The news just came that Rock & Roll pioneer, legend, Velvet Underground front man and all around rebel Lou Reed has passed away today. Undoubtedly, there will be tons of tributes to a man that became an icon in the eyes of many fans for much of what he did for an to rock music throughout his life and career. I admit that I still am learning a lot about rock and some of it’s biggest figures, including Reed. One of the things that has always intrigued me about him is how he seemed to intentionally take the road less traveled throughout his career, from fronting a band that the basic antithesis of the Flower child generation in the late 60′s and early 70′s in The Velvet Underground, to all of his tongue-in-cheek, sometimes questionable and mysterious issues with sexuality that he touched on in his music, to releasing some of the most divisive pieces of music in history, from Transformer to Metal Machine Music. Even more interesting to me was how he was tapped earlier this year to review Kanye West’s album Yeezus, and the praise that he bestowed upon it. Here’s a piece of music by Reed that can be found on the Internet and will probably have at least 2 million views by tomorrow morning, but is still pretty amazing.
Ok, I’m TRULY not even sure what to say about this one. Apparently Kanye West kicked off his tour by having an actor portraying Christ as part of his live show. Truthfully there are SO many questions that we can come up with from this latest situation from ‘Ye: what was he thinking? What was the purpose? What message was he seeking to impart? Is this an indication he’ll be back to his old musical self? Does he believe what he says in the song “I Am A God” on his latest album? Is this blasphemy? Was it intended to be a joke? Or was it Kanye being serious and forthright? Should we even read that much into it? Is there more to the story? Like I said, SO many questions…and from what I gather there probably won’t be a whole lot of concrete answers, just more gossip and fodder for the TMZ crowd. *Sigh*
With all of the talk over the last two weeks surrounding Yeezus, it made me look back at Kanye’s music over the years. One of my favorite albums from him is Graduation, and there are a few songs on there that are some of his most famous, but some that aren’t, or at least they’re not quite as popular as some of his others (“Stronger”, “Good Life”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). Two of my favorites from the album are the Lil Wayne-featured “Barry Bonds”, but more so “Drunk & Hot Girls”. The eighth track from Kanye’s third album is a standard that gives a glimpse into the life in the club, which is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another: materialistic, blatantly self-centered and ultimately disposable. Not to say that it can’t be fun. Kanye simultaneously makes a mockery of what goes on with male/female relationships in the club and tells us what just about every man is thinking when his intentions are clearly focused on a one night stand, yet he’s also trying to sway and influence a targeted woman to take his bait. With the help of Mos Def’s nearly operatic coos on the chorus and throughout the song, Kanye creates a sound that is purposefully mechanical and emotionless that feeds into Hip Hop’s constant stereotype of objectifying women into sexual objects. The robotic movements of the music and the tonally-challenged, indifferent, singsongy rhymes helps to create a sense of distance and dismissiveness from ‘Ye towards the female that he wants only for the night, and for only one thing. But what makes the song notable is the constant sense of contradiction, double standards and irony of it: this is something that just about every man has done and still does when trying to pick up a woman. Further, the song seems to be just one step away from being as controversial as the Rick Ross verse off the Rocko single “U.O.E.N.O.” in terms of taking advantage of a woman with impaired abilities and judgement. And even more ironic is the implication that at the end of the story, Kanye ends up with his club-hopping, scantily-clad subject in an unfulfilling marriage. Ultimately, “Drunk & Hot Girls” allows us to take a glimpse through the looking glass and serves as a cautionary tale, even if it does come from an artist that’s known for falling victim to his own insatiable appetite for attention and the decadence of the superstar lifestyle.
One of the greatest things about Hip Hop is it’s ability to take, pick, choose, borrow and sample from just about any form of music we can think of and make something new out of it, while also making the older music distinctly “Hip Hop”. Another great thing is the fact that the rules to what Hip Hop can be continue to be shattered with each passing year. This weekend, Kanye West proved that fact again by debuting two new singles, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”, to the world in his own high art, high fashion, conceptual way. And he’s been doing it for years now, especially beginning with his second album, Late Registration. All we have to do is listen to songs like “Stronger”, “Roses”, “Crack Music” and pretty much all of 808s and Heartbreak and we’ll see that Yeezy has been at the forefront of pushing Hip Hop forward, and probably will continue to do so with the new album Yeezus this June. But my personal favorite song from ‘Ye that is such a grab bag of so many different kinds of genres and truly breaks the mold of what Hip Hop is and what it can be appears on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy… the song “Gorgeous”. This song is SERIOUS! It combines so many different styles, from progressive rock guitar to what sounds like drums from the opening theme to an 80s TV crime drama by the time Raekwon steps to the mic. And that theme carries on throughout MBDTF. But this song is truly a work of art, which is honestly what Kanye is going for more and more in his music making and production these days. Say what you will about him, but the man makes music that challenges us, like no other.