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Kanye West Week Part Nine: Everything I Am & The Glory

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With so many rappers and rap listeners concerned with varying ideals of purity be it “realness” or “lyricism” or even what constitutes something as “hip-hop”, Kanye delivers a song that merges the “is” and “isn’t” parts of his brain. The song could easily come off as corny or even cloying (the beat comes close to doing that), ‘Everything I Am’ is one of the most effective and sincere tracks on ‘Graduation’. While his mixture of braggadocio and “sincerity” can sometimes come off as formulaic, Kanye sounds genuinely pained on this song. I talked yesterday about how Kanye seems to understand that he might just have a fate to suffer rather than a destiny to fulfil and this song gives in to that powerlessness. He is defined as much by the choices he’s made as the choices he hasn’t made.

Starting with the beat, Kanye jokes “Common passed on this beat/I made it to a jam” which means that perhaps the most heartfelt and honest song on ‘Graduation’ came in part by chance. Had Common used this beat, perhaps Kanye would not have been moved to write the lyrics. When the verse begins, a list of things Kanye is not appear and they are delivered with a mix of acceptance and sadness. While some of his “admissions” on say, ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ feel as though he’s using his flaws as a point of pride, here they seem to hurt. He doesn’t need to grimace in a music video or deliver the lines in an faux-important slow-flow to make it clear that he does feel regret and frustration. The slower flow actually works on these songs anyway, because the beat is slow but also because it’s the song where I feel okay if it sounds like Kanye’s trying to talk to me. He sounds as if he’s conversing. When he makes a quick joke about Blackstreet, his inflection changes like you’re hanging out with him and making Teddy Riley jokes: “Remember him from Blackstreet?/He was black as the street was-”.

The second verse is the expected acknowledgment of “haters” but he really does sound frustrated and even saddened by the criticisms. When he begins listing the awards he has to say “goodbye” to, it’s not a backwards way of bragging about how rebellious he is, nor is it a list of regrets; it’s acceptance. Those awards were once his but he’s gone beyond them, not surpassed them, just the real Kanye West doesn’t just make ‘Jesus Walks’ or just work with Jon Brion, he also raps about getting head, acts like a total jerkoff, and dresses like “a hipster”.

The third verse opens with a sort of obnoxious back-patting (“I know that people wouldn’t usually rap this…”) but I also see it as an appropriate qualifier before his self-righteous rant. Yes, in one way he’s saying “I’m about to say some shit other rappers wouldn’t say” but in another way, I think it downplays the self-importance by acknowledging it. Before I say something really pretentious, I’ll generally say “I know this is pretentious but…” and it’s certainly not trying to be some sort of backwards patting myself on the back type shit. He also just sounds sort of resigned and saddened by the reality of “600 caskets” and phrasing it by saying “Man, killin’s some wack shit” is better than a deeper or more profound, political comment. It’s an appeal to the heart rather: “Do you know what it’s like when people is passin?”

The Glory
About uh, 35 seconds into this song this ridiculous bassline comes in and doesn’t give up until the song ends. Seriously. Go listen to it right now. It reminds me of the bassline to ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby’ by the Rolling Stones in its ability to go totally unnoticed or unacknowledged but once you hear it, I mean HEAR it, it sort of just spins you in circles it’s so fucking awesome.

‘The Glory’ might be the best track on ‘Graduation’, Kanye seems happy to rap on it, not at all resigned, but he still gives you real talk. It also depends on simpler production techniques, sped-up vocals, letting the beat drop-out, short string stabs, simple backing vocals, it’s great. The electronics that pop-in at the end too, are earned and used effectively.

I talked about it before, but Kanye’s anti-legacy lines “I guess after I live/I wanna be compared to Big/Anyone, Big L, Big Pun or Notorious” resonate in a world of rappers calling themselves “the best rapper alive” or “King of the South” or whatever. Kanye’s use of qualifiers in his lyrics is an easy but effective strategy in connecting with his audience. Although many people probably don’t even notice it, those additional, conversational words (“I guess”) make the rapper much more accessible. It makes his over-confidence go-down easier and it also removes a certain heart-on-the-sleeve cuteness that begins to shine through on his third album full of self-conscious lyrics.

Written by Brandon

September 18th, 2007 at 5:01 am

Posted in Kanye West

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