One of the underrated aspects of Kanye West’s career at this point is the actual music. (IMMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT KANYE WEST’S BS IS THE BEST BS OF ALL TIME! OF ALL TIME!). I’m sorry, I didn’t get enough of those jokes in at the time, so I couldn’t quite resist this time around. Anyway, it’s not his lyrics that are underrated, it’s the actual production, and the specific way it anticipated later developments.
Take his first album, The College Dropout:
The influence was somewhat limited there to other hip-hop artists. The lush orchestration of Late Registration also mostly influenced a guy like Lupe Fiasco, and that’s it. It was with Graduation (and that possibly faked feud with 50 Cent) where he really started influencing pop music generally:
What this video shows (as well as the music itself) is Kanye’s biggest talent, which is repurposing and simplifying (in an elegant way) other musical tradition. In this case, it’s Daft Punk and their pet obsessions, i.e. robots, Japan and odd hints of Nietzsche. Now you can hear that europop sound practically every time you turn on the radio (see: Lady Gaga, who is a white Kanye West, combined with some Madonna.). His most recent album, 808s and Heartbreak, was…interesting in its relationship to pop music. Kanye made an album that should have been a bomb: it was strange and unconventional. Like this song:
I love the spare synths and the warm taiko drums together: they shouldn’t work together, but they do so well (the buddy film of music?) Maybe the only element of 808s to catch on broadly was AutoTune, and you hear a lot less of that nowadays. Well, you hear less of it obviously as AutoTune; obviously they’re covertly deploying it.
Then of course came West’s myriad controversies, and it seems that West has hit a dry period. That’s all right, but it’s worth asking how West will reinvent his music for another album.