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Kanye West: channel surfer, Bon Iver fan, social critic, genius

December 9th, 2010

If you’re stuck in the frame of mind that Kanye West is a loud-mouthed idiot who isn’t worth the time of day “I’ma let you finish” your rant, but he just released one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. 

He’s no fun at an awards show but he’s amazing in a recording studio.

If I had to guess what Kanye has been doing for the two years since his last album came out I would say that he’s been glued to a TV. 

Every track is loaded with references to pop culture and current events in a way that indicates non-stop channel surfing. West doesn’t simply drop the nods in at random, but works them into his overarching themes and statements, which makes them powerful devices instead of pointless shout outs. “Gorgeous” focuses on the issue of race relations and (in)equality as Kanye sees it. 

Worked into a verse about the justice system is the line “Got caught with 30 rocks/The cop look like Alec Baldwin.” Later in the same song, out of nowhere, comes “Ready for the world’s game this is my Olympics/Choke a South Park writer with a fish stick.” West knows you get why that’s funny because he’s aware that the average person’s world view extends only to what’s going on during prime-time TV. 

The album is full of references and allusions that seem out of place until you consider the twisted humor of putting a “30 Rock” joke in the middle of a song about ignoring the lower class.

West comments on race, politics, and society, just to name a few, but the songs that are by far the most powerful are those in which he deals with relationships. 

On “Blame Game” we get a fight from the man’s perspective in a failed romance. 

For all his glitz and glamor elsewhere, West is shockingly genuine here. 

His frank thoughts, “You weren’t perfect, but you made life worth it/ Stick around, real feelings might surface,” sound as if they’re coming right from the mind of a frustrated lover and the song is gorgeous because of it. 

The chorus “Let’s play the blame game, I love you, more/ Let’s play the blame game, for sure/ Let’s call her names, names, I hate you, more/ Let’s call her names, names, for sure,” is delivered via a John Legend cameo and sets the stage perfectly for an argument in which both parties are at fault. 

The song devolves into a conversation between a couple dominated by the man, where guest Chris Rock talks about the woman in the most vulgar and sexist way imaginable. It is a total shock and offsets the honest and true relationship mentioned earlier in the song beautifully.

To close the best album he’s ever made, Kanye turns to two generations of music for help. 

“Lost in the World” begins with a 55 second sample of indie darling Bon Iver’s “Woods” in which Kanye slowly eases his own voice in, even singing along for a few lines, before blowing the song up into a dance-fueled anthem about how pointless dance-fueled anthems are. 

To punctuate his point West fades himself out and introduces a sample of legendary poet/performer Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1” that decries misguided American culture.

This album is an astonishing example of an artist who thinks about all aspects of his work at the highest level possible and is always one step ahead of where you think he’s heading next. Kanye West might be dumb, but he’s definitely not stupid.