The Rizzle Review: Kanye West at the Hammersmith Apollo

Kanye West, music, Reviews

Two weeks ago saw the announcement that Kanye West was to play a surprise “one-off” gig in London. Fair enough that one-off gig quickly became two which became three before stopping short of a full-on “one-off” World Tour…but I digress. Having not seen Kanye West perform solo since 2005, I purchased tickets to the Sunday concert with all the swiftness of a Kim Kardashian marriage (that’s very fast).

However, the night before the Sunday show, reports quickly began to emerge via twitter that Kanye had been showing erratic behaviour during the show, ranting against the Grammy’s (even though he’s won about 12 of them), dissing Justin Timberlake’s suit and tie and (perhaps my favourite) ending the concert part way through the Goldigger verse; “…and on his 18th birthday, she found out he wasn’t his”. With all that being said, I was pretty eager to hear what kind of show we’d be treated to on the following night.

The scene was set, covered in a white backdrop with a white sloped stage, the DJ’s built up the atmosphere playing tracks from Kanye’s Good Friday’s series before the main man himself slowly emerged from just behind the stage to “Way Too Cold (Theraflu)”. The crowd erupted, as did Kanye and it was pretty certain that this was going to be a show to remember, whether good, bad or ugly.

Kanye rattled through his substantial catalogue of hits in quick succession with minimal crowd interaction but maximum energy before disappearing off stage briefly. Emerging in a more somber mood wearing a bird mask, the show took on a different route. Kanye began rattling off songs from his “love it or hate it” 808’s and Heartbreaks album. It’s clearly evident that while this isn’t his most universally loved body of work (to put it mildly), Kanye definitely loves performing from it. And let’s ignore the fact that Kanye can’t sing.

Another thing that Kanye loves? Singing. Kanye went through the extended album version of Runway in true prog-rock style, stretching the song to roughly 10 mins. For the crowd at the front this became slightly uncomfortable, with people exchanging awkward glances as if to say “has this dude finished yet?”.

(pic from: thatretailchick.me)

Another mask change came later, this time with a diamond encrusted piece for Rihanna’s “Diamonds (remix)”. Good job the songs were good because at this stage, he’s erring on the wrong side of crazy, without going full throttle. However, we didn’t have to wait long for the next installment…

The encore song was “Touch The Sky” but as the song drew to a close Kanye started wailing like a banshee. The first couple of times it was cool. 8 screams in and it got a little awkward once again, before Kanye drops the mic on the floor and walks off stage.

How times have changed since I last saw Kanye at the same venue all those years ago. He’d shown glimpses of the ego that would eventually become his trademark (I seem to remember a rant on stage at the show where he lay on the floor just talking about the tabloids) but I wasn’t prepared for the mammoth fame that would come with his success and neither, it seems, was he.

Kanye definitely knows how to put on a good show. With no hype man in sight and with less extravagance than the Glow in the Dark or even the Watch The Throne tours, Mr West still managed to keep the crowd’s attention, even if for long periods they didn’t know what was going on. Kanye maintained creative control of the show throughout, ushering one of his stagehands away as they went to take away one of his masks and halting “All of The Lights” when he felt that the crowd weren’t rapping loud enough over the ‘MJ gone…our n*gga dead” part.

His choice of attire? A pristine white strait-jacket. Tongue in cheek? I’d like to think so. I really would like to think so. So that brings us to the scream at the end? To a seasoned Anguish at Amber Rose and Wiz Khalifa’s new born? Sorrow at Kim Kardashian trapping him? Anger at the Grammys? Or just attention seeking. I suspect it’s probably the last one but whichever reason it ultimately proves to be, like the concert itself, it is something that will keep his fans wondering and entertained for years to come.

The Rizzle Review: Cruel Summer

Kanye West, music, Reviews

The British summertime. Once filled with green fields, long, hot sunny days and short nights. Now replaced, somewhat rather harshly, with a few outbursts of sun, grey, gloomy days and umbrellas. Some would say that our Summers and the expectations surrounding them are rather…Cruel. Something that Kanye West has probably experienced during the making of this album. And if, on purchasing the G.O.O.D music family’s debut collection, you were expecting a body of musical  reflections on the effects of global warming, you, sir, would be frankly mistaken.

Instead what we have here is a slickly produced mixtape slash album featuring some of the “finest” talents in US hiphop today. But is it actually any good?

As an avid hip-hop fan, I’ve been waiting for this album for a good few months, dating back to the time when it was originally going to be released in the summer (and it actually made sense to call it Cruel Summer). In this time, Kanye released a whopping 5 tracks off the album (which of course everyone and their mother downloaded).

