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July 15, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Rap Battle: Yeezus vs Magna Carta… Holy Grail

I often wonder if babies Blue and North will one day be sitting in their million-dollar Barbie mansions comparing the music that their fathers were making in 2013. If so, North definitely gets bragging rights.

One of the things that ceaselessly impresses me about Kanye West is his intense focus on pushing hip-hop into new musical schemas of sound. Yeezus is certainly no different. Much like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the rapper’s latest work seems to challenge his peers to up their game and shake themselves loose from the repetitive drum and bass lines that have plagued hip-hop for two decades now. Unfortunately, it seems that Jay-Z is yet to hear Yeezy’s call to arms.

While Magna Carta… Holy Grail does feature some fierce bass lines and outstanding (albeit predictable) performances from the vocalists who have managed to keep his commercial sound afloat over the past ten years (Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean), it is still unclear as to what Jay-Z has learnt about both music production and himself during the process of recording this album. For instance, ‘Picasso Baby’ presents an opportunity for him to analyse his role in the art world, or even to show an appreciation for the beauty of art and/or music. Yet the only thing that Jay seems to find valuable about paintings by Picasso is the price tag and the status that comes with it. As if he wasn’t already rich and famous enough.

So what has Yeezy Baby gained from the various life experiences he has attained over the past three years? Well, evidently not much more than Jay. His biggest concern seems to be getting “spunk on the mink” after he has fucked you “hard on the sink” (good grief I hope my mother doesn’t read this). Yet when one listens to the many samples that he so cheekily crafts to suit his musical needs, the more nuanced meanings of his music become apparent. A prime example is ‘Blood on the Leaves’. I was initially outraged to hear that West had the hubris to use such a deeply emotive song (‘Strange Fruit’, originally by Billie Holiday, but Kanye uses Nina Simone’s version) in such a blasé way. Yet a more cautious listening reveals his intent to compare the ensnaring of men by pregnant women with the restrictions that blacks suffered in America pre-Civil Rights era. Woah. Deep. Kind of.

But what about ‘the music itself ’? Essentially, Kanye’s new music was formed in a cosmic vacuum where only Death Grips and his previous album 808s and Heartbreaks exist. He clearly worked hard to create a sound that is gritty and challenging to the average pop/hip-hop listener, utilising distorted synthesizers, human screams, and almost consistently placing his songs in minor keys, producing an almost otherworldly effect. Arguably, this style was somewhat inherently necessary to his development as a musician. He has worked with samples from just about every genre to have been caught in the limelight of pop music, while 808s elicited an electronic vibe, and Fantasy explored the emotive power of live instruments such as piano and cello. So what better way for West and his producers to push their own self-prescribed boundaries than to – in my rather wimpish opinion – attempt to scare their audience?

And then there is ‘Bound 2′, the last track featured on Yeezus. The jagged and interrupted rhythms of the soulful samples are almost completely juxtaposed against Kanye’s rapping, which bubbles along ostensibly oblivious to the backing track. While it trades the aggressiveness of the rest of the album for melodicism, the disjointed rhythms continue to raise questions as to whether it is actually pleasant music to listen to or not.

Meanwhile, Jay’s music hardly deserves the adjective ‘new’.

Yeezus – 4/5

Magna Carta… Holy Grail – 2/5

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  1. klane says:

    “his intent to compare the ensnaring of men by pregnant women with the restrictions that blacks suffered in America pre-Civil Rights era”.

    I liked yr review but I didn’t feel like that was his point, or at least I feel like this overly simplifies it. I don’t know if he even had a concrete meaning in using the sample on the song, but Strange Fruit=fruit of the loins, or “black bodies swaying in the summer breeze” might suggest abandoned children. Black people today are the strange fruit from the tree of racist America? Absentee fathers are the fruit of that past? Flamboyant displays of wealth (see what he’s saying in New Slaves) are the fruit of that past?

  2. klane says:

    never mind there’s like a hundred better interpretations on rap genius.

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