Tag Archives: Kanye West

The Best Albums of 2011

I’m naming 12 albums to my best-of list because there are 12 months in a year, and so it feels like a less arbitrary number than 10, even if it is also less round. Plus, where good music is concerned, more is always more. If you put Wilco at the top of your ballot, you forgo any chance of seeming fashionable (especially if you put them ahead of Frank Ocean and Tune-Yards), but if you’re going to engage in any activity as subjective as ranking the albums released in a given year, listing them in rough order of how much solace you’ve taken in them is the only honest rubric. If you haven’t heard any of these records, I feel qualified in saying that there is one sort of solace or another to be found in each of them.

Happy New Year, everybody.

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Jay-Z & Kanye West/Bad Meets Evil

Two rap collaborations, with three of the biggest names in the game between them. Side project or no, Eminem’s predictably potty-mouthed team-up with fellow Detroit MC Royce Da 5’9” is disappointing. Jay-Z and Kanye, meanwhile, earn their use of the imperative mood.

Jay-Z & Kanye West: Watch the Throne
Sonic ambition and improved flow aside, Kanye’s greatest contribution here was using both to inspire (or maybe scare?) his older and more business-minded mentor back up to his artistic A game. Jay-Z hasn’t sounded so nuanced or effortless on record since American Gangster, if not The Black Album. So while Kanye is a pop artist who earns the title, Jay is an MC who makes it look easy; where sheer elan is concerned—and elan is a major concern on an album like this—a scrapper like Kanye is bound to come up short by comparison. But we probably have him to thank for how well the whole thing works as a piece; album-making is his game, and good luck beating him at it. The black power songs “Murder to Excellence” and “Made in America”—and the sentiments nested throughout—are inspiring no matter your race, the Frank Ocean hooks are gold, and the floss-and-gloss tracks everyone feared would be the whole story upon hearing lead single “Otis” are more aspirational than discouraging for those of us whose net worth Jay-Z spends on an average Tuesday. At home in the stratosphere, Jay and Ye can do what they want. In this case, what they wanted was an Event album (a deeply weird and ambitious one at that), which they took great care to keep from leaking before its street date so we could all hear it for the first time together—and, yes, to encourage us to spring for the deluxe edition on iTunes. Among many other things, these two are living proof that capitalism and generosity of spirit are not mutually exclusive ideals. A-
Bad Meets Evil: Hell: The Sequel
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Eminem’s Detroit buddies just don’t bring out the best in him. While it’s true that Royce Da 5’9” has twice the talent as any member of D12, he’s also happy enough to be here that he rarely tries to shift the focus away from tired scatology and woman hate. Fans who missed Slim Shady’s mischief on last year’s Marshall Mathers-heavy Recovery might want to check this out, if only to see what none of us were missing. Em’s rhymes are as acute as ever, but lack the context and wit that separates The Slim Shady LP from D12 World. He’s also cynical enough to say lascivious if not cruel things about an assortment of pop stars, but still bring Bruno Mars in for a hook. The best moments here are those when Em remembers he’s his own best punch line. When one of the many women he douses with epithets reminds him just how much everyone hated Relapse, you want to stand up and cheer. C+
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Kanye West/Joanna Newsom

The only thing these two artists share – other than a tendency to alienate people – is my love. One had it from the start, the other snuck up and stole it. My two favorite records of 2010, reviewed in 2011 because time can’t diminish their power. Or, as Kanye puts it, “POWER.”

Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The fact that he was mean to Taylor Swift once upon a time is a big part of the context, but the fantasy itself is universal. You probably haven’t fallen in love with a porn star or woken up in Paris as many times as he has, but the dark, twisted, beautifully messy personality this album exercises (“POWER”) and exorcises (all nine glorious minutes of “Runaway”) transcends those specifics. From the opening “Can we get much higher?” to the closing “Who will survive in America?” he’s including you in the conversation. And any guy who would allow Nicki Minaj to so thoroughly take over the discourse – as she does on “Monster,” overshadowing Kanye, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z – knows how to give just as good as he gets. A
Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me
My hatred for this 29-year-old harp-playing chanteuse’s early work was so strong that I came to this album, her third, spoiling for a fight. Imagine my chagrin when she pinned me. Newsom has a habit of going all in, which in the past has meant Van Dyke Parks orchestra arrangements, cloying pastoral poetry, and a whole lot of harp. What has me going in with her on this triple album of 18 breakup songs, fully half of which are over seven minutes long, is – believe it or not – the way she reins herself in. The harp’s still there, but it’s getting a lot of help from the piano, and Newsom uses both to impart melodies a normal person could actually hum. Like obvious touchstone Joni Mitchell, she’s an acquired taste, but that high, keening voice of hers has softened, and she’s replaced the florid poetry with lived-in stuff like this: “The tap of hangers/swaying in the closet/Unburdened hooks/and empty drawers/And everywhere I tried to love you/is yours again/and only yours.” I could drink a case of that. A
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