A particular strength Kanye West has as an artist/producer is the uncanny knack of pushing, bending and breaking boundaries in hip hop with a pop edge. It can be argued no artist in hip hop has been more audacious to take risks musically and lyrically, all the while making West a pop culture phenomenon and critical darling.
Scour through his catalog and you will see that West has curated a variety of different musical styles and blended genres to shape his albums. He took soul and sampled/sped it up into hip hop form on The College Dropout and added gloss, strings, orchestral music and a variety of genres blended together with Late Registration. On Graduation, the goal was to make international stadium anthems while still pushing for pop success. 808’s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus all featured sounds drastically different from their predecessors: 808’s electro R&B, MBDTF’s maximal combo of the previous four and Yeezus’ minimalist, EDM-meets-Hip Hop helped prove West was more than just a rapper—he was an all-time great. And when 2015 came and went without a West album (after much anticipation with releases such as “Only One” “FourFiveseconds” and “All Day”) one principle question went into the minds of a lot of ‘Ye and casual music fans—what will (after being named So Help Me God and SWISH) Waves really sound like?
Wishful thinking tells us we can expect West to make an album we aren’t anticipating; like he did with his previous works. It’s hard to identify which direction West may lean on now because his releases in the past year have been eclectic. “Only One” is listed as soul, where the legendary Paul McCartney‘s history of crafting hits is all over it, which gives way to the mainstream feel of “FourFiveseconds,” an obvious pop track (and another collab with McCartney, with Rihanna). Acoustic guitar driven, it was tailored specifically to the charts with little hip hop influence, which isn’t like West at all. At this point, many fans began to voice concern West’s new album would be an offering of pop-driven hits on steroids.
“All Day,” released in spring of last year, was immediately greeted with optimism because it was modern and much more hip hop. True to form, “All Day” is a trap song blended in with drill and Travis Scott-esque sound effects. With that key fusion, the record took off, reaching number 15 on the Billboard pop charts. Unlike West’s more recent releases, the hook appeared to be catered toward the youth, something he hadn’t done since perhaps “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
“All day, n***a
How long you n***as ball? All day, n***a
How much time you spent at the mall? All day, n***a
How many runners do you got on call? All day, n***a
Swish, swish, how long they keep you in court? All day, n***a
Take you to get this fly? All day, n***a
Tell your P.O. how-how long you been high? All day, n***a
You already know I’m straight from the Chi, all day, n***a
South, south, south side! All day, n***a”
“Wolves” featuring Vic Mensa came after, which had a step in the direction of the more experimental work West crafted with Yeezus, but it wasn’t well received. To take a step back at this stage and observe, you can see West isn’t one to utilize a rigorously modern sound nor a pop one. Nonetheless, those choices as singles were gutsy and interesting to say the least.
Looking at the last few singles, especially the ones released the past couple weeks, may give the true direction of what Waves will possibly sound like. “FACTS” produced by Metro Boomin and Southside is a trap record with signature 808’s and rolling hi-hats. An interesting part in the song is West taking a flow similar to Drake on “Jumpman”, which was a widely popular song by the end of 2015. A week later, West released “Real Friends,” a much more solemn approach with West becoming introspective about friendship. At the end of that track is “No More Parties in LA,” a collaboration with producer Madlib and Kendrick Lamar. When the full track for “No More Parties” debuted January 18, it quickly delighted fans as it featured the sound and lyricism that made West the most dynamic producer/rapper of the mid 2000’s. The two beat-smiths [West and Madlib] have a knack for sampling, and it would be enchanting if West could feature more of this (a.k.a. what made him famous) on Waves. Knowing West, that idea isn’t even remotely realistic though.
The songs West has offered from this new opus have been as diverse and as challenging as it is to compare to his previous works. Some are in the pocket of what he’s done and others are extremely left field. Either way, we know West will do his very best to continue to shift the boundaries and push limits. Only on February 11, 2016 will we get the final verdict of what powerful sound Waves will be.