I wonder if Kanye even cares about hip-hop anymore. In some sense he probably always will since rapping is his usual vocal style. But for a while now I’ve had the feeling that he thinks he can transcend rap. Like he wants to say to people, “yeah I rap sometimes, but don’t call me a rapper. I’m sooo much more than that.”
So fans like me, who liked old Kanye, the pretty good rapper with a dash of humility and honest introspection, are left behind. Notice I said pretty good, not stellar. Kanye was never on that level. What made his music good was the soul beats that he’s since abandoned, his decent skills, and the perceived potential that he could become great one day. But at some point around album #2 or 3, Kanye as a rapper, even as a songwriter, stopped growing. Instead of making better music, the focus seemed to shift to making different music.
I know artists need to experiment to keep the creativity flowing. I don’t fault anyone for that. But after three weird albums, especially this last one, it seems that Kanye isn’t coming back to his hip-hop roots anytime soon. I think it’s safe to say that Kanye’s will continue moving in this direction, which is anything but regular rap.
808s had the excuse of being caused by the death of his mom and other emotional drama, and the Dark Fantasy weirdness was at least somewhat based in hip-hop (the best of which was provided by featured rappers, but at least he brought some hip-hop from somewhere.) But Yeezus is supremely weird and has no excuse for being such. Here we have Kanye the self-indulgent rock star, the guy who’s too cool to just make music. Everything has to be some magnificent amalgam of disparate ideas, an experiment that inevitably fails.
This makes it ironic that on I Am A God, he claims that he “brought real rap back.” It’s true that at one point a long time ago
in a galaxy far away, Kanye was a real rapper. This is the guy who helped launch the soulful sound on albums like Jay-z’s Blueprint, then made me hopeful for a hip-hop renaissance when College Dropout helped bring Lupe Fiasco and Talib Kweli to the mainstream. It seemed like hip-hop was really headed in the right direction then, and Kanye was at the forefront of creating that feeling.
But seeing what he’s doing now, it feels disingenuous for him to still want credit for reinvigorating a style that he has since abandoned. Kanye hasn’t real rapped since Graduation. And far from having the Midas touch, every rapper he touches goes South. Jay-z should have really retired but instead has been half-ass jogging a victory lap for years, Common has completely ran out of interesting things to say and now would rather act in movies, Rhymefest never was worth much of anything, Talib has become the guy that mainstream rappers call for the token “conscious” song on their sex, drugs, and guns filled album, and Lupe acts like Fidel Castro in interviews to make up for his music is vapid and features Trey Songz aka the poor man’s R. Kelly.
Maybe Kanye is hip-hop’s Anakin Skywalker. At one point, he did start to bring real rap back, but then the movement imploded and he had a hand in that too. But many of today’s new artists like Kendrick and Astro and The Underachievers have me feeling much better about rap than I did a few years ago. Meanwhile Kanye is at best an afterthought in the current real rap discussion, at worst a Darth Vader villain whose new music hurts the genre. But maybe all this was needed to create space for the good new rappers to inhabit? If so, I won’t scream about it like this guy: