Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rhymes & Life: Wild Wild West

This is my first column I've ever written. I talk about how Kanye West has made getting new music an event again. Originally published in:

There are countless pros and cons of the digital age of music.

One major con is the build-up waiting for music. Seeing a download link to a leaked album pop up on a blog or message board just doesn't have the same allure as going to a record store on a Tuesday to pick up an anticipated release.

Album releases just aren't big events any more.

There are a few releases every year that I hold off on downloading, and make a trip down to Finders to buy the album without hearing it first. When Kanye West releases a new album, to me at least, is a major event.

Rewind to 2004, I was an eighth grader whose musical taste revolved around primarily Eminem and his camp, but I was awed by Mr. West's soul beats and couldn't wait to buy his debut album, "The College Dropout" after seeing the "Through the Wire" music video. Months passed and Kanye's fame started rising with the success of "Slow Jamz" and the newly released "All Falls Down" single. I absolutely had to get the album.

Unfortunately the Sam Goody in my town's mall had recently closed so I had no way of buying the CD until my eighth grade class trip to Washington D.C. I don't recall all that much from the trip specifically, but I do vividly remember going to a record store in Union Station and panicking, looking everywhere for the CD which had a bear mascot with his head down surrounded by a burgundy border on the cover. Finally I found the CD; the last copy in the store, which had a crack on the cover. I had no issue with spending $18 of my food money for the disc.

Fast forward to a year and a half later, Mr. West has established himself as one of hip-hop's biggest acts, and his sophomore effort "Late Registration" was one of the most anticipated releases of 2005.  Being a sophomore in high school and being only 15 at the time, I had to have my mom drive me to the closest record store, which was in Findlay, about 30 minutes from my home town.

I remember counting down the minutes until football practice was over so my mom could drive me to get the new album, but as practice ended, a heavy thunderstorm hit my town. With the heavy wind and rain, my mom was reluctant to drive out of town, but after close-to-tears begging she finally agreed to drive. There are few feelings that could match that of me unwrapping the album, and looking through the packaging and album art, as I wait to get home to listen to the album because my mom's van didn't have a CD player.

Skip ahead almost two exact years later. By this time Kanye is not only one of the biggest rappers, but one of the biggest acts in music, and after burning out his "Can't Tell Me Nothing" mixtape and single and hearing "Stronger" on the radio every five minutes, I could not wait until September 11, 2007, to get his latest release, "Graduation." Hype was built up around the release because of the well-publicized, friendly competition between West and 50 Cent, who shared the release date.

After cross country practice, my friend drove me to the Best Buy in Findlay, where I would purchase the new album for $9 and he would successfully sneak a copy 50 Cent's "Curtis" album into his coat pocket without getting caught by one of the store's surveillance cameras.

Just over a year later, after his mom tragically passed away, Kanye was set to release his next album on Black Monday (the Monday the week of Thanksgiving). The album marked an extreme change in sound for West, as made clear by his memorable VMA performance of "Love Lockdown." While the album, for the most part is seen as his weakest in his catalogue by most (I strongly disagree), the memory of driving to Finders with my friend, who too bought a copy of the album as well as the "Across the Universe" soundtrack, was one of the most memorable moments of my freshman year.

Now let's skip ahead to present time. Kanye has seen his share of ups and downs since "808s & Heartbreak," most notably being the infamous Taylor Swift incident. Kanye spent much of the beginning of 2010 in the studio in Hawaii working on his comeback album, trying to win back a lot of the people who seemed to loathe him after the 2009 VMAs.

In June 2010, he released the lead single "Power" to moderate success; a great song, but it still had not won over a lot of the people still upset with his antics. Not letting the lukewarm reception discourage him, Kanye announced in late August that he would release a new track for free, every Friday until Christmas.

The unprecedented marketing scheme started a trend within the hip-hop world where many artists including RZA, Timbaland, Lloyd Banks and Swizz Beatz all trying to replicate the campaign but with less success.

Over the 14-week span, which inexplicably ended on November 19 (three days before his album release date), West released several gems, some that were eventually put on his latest album, some rumored to appear on his collaborative album with Jay-Z, and some tracks just thrown together that week.

Some of the most memorable moments of the G.O.O.D. Friday campaign include: Kanye spazzing over the Swizz Beatz-produced "Power (Remix)," the unlikely pairing of Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Jay-Z and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on "Monster," Jay-Z rapping over a beat produced by the legendary Pete Rock for the first time on "The Joy," J. Cole writing and recording his verse to "Looking for Trouble" on the same day the track was released and countless others.

Waking up on Saturday mornings after a rough Friday night and checking my favorite blog to listen to the new G.O.O.D. Friday track had become a bit of a ritual for me during the autumn months. The past two weeks, West hasn't released a track, and my weekends have felt a little incomplete.

Even after his latest album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" has been released to critical acclaim, and 496,000 albums sold in its first week, I still await new music from Kanye on Saturday mornings. Kanye has made music releases an event again.

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