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Kanye West Week Part Seven: Barry Bonds & Drunk and Hot Girls

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Barry Bonds
The beat for ‘Barry Bonds’ produced by Nottz and co-produced by Kanye is ridiculous. It sort of reminds me of Black Moon or something, blunted and dusty but still immediate. It’s really the only conventional “hip-hop” beat on ‘Graduation’ but still injected with the futuristic sound that defines the album. It’s a shame Lil Wayne dropped such a turd of a verse, but what are you gonna do?

Others mentioned it when this song leaked, but Wayne’s little digression about Ronald Reagan is pretty great: “I’m all about the Franklins, Lincolns and Reagans/Whenever they make them/I shall hate them, oops/I meant have them.” It is the kind of subtle critique that makes me believe in Wayne a little more. It proves he’s a pretty smart and aware guy. Most rappers wouldn’t choose such a loaded and fairly obscure way to poke fun of Neo-Cons. It’s perfect because if anything represents the absurdity of the Neo-Con movement, it’s crookedness, it would be the vague campaign to remove Roosevelt from the dime and replace it with Reagan. Wayne inflates that moronic goal of Neo-Cons by suggesting Reagan might one day show up on a bill.

This song is also the most “hip-hop” on the album because it’s lyrical content is pretty uninspired. It really is in the style of Black Moon or Gang Starr, in the sense of sounding awesome and clever, but not really about much. I mean seriously, how can you excuse someone like Guru and dislike Kanye?! Also, his boasting is tempered by modesty, as usual. Kanye’s half-boast of “Became a hood favorite/I can’t even explain it/I surprise myself too” is one more example of his humility on ‘Graduation’. He sounds like he now realizes he not only doesn’t “deserve” anything but he should feel lucky he’s had any success. On ‘The Glory’, he says, in a tone that sounds more like the excited voice of a rap fan than an egomanical rapper, “the hood loves to listen to Jeezy and Weezy and oh yeah, Yeezy!”

Drunk & Hot Girls
I talked about the many layers of sampling Steely Dan when I discussed ‘Champion’ and Kanye’s sampling of Krautrock group CAN is sort of related. CAN, were a German progressive rock group, who like Steely Dan and many other prog-gers, embraced world music. Unlike the Dan’s facile embrace CAN had a true investment in the world music they co-opted. Their first lead singer was an African-American named Malcolm Mooney, and their second singer (and the one sampled on ‘Drunk & Hot Girls’) was a Japanese guy named Damo Suzuki. The group, being German, experienced American and British rock music but without the context of blues. German folk music was their version of blues, so their rock comes off as weird because it’s missing that key ingredient (the blues). CAN came to reggae the same way they came to rock, a degree removed. They also were into like early electronics and modern composers so they embraced rock’s immediacy. They weren’t trying to make rock sophisticated but because their teachers were sophisticated people like Karlheinz Stockhausen…they also had a sense of humor about appropriation, as they have a series of songs on their odds and sods album ‘Unlimited Edition’ called ‘Ethnological Forgery Series’.

The use of Damo Suzuki’s voice in a style similar to using Chaka Khan’s is clever. I never know what CAN lyrics are, I’ve always assumed they were improvised nonsense, but it’s funny to imagine Kanye listening to ‘Ege Bamyasi’ and thinking whatever Damo said was “drunk and hot girls” and basing a song around it! That fits with the sense of inevitability on the album. ‘Everything I Am’ makes that theme explicit, but just a general understanding that one doesn’t have control over everything, sometimes inspiration comes through a misheard lyric or a beat rejected by another artist (“Common passed on this beat/I made it into a jam”).

The music on ‘Drunk & Hot Girls’ is really nuts, the synths get really heavy and it has all of these different parts, it’s a great piece of music, I just don’t know if it really fits on the album. The song is also very funny and smart, similar to ‘Gold Digger’ in that it can be easily misinterpreted as offensive when it is actually more complicated than that. This is one of the things I like about Kanye and what makes him a pretty brave musician, especially for being as popular as he is: He really doesn’t care what people think. Artie Lange of the Howard Stern Show was on that NPR Snoozefest ‘Fresh Air’ and Terry Gross asked him if they ever worried about their misogynist, racist, and homophobic jokes being “misinterpreted” by the audience. Lange said, the Stern Show is wildly successful because it appeals to really smart people and really dumb people (like Kanye) and that worrying about how the dumb people react is essentially, a waste of time. I think Kanye probably has a similar line of thinking, in the sense that inevitably, someone will misinterpret something you say, by accident or because they want to hear something else, so you just don’t worry about it. This all sounds obvious but I think it’s one of the “lessons” on ‘Graduation’ as suggested on songs like ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’.

The Mos Def singing part is great as an explicit counterpoint to the jokes of ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’, as he sings a very empathetic verse about “the human heart” and then ends it with “The dress is tight…/I want you right now!”. Did you happen to read the New York Times review of ‘Graduation’? It’s basically a gross, willful misinterpretation of the album but one line stuck out at me as particularly frustrating. The critic, Jon Pareles, quotes from ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’, quoting some of the more introspective lines and then says “But eventually, [West] decides there’s no need to hold back. ‘Let that Champagne splash, let that man get cash.” That interpretation is one that assumes, that the last line of that verse somehow negates the previous lines. Kanye didn’t “decide” anything there, he’s just tossing out all of his thoughts!

I bring that up because of the Mos Def part of ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’. While the final lines segue back into the song’s harsh but funny sentiment, that doesn’t negate the kinder, sweeter things said before. While Kanye’s slow-flow and futuristic production may not be strictly “hip-hop”, his attitude and understanding of duplicity certainly are. Rap has always been in-the-moment, while looking forward and backward; this is what allows the music to be very offensive but often moral a few moments later. Kanye’s lyrics are temporal in the sense of tracing his thoughts as they come to him, however contradictory.

Written by Brandon

September 16th, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Kanye West

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