MT&V: Down to Earth With Kanye West
The first time I heard the name Kanye West I was building with my boy Rashawn. He had just got come from laying down a verse for his people’s from Chicago, Grav. It was a posse cut, six deep of a Chicago-NY exchange, that as far as I’m concerned goes down as one of the top ten posse cuts of all time.
The song was “Line for Line” appears on Grav’s 1996 debut album, a large portion of the album, including this cut, produced by Kanye West. It came out on the short-lived Correct Records spearheaded by LA DJ Nu-Mark, in the years before Jurassic 5. I had some folks that were working with him on that, so Rashawn wasn’t the first to hip me to Grav. But he was the first I ever heard talking about Kanye production.
I remember him talking about how the beat was crazy and it had this hook where all six of the MC’s got to put their own piece in. When I finally heard it, completely blew me away. From start to finish nothing but thorough verses (even Ye gets grimey on the second verse). You can hear the hunger, everyone styling unique. Listen to Rashawn’s verse that comes in after the first chorus. You haven’t really heard a style like that since, particularly so technically tight. Sweat who comes in after him brings a flow that is in a wholy other direction and yet compliments perfect.
In some regard I always measure Kanye produced songs up with this joint. Not that it’s his best beat ever but what he brings out of these cats on this track, not just from the beat, may be unmatched in his discography.
I can be critical of Kanye. Not so much for the tabloid stuff, I honestly could care less about that. From an outside perspective I question what he’s learned musically in the thirteen years since Grav, and how it’s being applied to the work he’s doing now. Are there things he’s doing now which he couldn’t have done, from a developmental standpoint, thirteen years ago? 808′s and Heartbreaks was to be the radical shift away from his hip-hop bread and butter to show that development, yet to my ears sounds like stuff he could have done then if he had an ear for that sound.
Case and point, after leaking a demo version of “Love Lockdown” and getting public feedback he returned to the studio to re-record vocals and purportedly add taiko drumming. When I first heard this I was actually excited to hear a Kanye song, something I hadn’t been since Late Registration. But when I finally heard it boy was I let down. I mean, when Kanye says he’s going to add Taiko drums I’m thinking he’s going to get a Taiko group in the studio to really throwdown on something. That’s not what I heard. If I give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he did bring a Taiko group in and have the engineer EQ it to sound like a Native Instrument percussion library patch. But I digress.
I shared my this with Lonesome D, who was equally disappointed at the missed opportunity for Ye, as Lonesome had himself spent three years in the Hyaku Nen Za taiko group in Sawauchi, Japan. Months later Lonesome throws up a track “Seiryu Daiko” on his MySpace. It’s him performing all of the parts of a full taiko group with his makeshift set of drums. I heard it, and immediately thought of Kanye.
So I reach out to Lonesome for the multis, start working, and reworking, bang on the kit into the wee hours, chop, edit, arrange, effects, and come up with “Lonesome Lockdown.” Decided I’d sync it with the video, and use the visual medium to point out some ‘context clues’ around all of the recent tabloid epithet fodder. Hope you enjoy. You can download it all here.