Kanye West’s Waves is likely to disappoint
In case you weren’t aware, on Feb. 11 the world is set to receive “the greatest album of all time,” according to Kanye West. The album? Waves by Kanye West. This will be Ye’s seventh studio album in what has already proven a legendary career, and while there are many (none so much as West himself) who are certain Waves will blaze new trails in hip-hop and set trends that will be followed for years, I personally think the opposite. I think Waves is going to stink, pretty badly, and I’ll tell you why.
Kanye burst into the public spotlight in 2004 with The College Dropout, and from there released classic after classic for the next six years. His beats changed how rap sounded, his polo shirts changed how rappers looked, and his overall attitude allowed mainstream rappers to be artistic and sensitive instead of simply dangerous. Without Kanye there is no Kid Cudi, no Drake, no Kendrick, no Lupe Fiasco, no J. Cole. In 2007, Kanye was mixing rap and dance music and introducing a new generation to Daft Punk with “Stronger” two years before The Black Eyed Peas released “I Gotta Feeling” and the EDM explosion began. Kanye’s taste-making abilities were so respected that George W. Bush — whose time in office saw 9/11, the Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina — said that Kanye saying he didn’t care about black people was one of the worst moments of his presidency! How’s West going to come back from such a diss?
In 2009, Kanye had his own career low-point when he rushed the stage to proclaim Beyoncé’s music video was better than Taylor Swift’s at the VMAs. After that, everyone in the world seemed to think West was the biggest “jackass,” to borrow President Obama’s exact words, in the world. Under that cloud of intense public scorn, Kanye retreated to Hawaii to create what will undoubtedly go down as his masterpiece: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Fantasy has no real equivalent, whether it is amongst West’s catalog, the wider rap catalog, or popular music in general. It’s an album that sounds so unique and so fresh that it could be released in seemingly any era and would still sound just as trailblazing. He struck the perfect chord between electronic sampling experimentation (“Runaway”), pop bombast (“All of the Lights”), and straight up aggressive, old-school swagger rap (“Monster”). While his status as an underdog, both in the rap game and life in general, had always been a staple of his lyrical content, on Fantasy it took a darker, deeper tone. The world had held up a mirror and West had finally seen his reflection, and he was man enough to admit that he didn’t like one bit of what he saw. But instead of letting the world defeat him, he channeled that energy to produce something that would make the world love him again.
And we did love him again, and Kanye heartily reaped the rewards. He released the victory-lap Watch the Throne with Jay-Z, designed bags for Louis Vuitton and shoes for Nike, and finally married his princess, Kim Kardashian. He’s got a family, and he seems genuinely happy and fulfilled by his creative pursuits outside of music — and that’s the problem. Beginning with 2013’s Yeezus, which was listenable when it came out but has now completely faded from the public consciousness, it seems clear we are in the “decline” period of Kanye’s career; the falling action in the Shakespearean drama that has been his life.
The two tracks that he’s released in anticipation of Waves, “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in L.A.,” don’t stand out in the rap game the same way his earlier stuff always did. While the beats are good, they don’t sound radically different from what anyone else in the genre is doing. While his flow is on point, his lyrical content is flat and generic. Gone are the days of a young upstart raging against the system, his contemporaries whom he always saw as competitors, and most of all himself. Now he just raps about his lux life, how he’s got a hot wife and lots of money and how he’s basically the King. The life of a King isn’t interesting or engaging, that’s why it’s the Princes that control rap now, the Drakes and the Kendricks — the ones who are all competing to become the next Kanye. West is a lame duck, waiting for the next guy to be sworn in.
Kanye West has had a great career, one of the best in music history, and it’s no problem that he’s on the decline. Every artist reaches a creative peak — it’s part of the natural life cycle of the creative culture, and West has certainly left a sizeable mark on ours. Go look at Kanye West’s profile on your Spotify. I bet that you have more friends also listening to Kanye than any other artist. Everybody has at least one Kanye track they like, because he touched on virtually every genre that has been popular during his career.
So Waves will come out, and a lot of people will listen to it, and say that it’s “pretty good.” But then something else will come out and the public will move on and let Waves slip away from their Recently Played playlists. Out with the old, in with the new.
At the very least, Kanye will always have the best Twitter. #wizwearscoolpants