Ladies and Gentlemen, I‘m here to tell you about a new disease. No not that one. This particular malady derives from a certain Kanye Omari West. This is purely as a public figure and conversation topic, I don’t know him personally as a human being. Doctors said he was the illest, however it is now we who are suffering from realness. He has elicited an increasingly predictable reaction over the past three to four years. I notice it in others as well, though symptoms vary. For a visual depiction of this feeling, please refer to Figure 1.
I call victims of this disease The Knowledge Dropouts. I suspect even you, dear reader, have suffered some variant of this condition. Headshaking turns to facepalming, followed by bewilderment, intermittent bouts of sadness and finally, apathy. Severity scales with how big a fan you were before, oh, about 2016. The “haven’t listened past Late Registration” purists and “does this karaoke bar have Gold Digger” N-word enthusiasts will only experience mild symptoms.
The kids who grew up idolizing his music (MBDTF stans, for the most part)(and by ‘MBDTF stans’ I mean me) are in for a rough time. Kanye got me through college for goodness’ sake. The whole team was here but now we are at the bottom, and when it comes to Ye we cannot just lift ourselves up on our feet.
The news isn’t all bad, however. This condition is terminal, but not fatal. There is no cure, but there is a treatment.
Kanye 2049 is that treatment. It washes away the dust. It is a sweet, soothing balm on the wound (more of a rash) that self-identifying Kanye fans endure. Let’s get into it.
www.kanye2049.com leads you to a retro-iMac themed visual project focused on climate change, but you won’t miss out on anything by sticking to the YouTube links. In any case, we’re elevator-pitched some sci-fi before the music starts. It’s the Blade Runner 2 year, climate change is ruining everything, Ryan Gosling is nowhere in sight, buuuuut the US President has just received some music! From an alternate dimension! All is saved :D
We’re gently eased into Intro’s music with a roundhouse smack of Kanye eras. Old Bernie Mac impressions rub elbows with his 2007 remix of a 2001 Daft Punk song, underneath a 2018 verse, transferring directly into the 2016 FML music underneath the 2008 Love Lockdown vocals.
I’m not going to list every sample like that, there are way too many. Just appreciate how many eras are neatly sliced together into one song. It’s a Kanye Casserole.
I am a huge, huge fan of the album that accompanied the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed show, Love, and Kanye 2049 feels like a spiritual successor. George Martin was the guy who made so many Beatles tunes the timeless classics they are, and he got to dig through countless stems to create a mashup album par excellence. Love is not only a celebration of a successful band Mr. Martin no doubt enjoyed working with, it is a crash course through a sizable chunk of his life’s work. He might have enjoyed a unique level of access to and permission with the source material, but the tools he used to bring those musical puzzle pieces together have been thoroughly democratized. Any idiot with a laptop can upload noise these days, and a cottage industry of musical mashups has sprouted.
Internet mashups speak their own language. Many invite you to laugh at incongruity, ‘LOL these two things don’t go together!’ meme fodder. Some are an entertaining update of old material, rap being especially prime stuff. There are jokes you could call ‘evergreen’ or maybe ‘less of a joke and more of a reincarnating horse beaten past the last inch of its ninth life’, but in any case, mashups are here to stay, and it’s often a landscape without much emotional investment. I don’t feel anything when I hear All Star compiled from clips of Obama talking.
Kanye 2049 combines these two styles of mashup. The person known as ‘toasty digital’ loves Kanye’s music, with all the sweet and sour that entails. They dive into Kanye’s back catalogue with reverence, but also with big ‘Igor in a cemetery’ energy. But this time it’s like if Frankenstein’s monster was actually super cool, and more attractive than the people he was made from, and everyone liked him and invited him to parties. Where’s that book? I’d read that book.
Power follows next. I like how these songs are named. The iconic chants quickly give way to a very cathartic treatment of Law of Attraction, an unreleased song from the abandoned album Yandhi. That kind of crate-digging is what I’m here for. The song titles never give away what you’re going to hear. And how could they? We’re all over the place. We get some Frank Ocean sprinkled in there. Maybe this is a nod to how Kanye’s career got lost in the whirlwind of the musicians he’s inspired. Maybe it just sounds awesome.
