2018 Highlights: GOOD Music
By Sean Lee
In late May, early June of this year, Kanye West, and almost the entirety of his Def Jam subsidiary G.O.O.D Music, relocated from their usual urban sprawls to the rural mountains of Wyoming, cosplaying as cowboys and taking on a massive creative endeavor. Initiated by the label’s president Pusha T’s album release Daytona, West took it upon himself to produce a seven song album a week for various label-mates in the month of June. The experiment became known as the “Wyoming Sessions” and while the five-album rollout seemed chaotic and unplanned at times the spontaneity and the burst of productiveness was what kept it interesting.
The five albums varied in reception with some being up there with the very best releases of this year and others being sleepy throwaways for artists who have done better. CALMTENThas ranked these “Wyoming Session” releases as a guide into readers who might not have been attentive to this release cycle in 2018.
5) Nas - Nasir
The Brooklyn rapper’s first album since 2012’s Life is Good, Nasir was long awaited by listeners who expected the rapper’s usual lyrical dexterity and tight packaging. With an album cover of weapon bearing children seemingly surrendering to the law enforcement, the album seemed to hint at the scathing social satire that Nas is known for, but his commentary on Nasir seemed superficial at its best and contrived at its worst. Musically, West brought back the Pete Rock-esque soul sampling that showcased Nas best on his debut album. But whereas Nas seemed to be in sync with Pete Rock on Illmatic, he sounds largely out of place over Nasir, often struggling with West’s changeups and beat breaks. Overall, the album with the exemption of maybe two songs, is a disappointing effort by a veteran rapper whom we hoped would bring back some substance to the mainstream by teaming up with Kanye West.
Standout Tracks: Adam and Eve, Cops Shot the Kid
Skip: The rest of the album
4) Kanye West - Ye
Within a month, Kanye revealed his alt-right support under the weak façade of artistic free speech. Ye could’ve been the perfect platform to further explain his thoughts on his own independence. Instead the rapper merely did what he always does, choosing braggadocio and inconsistency under the guise of self-esteem and spontaneity. West’s mantra has always been that he is on a higher level of consciousness than his listener, and while this mindset has often been what makes him such an attention grabbing artist, the shtick is getting old. On Ye, West scrapped a whole album’s worth of material and started over eight days prior to his album’s scheduled release. The last minute effort shows with verses sounding half written and production seeming incomplete.The album’s only redeeming factor is that this is Kanye fucking West and his seemingly random ramblings are somewhat captivating.
Album opener “I Thought About Killing You” turns out to be the most transparent glimpse into his mental consciousness that the rapper has ever given. Furthermore, there are hopeful glimpses that West hasn’t lost his musical stride with songs like “Ghost Town” and “No Mistakes,” sticking true to his signature re-purposing of obscure samples with an ear for new talent -- this time in the form of 21 year old New Jersey singer, 070 Shake. The album as a whole is disappointing simply because it promises so much potential with its highlights but fails to address any of the controversy that lead up to Ye’s release.
Standout Tracks: Ghost Town, No Mistakes, Yikes
Skip: Violent Crimes, Wouldn’t Leave
3) Teyana Taylor- KTSE
The last release in the 5 album cycle, Teyana Taylor’s album somehow was both widely anticipated and sadly overlooked. KTSE is the R&B singer’s 2nd studio album since her 2014 VII and it is her first to be executive produced by her sponsor Kanye West. The result is an infectious collection of futuristic R&B that is one of the most innovative albums G.O.O.D Music has put out to date. Songs like the two part “Issues/Hold On” infuses lasers into an otherwise typical soul song with Taylor sounding like an Amy Winehouse in outer space as she sings about the necessity of staying positive when faced with the true reality of a sticky relationship. “Hurry” somehow morphs a static syncopated click track into a soulful sludge with Taylor mimicking the mechanical metronome with lyrical repetition and vocal restraint.
While the album plays as the singer’s best performance to date, the roll out for the album with its lack of marketing, promotion, and even artistic consignment,sans a half-assed Kanye West verse, ultimately shot the album in the foot before it even left the stable. Moments of the album do sound rushed, particularly the song “Rose in Harlem” with the sample stealing much of the spotlight from what could’ve been the album’s best track. KTSE has unmet potential from an artist who seems to outshine her label which isn’t giving her the time of day she deserves.
Standout Tracks: Issues/ Hold On, Gonna Love Me
Skip: 3way, Never Would Have Made It
2) Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
The Kanye West Kid Cudi collaboration that had been teased since the duo worked together on West’s 2008 album 808s and Heartbreaks, Kids See Ghosts is a refreshing listen with an unwavering production style and a rap duo that seems to bring out the best in each other. Mental illness became the ultimate topic of conversation when it came to West’s recent political controversy, but whereas on Ye, Kanye’s bipolar disorder sounded like an excuse for his erratic outbursts, on Kids See Ghosts West honestly reveals the daily struggles of having to deal with the disorder as an artist. Perhaps this is why his partnership with Kid Cudi, an artist who has been unapologetic about his own mental incapacitates, is so symbiotic -- their friendship allows them to be truly honest with each other.
Besides Daytona, this is the only project that has lived up to expectations with both Cudi and West bringing some of their best performances to date. Rapping over obscure psych rock, jazz, and even Christmas music (Louis Prima’s 1936 holiday hit “What Will Santa Claus Say”), the album is a slurry of creative innovations. Cudi brings his classic hum but with a newfound sense of joyfulness that seemed lacking in his recent work. West raps transparently and succinctly, even having one of his most honest lines to date: “What an awesome thing, engulfed in shame/ I want all the pain/ I want all the smoke/ I want all the blame,” on standout track “Reborn.” Kids See Ghosts is a standout effort from two artists who have just started being honest with each other but more importantly themselves and their seven song exploration of their own weaknesses makes for one of the best listens of this year.
Standout Tracks: Reborn, Free (Ghost Town pt 2), 4th Dimension
Skip: Fire, Feel the Love (feat Pusha T)
1) Pusha T - Daytona
Precision was the name of the game with Pusha’s latest release. Barely a full length album, nothing captured the seven-song ethos better than the album that started it all: Daytona. With sinister sounding production, over the top lyrical allusions, and an avoidance of radio approval, Pusha T crafted his best album to date. Created over a session in Wyoming where the rapper and producer Kanye West (who after hearing the initial draft of what would be Daytona decided to helm all production himself) painstakingly dug through thousands of records for the 7 samples that would become the album, there was something inherently new about this album even within its familiarity. Pusha still raps about his usual tropes dealing drugs, calling out industry frauds and boasting himself as the best rapper alive. Obscure sampling and raw production isn’t anything new to Kanye’s discography neither. However, perhaps it’s the tightness of their partnership -- two artists who are arguably the best at what they do -- that lead to one of the best albums of this year period. Read CALMTENT’s full review of Daytona here.
Standout Tracks: If You Know You Know, What Would Meek Do, Comeback Baby
This album is by Sean Lee. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leee.