What will SWISH actually sound like?
It’s coming. Or should I say we know when it’s coming, because it feels like it’s been coming forever. With the release of Real Friends earlier this month, Kanye finally told us when SWISH would be arriving; February 11th 2016. It was apparently dropping every other week in 2015 and rumours abounded even in late 2014, with various people from Seth Rogen to Pusha-T apparently hearing the album at one point or another. Kanye hasn’t released much music since Yeezus, especially by his prolific standards, but somehow the morsels he’s thrown off the table have us more confused about SWISH than if he’d released three mixtapes. No two songs have been that similar and some sound so different it seems impossible they’re from the same artist. This isn’t too unusual however, as Kanye has more well defined ‘era’s’ in his music than anyone except for Bowie. You can speak of College Dropout Kanye as a completely different person to 808s or Yeezus Kanye. This unpredictably pretty much makes a discussion of what SWISH will actually sound like completely academic, but I’ve got no Wi-Fi in my new flat and a free evening, so I’m going to go through everything Kanye has released since Yeezus and try to piece together the sonic tapestry of SWISH.
Who’s ready for some #content?
God Level Most people seem to go from Only One, released on New Year’s Day 2015, but we first got a glimpse of post Yeezus Kanye during the 2014 World Cup. Kanye’s marked his new partnership with the brand to provide the music for their World Cup advert, and it’s very much in the Yeezus vein. Produced by Hudson Mohawk, it takes the industrial drums of Yeezus and cranks them into overdrive, with Kanye rapping starkly; “You see sharks in the water, you don’t see murder like this this often”. Will it be on SWISH? No. Maybe at one point it was going to be on an album, perhaps one that has since been scrapped – Kanye apparently rapped his entire album to Seth Rogen in December 2014 and it was reported in September 2014 that the album was pretty much done – but I think this will stay as an Adidas promo now. There is a longer, if very raw, version on Soundcloud, but everything since has suggested that God Level was a one off and SWISH won’t be as dark as Yeezus.
Only One Recorded in September 2014 – potentially with nine other McCartney x West songs – Only One is one of Kanye’s most vulnerable and emotional songs. Over McCartney’s gentle keys Kanye sings about North from the perspective of his mother, who he believes was singing to and through him. It’s beautiful and when I was hungover and delicate on New Year’s Day I listened to it like twenty times. Will it be on SWISH? No. Maybe something from the McCartney sessions will be on SWISH, but I doubt Only One will be. It’s so different to anything Kanye has done that it’ll be difficult to imagine where it would fit, and given the content it seems to be a one off tribute to Donda and song for North, and that’s beautiful in itself.
All Day The best thing that ever happened to The BRIT’s was Kanye trying to burn it down and almost making Sam Smith wet his adult nappy. That beat, the performance, the flamethrowers; All Day just fucking bangs. It’s got the industrial base and darkness of Yeezus with a clear Chicago trap vibe and sees Kanye rapping hard again, and rapping golden lines like “Like the light skin slave boy, we in the mother fucking house”, which was just perfect for the BRIT’s. Will it be on SWISH? Yes… The ellipsis is because it apparently will be on SWISH, at the time called So Help Me God, but nothing Kanye has released since sounds like All Day. Although if Kanye can make something as diverse as MBDTF flow naturally then I’m sure he’ll have no trouble fitting it in.
Wolves Wolves – mate, Wolves. It was first heard at Kanye’s February 2015 Adidas launch, but then the SNL performance with Vic Mensa and Sia gave it next level hype. If we don’t get a full version on the album then it won’t be the perfect album. It sounds like 808s mixed with the expansiveness of MBDTF and a little of the harshness of Yeezus. Fucking Wolves mate! What’s kind of interesting too is Vic Mensa sings about Icarus, which he later rapped about on Codeine Crazy (Icarus Story). Don’t know what it means, but it’s kind of cool. Will it be on SWISH? Yes. It’s supposedly the first track, and I will be so very sad if it isn’t.
Say You Will and When I See It Okay, so these aren’t new new songs, but I think they are important. In September 2015 Kanye performed 808s & Heartbreak in full and then in October released a new version of Say You Will and When I See It, which samples The Weeknd’s Kanye produced Tell Your Friends, to his Soundcloud. Both tracks draw heavily on the 808s sound but add the greater orchestration of later Kanye. Will they be on SWISH? No and probably not. Say You Will definitely won’t be and I’d be very surprised if When I See It is, but they’re important in showing where Kanye is at right now. He played 808s in its entirety and spent time on 808s songs, which will probably influence SWISH’s sound, even if these individual tracks don’t make it on.
