If you’re a fan of hip-hop, streetwear or pop culture in general, you probably have an opinion of Kanye West. And given his penchant for drawing controversy, there’s a good chance that opinion might be completely unrelated to his music. From his statements regarding George W. Bush in 2005 to his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech in 2009, Yeezy has never needed to drop an album to make a headline. But the headlines he made earlier this year made some fans wish he would just stick to albums.
When Kanye broke a nearly year-long silence in April 2018 by going on Twitter rants about Trump and dropping a gibberish joke track, I clung to the hope that the album that was surely imminent would be good enough to justify the wild ride on which he was taking his fans. And I’m happy to say that Ye didn’t just come through with a fantastic album - he came through with five.
From May 25 to June 23, Kanye’s label G.O.O.D. Music dropped one album every week, each exclusively containing beats produced by Mr. West himself from his studio in Wyoming. While these albums are short, most being just over 20 minutes each, their consistent quality and lack of filler more than make up for their length.
Week One: Pusha T - Daytona
The series of albums began with Daytona, a long-awaited release from Virginia rapper and G.O.O.D. Music president Pusha T. Although he primarily sticks to his preferred subject matter (drug dealing), each track feels distinct while still flowing together to form a cohesive whole. Throughout the album, Pusha exudes confidence as he flexes his lyrical muscles. Pair that with seven fantastic Kanye West beats, and you have an incredibly solid rap album that kicked off G.O.O.D. Music’s summer with a bang. Standout tracks include “If You Know You Know” and “The Games We Play.”
Week Two: Kanye West - Ye
The second album to release was Kanye’s own solo project, Ye. This album is not subtle about its theme of mental health, with the cover stating, “I hate being Bi-Polar, its awesome.” Techniques, such as using pitch modulation to depict the many facets of Kanye’s bipolar disorder, enhance the message of the album.
Sonically, this album is generally stripped-down, primarily employing softer beats with fewer instrumental layers. However, standout track “Ghost Town” features a more grandiose beat, with Kanye singing about the future and 070 Shake passionately belting an outro about self-harm and freedom from pain. This track also features a bridge sung by Kid Cudi, which brings us to…
Week Three: Kanye West and Kid Cudi - Kids See Ghosts
Although Kanye West and Kid Cudi have collaborated many times in the past, with Cudi featuring on every Kanye album since 808s and Heartbreak, their relationship in recent years has been troubled. Twitter feuds and an angry rant directed at Cudi during Kanye’s Saint Pablo Tour left fans worried that the collaborative future of these two artists was in jeopardy. The release of Kids See Ghosts put those fears to rest. The duo’s first album fuses Kanye’s stellar hip-hop production with Cudi’s rock influence to create an album that is equal parts hip-hop and psychedelic rock. Kanye draws from an eclectic pool of samples, including a 1936 Christmas song by Louis Prima on “4th Dimension” and a posthumously released Kurt Cobain recording on “Cudi Montage.”
Vocally, both artists are in top form, with Cudi’s trademark humming fitting perfectly over each beat, and Kanye delivering some fantastic bars. Kanye also opts to eschew rapping in favor of a string of gunshot-like ad-libs on the album’s opener, “Feel the Love.” While this means the project is far from a traditional rap album, it is overwhelmingly successful. Standout tracks include “Reborn” and “Cudi Montage.”
Week Four: Nas - Nasir
G.O.O.D. Music’s fourth offering of the summer was another seven-track album by rap legend Nas. Although this release was eagerly anticipated after waiting almost six years since his last album, Nasir is the weakest of the five albums produced in Wyoming. The quality of Kanye’s production matches his work on previous albums, and the beats on Nasir do not disappoint. However, Nas’s vocals leave something to be desired, and he does not approach the peaks he hit early in his career (although to be fair, he set the bar extremely high in 1994 with Illmatic). That said, this is by no means a bad album – in fact, it’s quite solid. Thematically, this is the most politically charged of the five albums, with tracks such as “Cops Shot the Kid” and “everything” delivering very pointed messages about race. And while Nas may not be in top form, he’s still Nas – his worst effort far exceeds many rappers’ best. Standout tracks include “Bonjour” and “Adam and Eve.”
Week Five: Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
The final installment of G.O.O.D. Music’s series of albums is also the lowest-profile release. Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.(short for “Keep That Same Energy”) is a smooth, sexual R&B album that features a completely different production style from the previous albums. The beats are softer and more low-key, and Taylor’s silky vocals flow like butter over each instrumental. While this album does not hit any jaw-dropping highs, it is a consistent release overall and a solid send-off to Kanye’s ambitious string of releases. Standout tracks include “Gonna Love Me” and “Rose in Harlem.”
Over the course of five weeks, Kanye West fans were treated to some of the best hip-hop albums of the year. While these albums were short, none of them feel like incomplete works. As someone who had been starving for new Kanye West music for almost two years, this event made every Friday feel like Christmas for over a month. And given the controversy Kanye had been drumming up mere weeks beforehand, I was relieved to think something I hadn’t thought in a while: “It’s a good time to be a Kanye fan.”