Today was a typical Monday morning in Kanye West news: he was exalted and crucified in the same breath, for his performances at London’s Wireless Festival over the weekend. Exalted because, musically, Friday and Saturday’s performances were the explosive, mind-blowing sort for which he’s known. He had performed as the scheduled headliner Friday night, then took the stage again Saturday to fill in for Drake, who was sick. Adorably, Kanye played three Drake songs — “Trophies,” “We Made It,” and “All Me” — as a tribute. Crucifixion came via the media lamenting Friday’s “20-minute rant,” which earned some boos and the departure of some audience members despite it being little more than Kanye’s take on a motivational speech dressed up as the Sermon on the Mount.
At this point, a Kanye “rant” shouldn’t necessarily be news — he’s paused to speak during all of his shows on his Yeezus Tour. It’s frustrating because all of this chatter threatens to overshadow this weekend’s REALLY IMPORTANT KANYE NEWS: he played 20 new songs at London’s Cafe Royal Hotel — songs that were possibly, probably, related to his forthcoming album, and that a listener described as “hellish,” “dark,” and “groundshaking.” (Yes, someone invented a new word to describe this stuff.) What we should really be thinking about is this next album, which, if we trace the path of Kanye’s discography up to this point, is poised to be the screaming, “groundshaking” conclusion of his second trilogy.
Kanye’s first trilogy was easy to digest, and any casual fan or literate person can understand how the albums were grouped together. Their titles tell a story in themselves — College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation — without requiring so much as a listen to understand the trajectory of their creator’s journey. 808s and Heartbreak is a pause, a one-off Auto-Tuned catharsis where West grappled with both the death of his mother and his breakup with ex-fiancée Alexis Phifer.
With his 2010 masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and 2013’s “difficult” follow-up, Yeezus, West is deep in the muck of a new, grander trilogy — one that charts his fall from heaven and his descent towards hell. The songs on MBDTF are so massive, so elaborate, they beg to be listened to on floor-to-ceiling speakers in a marble palace with gold trim. There are choruses of angels, in the form of a superstar role-call: Elton John, Rihanna, John Legend, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Santigold, M.I.A., and Justin Vernon. These giant voices are paired with grandiose string sections to create layers upon layers of rich sound, together illuminating Kanye’s version of heaven.
Heaven doesn’t last long, though. MBDTF is also home of “Monster,” where demons come to claim Kanye as one of their own, and “Lost in the World,” where he sounds like he’s falling through the sky, faster and faster, until he hits the ground running, with tribal drums marking his footsteps and Gil Scott-Heron asking, “Who will survive in America?”
Despite Ye’s residual declarations that he’s a god, Yeezus catches up with West on Earth, writhing in more drum-backed, fast-paced anger on “Black Skinhead,” punctuated by screams — the pain of being back on solid ground, away from the harps and clouds. Along with the anger, there’s plenty of magnificent melancholy, the lynching imagery from Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” sample on “Blood on the Leaves” portraying the havoc mortals wreak upon each other out of vicious hatred. Of course, even Pandora’s Box had a sparkle of hope amidst all the evil, and this in this case, it’s the gooey declaration of love that is “Bound 2” — maybe Earth isn’t so bad after all. On the whole, though, Yeezus feels both futuristic and primitive, combining new sound and old emotions to blast a hole in the world — one so big only West himself would be able fill it.
Which brings us back to this third album in the trilogy, and West’s seventh overall. Is it a coincidence that both seven and three are numbers of Biblical significance? Likely not. He’ll either place himself comfortably in hell (remember: “hellish,” “dark,” “groundshaking,” “hard,” “crazy”), or find some sort of redemption as an earthbound demigod, happily married with his fantasy wife and baby. West told Power 105.1 that if Yeezus was his Nebraska, the next record will be his Born In The U.S.A. — so whether that analogy means pleasing to the masses or creating the most memorable album of his career is yet to be seen. Producer Evian Christ said West wants “something that sounds a bit like Otis Redding, a bit like Mobb Deep.”
More of what we know: Rick Rubin (who swooped in to help finish Yeezus ) and Q-Tip are producing the album; Kanye’s “favorite artist” James Blake may contribute, along with French Montana, Young Thug, Symbolic One, Tyga, DJ Mustard (who said “I gave him 100 beats”), Mike Will Made It, James Fauntleroy, Gee Robertson, and many others. Given West’s famous last-minute swaps, none of these collaborations are guaranteed to make the final cut.
We could speculate over the details forever, but West might change them at any minute, so why bother? The important thing is that the album’s arrival is imminent, and it could make this immortal trilogy Kanye’s magnum opus.