Now obviously, one gold hit + another amazing song = a good mashup. Duh. Where Toasty Digital really shines is in their ability to redeem the crummier chapters in Ye’s discog. Hold My Liquor is not a good song. Yeah I said it. But mixed on top of Touch The Sky, with various other bits and pieces? His upper class tantrum turns into cheeky charisma. Lines like slightly scratched your Corolla / okay, I smashed your Corolla are just plain morbid when they’re in a dark, plodding song that’s all about getting really messed up. Under new (older) music, the line reads like he’s tossing you the keys with a grin.
Reversing this trick works just as well. I always liked the Diamonds from Sierra Leone remix more than the original. Jay always seems to help Ye focus, and their verses are more thought-out than the stream-of-consciousness lyrics from the original. 2005 Kanye’s puns about overweight women and misspelled names are much more at home over 2019’s Lift Yourself, which fit the playfulness and ADD energy far better than Diamonds Are Forever (a song which, speaking of bad fits, is so much better than the Bond film it was written for). The only rough point in this whole album comes with the alarm noise from Send It Up, which is just awful no matter what the context. Polishing a turd and whatnot, in my opinion.
Everything after that is pure gold. The vocals of Jesus Walks on top of the 30 Hours beat is next-level groovy. It’s so good it makes me forget Kanye’s new comments about coming to Jesus.
Subjectively, his comments about Christianity seem to throw a lot of old lyrics in the trash. I’m sorry, Kanye claims he was in league with the devil during the time he wrote Jesus Walks? and God called him away from that to rap about Chick-Fil-A??? This and his pandering to top-dollar, evangelical, socially conservative (read: pro-life), megachurch Christianity (cards on the table, I may have my own emotional baggage here) lined up rather neatly with his recent massive financial gains and his run for office. 15 years later, his stance on religion seems to have lost a large helping of sincerity, and gained a sizable ranch in Wyoming.
Objectively, watching Kanye shoot the breeze about faith and fame for 20 minutes must have been excruciating for Joel Osteen, and just this once, my heart goes out to him. Hang in there bud.
The whole vibe of this project is contained in Wolves, Part 2, quoting I Love Kanye. Bouncy music underscores the smile Ye brings to acknowledging / poking fun at people who fixate on some old/new Kanye distinction. As much as fans like me might crave a taste of the old in new music (and get trolled in the process), or scour old songs for traces of the new persona — all that combative energy, feeling like he’s sold his best material short or even like he’s abandoned his principles altogether…. for the runtime of this album, the questions and tensions fizzle out and we can just enjoy it.
Extremes from all spectrums are blended together in a way that balances everything out. Was Can’t Tell Me Nothin’ a pre-Yeezus rant, self criticism, or a just the cue for Zach Galifianakis to do his thing? Well, when it’s paired with soaring chipmunk guitars and the instruments from Gorgeous, the answer is All of the Above.
That sentiment applies to the rest of this playlist, so I don’t think I’ll go track by track through everything. The titles don’t spoil every flipped sample, so neither will I. Bouncing back and forth over the years, new to old, Kanye’s rise and fall (and rise and fall, and rise and fall, and…) all wrapped into an exciting, emotional package, I feel like I’m mainlining Kanye’s gestalt. And the final result is greater than the sum of its parts.
This could be the soundtrack to a Kanye-themed Cirque du Soleil show. (With the actors dressed up in George Condo art? 200 a pop? I’m in.) Influencees like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Tyler the Creator step in and bow out quickly. You feel his influence. In smushing his life’s work together, the tabloid fodder fades away, and we’re left with puns and wordplay and emotion, a drive to succeed and the urge to bare his own flaws in that pursuit. He’s crashing cars and walking away with a smile and an idea for a new song. You feel his humor. You feel his talent, in a way his newer releases miss in favor of social spectacle. You listen and you feel good. This thing has soundtracked the last month of my life or so. It makes me like Kanye more. It makes me like Kanye the way I used to like Kanye, and man, that is so Kanye.
I think the pinned comment on YouTube says it better than I could.
It’s a very satisfying full circle indeed.