BROCKHAMPTON-style barrage of releases, the important question is, of course, if they’re any good.
And yeah, they really are. Let’s look at both records from the first half of these releases in detail.
First came Pusha T’s “DAYTONA.” I’ve been waiting for a new record from Pusha T since he released the previous record, “King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude,” back in 2015, before a period of comparative silence.
While “DAYTONA,” which is barely more than 20 minutes long, is clearly not the album the previous one was a prelude for, the end result is the best in Pusha’s solo discography.
Yes, it’s only seven songs long; yes, it’s only 21 minutes and change. But the music on it is absolutely incredible.
A big portion of the credit here goes to Kanye. His beats here are somehow a combination of 1990s New York and modern Kanye West. This is to say the beats are dusty, dirty and hard-hitting, placing an emphasis on Pusha’s vocals, while still maintaining the typical quirks we’ve come to expect from Kanye’s production.
But the real star here is Push. He raps with the slow, plodding ferocity of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, bringing his mafioso flows into the 21st century.
Of course, we could criticize Push for his lyrics here: Just like any other release from this guy, he just raps about his time as a fairly high-level cocaine dealer, a time Drake recently pointed out ended decades ago.
But I almost just want to say to this: “Who cares?” Push sounds so absolutely vicious here, it almost doesn’t matter if his rhymes aren’t legit. They’re just that good.
And he makes it clear that his scathing rhymes aren’t meant to be for, well, people like me — the armchair rap enthusiast.
“This ain’t for the conscious; this is for the mud-made monsters/who grew up on legends from outer Yonkers,/influenced by n****s straight outta Compton,” he spits on “The Games We Play.”
Pusha’s rhymes cut deep on “DAYTONA,” and he takes no prisoners: The final two tracks on the record, “What Would Meek Do?” and “Infrared” take aim squarely at Drake, with whom Pusha has been trading shots for years.
On the latter of the two tracks, Push goes in hard, addressing accusations of being fake before Drake even made them:
“The only rapper sold more dope than me was Eazy-E./How could you ever right these wrongs/when you don’t even write your songs?” he asks Drake, who’s been accused for years of having ghostwriters. “But let us all play along,/We all know what n****s for real been waitin’ on: Push.”
All I can say there is, “Oh boy.” Push set up for one of the best rap beefs in years, and I think he has the skill to come out on top. We’ll see if Drake becomes the Ja Rule to Pusha’s 50 Cent, though.
Either way, “DAYTONA” is easily one of the year’s best releases.
As for Kanye’s release, “ye,” I can’t pretend to be nearly as excited about it.
I’m one of those maniacs who genuinely thinks that “The Life of Pablo” is Kanye’s best album. I love its experimental, meandering quality and the way the smaller songs combine into larger movements so to speak.
“ye” is just as short of an album as “DAYTONA,” but I don’t think it justifies its shortness in the same way. Pusha T fires off punch after punch in 21 minutes, putting in as much quality content as many current rappers put in an hour-long album.
Kanye, though, feels constrained. He seems to have bigger ideas that need to get out.
“ye” largely avoids much of the controversy Kanye brought about himself leading up to this record, but it still hangs over the record like a specter. There’s a reference here and there to Stormy Daniels; he makes a totally gross statement about Russell Simmons getting “#MeToo’d”; the album cover’s proclamation “I hate being bi-polar it’s awesome” is like an edgy 12-year-old’s attempt at humor. But he doesn’t say anything as dumb as “slavery was a choice,” so, progress, right?
I do appreciate Kanye’s more personal tracks toward the end of the record. “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes” seem to see the rapper growing up, with the latter track offering some fatherly advice to other men who are fathers of young girls, like Kanye.
It feels a bit hollow in comparison to Kanye’s proclivity for putting his foot in his mouth, but it seems like he really means what he’s saying. And if you can separate Kanye from his words, he offers some advice about having daughters that almost recalls John Mayer’s “Daughters.”
“Now she cuttin’ class and hangin’ with friends./You break a glass and say it again./She can’t comprehend the danger she in./If you whoop her ass, she move in with him,/then he whoop her ass, you go through it again,” he raps on “Violent Crimes.”
Fathers be good to your daughters, indeed.
“ye” is undoubtedly filled with good moments. No song of the seven is bad. But none of those moments are great, which is part of what makes it hard to accept. We know that Kanye is capable of such great things from his past output, and we even know he’s capable of thriving in constrained settings thanks to Pusha T’s “DAYTONA.”
When we know that the greats can be, well, great, it can make it seem pretty weak when they’re only pretty good.