FACTS Dropped on New Year’s Day 2016 (a new Kanye tradition?), FACTS was derided as Kanye jumping on a Drake flow and referencing Jumpman because he feels threatened. The first time I listened to it I was a little disappointed, although I keep going back to it and singing “couches, couches, couches, couches” all the time. Will it be on SWISH? No. It’s a throwaway freestyle, recorded a day or two before it was released. It’s silly and it’s meant to be. Kanye’s always been funny – croissants anyone? – but his humour often gets lost amongst the ego and grandiose albums. Young Kanye was known for his jokes and ridiculous references, and again, whilst this song isn’t going to be on SWISH, what it tells us about where Kanye is right now is interesting. I really hope he uses that sample on something though.
Real Friends Now we’re getting to the crux of it all. Real Friends was released on the 8th of January as part of Kanye’s second G.O.O.D Friday’s series, and was heralded by people who don’t really like music as a return to ‘classic Kanye’. It is true that this has a bit of an old school Kanye flow and feel, but it also has a clear 808s vibe, especially in the Travis Scott verses, and a Drake vibe. It’s also true that is just fucking good. Will it be on SWISH? Yes. We’re well into the final push towards a release now. It doesn’t sound too much like Wolves or All Day, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all meshes together, but Real Friends will be on SWISH.
No More Parties In L.A. Fire. Fire burning down everything it touches. Kendrick raps forever and is clearly just having fun, Kanye matches him and Madlib’s excellent production samples Drake’s uncle. This is just bars for days and clearly sees both Kanye and Kendrick enjoying themselves, basking in the fact that they run the game. It also sees Kanye at some of his most contradictory and brilliant, going from making poignant points such as “I’m too black, I’m too vocal, I’m too flagrant” to complaining about his Rolls Royce and joking he dresses Nori like Cam’ron. It recalls his verse on Tyler, The Creator’s Smuckers, one of his biggest post Yeezus, in which he goes from “Richer than white people with black kids, scarier than black people with ideas” to “had a drink with fear, and I was texting God, He said ‘I gave you a big dick, so go extra hard’”. It’s a classic Kanye trick, dating back to 04’s Breathe In Breath Out - “I got to apologize to Mos and Kweli, But is it cool to rap about gold, If I told the world I copped it from Ghana and Mali?” – and suggests we should believe him when he says “the writer’s block is over”. Will it be on Swish? Yes.
I appreciate that all I’ve basically said is “these are some songs that will be on SWISH, they’re all good but none of them really sound alike, I don’t know how he will sonically stich them all together”, but there are some clear themes.
Kanye is clearly revisiting the 808s sound on quite a few tracks, as well as incorporating vibes from the College trilogy and his classic influences, which is something he hasn’t done in a while. Kanye has always been about striving forward and pushing boundaries, especially since 808s. That album, MBDTF and Yeezus were all completely different, manic and brilliant concept works that truly established him as our generations Bowie. This was also coupled with other cultural events, Taylor Swift at the MTV’s etc., and personal circumstances like breakups and the death of his mother that pushed Kanye in a far darker place artistically, consuming him in robotic love stories, vast soundscapes and harsh, industrial beats.
However since Yeezus Kanye is arguably in his safest place since pre-808s. He’s married with two kids and he’s achieving his dreams and ambitions in fashion, which he’s said are now more important than music. He’s comfortable knowing he is “the greatest living rockstar on the planet”. He’s happy to revisit and adapt his older sounds with new influences rather than constantly innovate. He wasn’t lost or threatened by Drake on Facts, he was having fun with someone else’s sound that he likes, which is also why Real Friends has a Drake vibe and No More Parties has a Kendrick vibe. He mentions all this in No More Parties; his sneakers, his family, and when Kendrick finishes his verse Kanye just says “scary, scary”, which is absolutely hilarious and absolutely true, whilst giving props to someone he doesn’t feel the need to compete with. For the last eight years we’ve had Kanye at his most diverse and brilliant, with each album seeing Kanye taking on almost completely different personality to achieve an artistic vision. SWISH however seems to be Kanye West just making music because he’s feeling it, which we haven’t really had in a long time. So whilst I have as much of an idea of the overall sonic theme as the next man, I’m pretty confident this album will see Kanye at his most natural since a decade ago.
I’m also pretty confident it’s going to fucking slay.