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Kanye West Week Part Eight: Flashing Lights

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Kanye, for some reason or another, keeps referring to Justin Timberlake as his main competition, and ‘Flashing Lights’ reminds me the most of ‘Futuresex’ track. The monotone Dwele chorus kinda sounds like Timbaland, in its ability to be initially awkward but slowly grind its way into your head and there’s of course, those house music-y synths. I’ve admitted to never being a huge fan of Timbo’s production, it’s always seemed too digestibly “weird” and stream-lined, while Kanye’s version is a lot less perfectionistic. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Graduation’ sounds clean and sparkly, but it’s still full of weird ideas that precariously balance between sounding good and sounding pretty goofy. That’s of course, the precipice on which Kanye pretty much permanently resides; it’s why I like him. ‘Flashing Lights’ sounds like a Kanye version of Timbaland beat, so it’s a less sloppier, more awkward, and more organic.

Those synths could’ve come from Timbo’s hard-drive but Kanye makes them stumble all over one another giving them this kind of staccato, unmelodic, evil sound. Then, atop it, you get this really simple Dilla-ish beat; it’s just two sounds a light smack and a louder smack over and over. The echo on the drums sounds particularly raw and real, as if it wasn’t the result of added in-studio echo but maybe actually recorded somewhere that naturally creates that echo? It’s really crazy-sounding. Somewhere in the background there also seem to be some really simple like from an 808 “claps” that, like the synths, seems less like a melody than the same sound just played a bunch of times in a row, like rudimentary playing. The rather pretentious strings are made well, less pretentious because the surrounding music is so simple and immediate but still, they rub me the wrong way a bit. Pretty much anything that bothers me or feels off about ‘Graduation’ is the stuff that reminds me of ‘Late Registration’.

For all of the talk of this being Kanye’s “fame” album, he really doesn’t do that much whining on it. It’s fun and all to be one more douchebag complaining about celebrities complaining about fame but nothing on ‘Graduation’ seems particularly obnoxious. Most of his issues are the same as they were since ‘College Dropout’ but they seem to be at times, enhanced or made more explicit by being famous. The end of the first verse notes the existence of the paparazzi but Kanye’s sort of the punchline there. The entire verse is sort of this classic comedy set-up. As he describes being with some chick that is dancing for him and just as he’s about to…FLASH. Even his line where he goes “I’m a celebrity tired of the paparazzi” is filtered through some willfully stupid line: “Man I hate these niggas more than a Nazi.”

The next verse is sort of the flipside of the first verse. In the first Kanye is cynical about the girl (“She don’t believe in shootin’ stars/But she believe in shoes and cars”) and she’s primarily presented as a girl he’ll bang, but in the second, he’s misses the girl (“Sweetheart we hardly talk”). Whether it’s supposed to be the same girl or a girl he actually respects isn’t the point, but the change in tone occurs over and over. He conflates all of his views on a subject into a single song and so “She in the mirror dancin so sleazy/Why can’t life always be this easy” becomes in the second verse, “If somebody would’ve told me a year ago/It was gonna get this difficult”. Again, cynics can dismiss it as a lot of whining, but I find his delivery and lines, a mix of (once again) goofy punchlines and sincere emotion (“like Martin with no Gina”) very affecting. The verse again ends with Kanye in a vulnerable position asking the girl to come back!

I’ve been trying to articulate Kanye’s relationship to fame on ‘Graduation’ and I think to any thinking listener, it’s clearly an album about how fame has a lot of messed-up aspects. At the same time as articulating those ideas, Kanye is incredibly deferential to his fame and influences. It seems more like Kanye once felt as though he had a destiny to fulfil and now, he has a fate to suffer.

The key phrase in the chorus of ‘Flashing Lights’ is “this far”. This far, as in maybe just maybe “too far”, which is a phrase not often used by popular or “hip” figures in pop-culture because it suggests the existence of excess, of there being too much of something. It’s an ethical statement and a warning. In the first verse it refers to the girl who somehow took it “this far”. I get the impression that Kanye is connecting his enjoyment of her “dancing so sleazy” to maybe her leaving or cheating on him? Maybe it’s just how far she went when they had sex. In the second verse, it refers to his fame with some implicit ‘Juicy’ connection (“…never thought that hip-hop would take it this far”), but it could also be Kanye’s own fuck-ups which are addressed on plenty of songs.

Rafi of OhWord has some really good comments on Thad Clark’s interesting entry and in one of them, he says: “Kanye speaks his mind and has ended up playing the role of a hip-hop conscience. Not a “conscious” rapper which nobody will listen to but a “conscience” one which on occasion everyone hears.” Dwele’s “this far” is not only bragging with a basis in Biggie’s classic oft-quoted line but I think an acknowledgment of stuff going out of control and why that is you know, not a good thing…

Written by Brandon

September 18th, 2007 at 1:52 am

Posted in Kanye West

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