So Kanye is really running for president this time, huh?
Pretend for a second that he hasn’t already missed most of the primary deadlines (Late Registration joke etc.), let’s pretend that this isn’t almost certainly a joke, or the latest in a decade-long string of bizarre, unpredictable behaviour. Let’s take him at his word for today: presumably still a Trump supporter, Kanye West now opposes him in the presidential election. With each passing week, 2020 gives us better and better metaphors for itself. We’re spoiled out here, you know.
This got me thinking about Kanye again, because I think about Kanye a lot: he’s an enduringly fascinating, increasingly unhinged public figure with an unimpeachable backlog of music, obvious talent and absolutely zero ability to censor himself. Does this mean he’ll make a good president? Absolutely fucking not. We’ve seen what a celebrity president does – but I’m Canadian, I can’t vote in American elections. I make little playlists on the internet.
So thinking about Kanye West got me thinking about 2018, when he invaded the Jackson Hole to slam together five albums in a matter of days on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Or, to put it differently, the time one of the most wealthy men in entertainment invaded the nadir of the American wealth gap with a bunch of his friends to make a cycle of albums so fragmented and so bizarre that, at the time, we really had no idea what to do with them. These came to be known as the Wyoming sessions, and I’ve been thinking about them on and off ever since.
To be clear, these five albums are a mess. Nas’s album NASIR might be the worst of the bunch, packed with pseudo-facts and flat, uncomfortable flashes of ‘comedy’, it often has no idea what it wants to say. Twenty-six minutes later, he never makes up its mind. Yes NASIR has “Cops Shot the Kid”, which is powerful, but there’s also a track where Nas goes off about the horrors of vaccination, and no amount of Kanye production and Tony Williams features can save that. Fan-favourite Kids See Ghosts has the songwriting chops but at 23 minutes is over before it begins, snapped off before it can shine. Kanye West finalized Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.mid-flight to its own damn listening party – and while the album is interesting, Taylor was explicit about her frustrations with an allegedly incomplete album. Kanye’s own ye is bizarre in every way, and defies easy description – a combination blog entry and rap album with sincere flashes of brilliance but a total lack of consistency and some genuinely troubling messaging.
Pusha-T’s Daytona is… unimpeachably excellent. At 21 minutes it’s a demonstration of what these mini-albums can be when everything falls into place. There had to be an exception to prove the rule, right?
At roughly 20 minutes apiece, the entire Wyoming sessions come to around a hundred minutes. From the moment of their release, there were whispers that these were always intended to be one long record. This is despite clear evidence that they were never intended to be anything at all, the rap equivalent of a series of extremely high-budget jam sessions at the whim of an erratic, bottomlessly wealthy eccentric. The total lack of cohesion is apparent from the opening of Ye to the finale of K.T.S.E.: these are a series of vanity projects, produced at maximum speed in the middle of nowhere. Specifically, the poorest middle-of-nowhere in America. The irony didn’t escape anyone except Kanye himself.
But it got me thinking.
While the albums themselves are all over the place, there are points of cohesion between them. Ye and Kids See Ghosts slot easily into one another, Daytona features 070 Shake (who is incredible on “Ghost Town”), Nasir has an ease to it that resembles early Kanye, K.T.S.E. and Daytona are natural opposites, but with complementary production styles. There are scattered points of brilliance in each of these albums. Taken together, the Wyoming sessions are an enduringly fascinating, deeply flawed series of releases. There’s something larger in there, and I think we can excavate it out. So why not mix them all together and see what happens?
So that’s what I did. I think it’s really interesting.
Complicated Feelings about Kanye Disclaimer:
When I was discussing the idea behind this little project, a friend of mine reminded me of something important: Kanye’s character isn’t something the listener can edit out. There’s no changing this guy, no charitable interpretation of what he does that doesn’t make him look like a tool, no way of looking at the absolutely ridiculous bullshit he says about Trump and slavery and his own family that doesn’t scan as offensive. Kanye is Kanye. I say this as a fan: he needs an editor, desperately.
As a listener and a curator, I can’t edit out the offensive bullshit he says because that’s core to who he is. So it’s right up front in “No Mistakes” and “Yikes”, and then again later in “Violent Crimes”, among others. Kanye (and Nas) say some absolute hot garbage over the course of this playlist.
Please don’t this as an endorsement of his trash opinions on politics (“Yikes”), women (“Violent Crimes”), his wife (“Wouldn’t Leave”) or the many other topics that maybe he shouldn’t be commenting on. It’s dishonest to ignore that stuff because it’s central to his music and to the Wyoming Sessions, but I don’t love including it either. Watching Kanye closely is disagreeing with Kanye constantly: prepare to do so. And maybe google anything Nas has to say about vaccines. Have fun!
And please, vote for a candidate that’s qualified for the job this time.