In all fairness, those singles all bump. Pretty hard. Special shout out to Mr Cheeks 2 Chaiiiiiiinz’s closing verse on the trunk rattling, Trap inspired Mercy; Ghostface Killah’s verse on the Ghost-sampled New God Flow and the grimey, dingey posse cut, Clique.

In today’s music climate, if you’re going to release 5 singles from one project, you are going to need a healthy collection of album cuts to back it up and to Kanye’s credit, there are a few notable other cuts here. R Kelly (love him or loathe him) puts in a stellar performance on the anthemic opener “To the World”. “Higher” features the Dream doing his best impression of a wounded, robotic woman and a rejuvenated Mase offering some choice words to his former Badboy labelmate/Islamic convert Loon (“you know I’m not Muslim my n***a, I’m about my bacon”). The exquisitely produced, 80’s sounding “Bliss” finds crooner, John Legend and socialite-cum-singer, Teyana Taylor both in fine voice.

But once you deduct those tracks, you definitely feel that Cruel Summer could have been so much more and unfortunately, there are numerous misteps. For all the reppin’ that Common does for G.O.O.D. music, he is criminally underused – just one short verse on the illuminati-ode, “In The Morning”. And D’Banj’s inclusion in that same song is downright laughable – some random crooning in the background. Almost a slap in the face for the whole Afrobeats movement.

In comparison, for some inexplicable reason Cy-hi The Prince is all over this album despite his lyrics being that of more of pauper.

Oh yeah, and Kid Cudi’s track ‘Creepers’ is boring. There. I said it.

Cruel Summer, for better or worse, offers a snapshot of hip-hop in 2012 (albeit doing so in a much slicker way than the average stuff that tops the charts these days). Lots of bass, slight paranoia, over-indulgence and some good punchlines. There was a lot of hype over this album and in all honesty, it was always going to be a tough feat. But compared to Kanye’s previous albums Watch the Throne and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this album fails to take any of the musical steps forward that they did. It’ll still sell by the bucket load due to the extensive guestlist but frankly, there isn’t really much new ground being broken here.

Watching The Throne – The Rizzle Review

Jay-Z, Kanye West, Reviews

I won’t get caught up in the hype *repeats 3 times and sprinkles holy water*

When Watch The Throne was released back in August, everyone and their grandmother was going crazy for this meeting of two musical minds; Kanye West and Jay-Z. I’m a big fan of both of them and to be honest, my LP collection (yep, the Long Player still exists) had been looking pretty bare since the last album I bought, which was ironically Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

The hype surrounding this album was pretty immense. You had the initial mysterious tweets from Kanye about a 5 track EP “Watch the Thrown” (sic), then you had a first unofficial song (H.A.M – Hard As a Mother…., which wasn’t actually that hard), trailers and finally the release date. People went crazy when this album dropped and it actually managed to achieve the unthinkable – no major leaks. People were quick to label this as a classic, giving it 4 and 5 stars before they’d even really had a proper chance to listen to it. I’m not into the hype although from first listen, I could tell that it contained solid lyrics and impeccable beats.

One of the main criticisms of the album was that much of the content revolved around being rich and spending excessive amounts of money;

“I’m planking on a million” – Otis, 
Racks on racks on racks, Maybachs on backs on backs…” – Gotta Have


but there are moments of introspect sprinkled throughout the album. New Day, offers poignant thoughts from Jay-Z to his unborn child. Did he know about Beyonce’s publicity stunt pregnancy when writing this?

My personal favourite is perhaps the least “jiggy” of all songs – Murder to Excellence. From the beat to the delivery to the message, it’s almost as if Jay and Kanye are reporting news stories over the track.

“314 soldiers die in Iraq
509 died in Chicago”

Once the beat changes, they tell us what life can be like as an affluent black man in America;

“in the past if you picture events like a black tie
whats the last thing you expect to see? Black guys..
What’s the life expectancy for black guys?
The system’s working effectively – that’s why”

One thing that has struck me from repeated listens of this album over the past few months is the range of samples used in producing each song. The Godfather of Soul himself, Mr James Brown is used on multiple songs, as well as Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield and Nina Simone. The album does feel like no expense was spared in getting each sample cleared. Although why, they claim ‘Otis’ is a duet with Otis Redding (Rest in Power) but don’t give James Brown his props in a similar way on ‘Gotta Have It’ confuses me…

Dubstep influences (UK stand up!) also appear in Niggas In Paris and Who Gon Stop Me, which are definitely a welcome addition and showcase the versatility in Kanye’s production.

The album isn’t without it’s misteps though. The cheesiness of Lift Off, lacks edge and could easily have been left off the album. “Welcome to the Jungle” whilst a head nodder, seemingly gets lost when placed with the more musically diverse sounds of the other tracks on the album. Bonus track “Illest Muth****er Alive” is probably the opposite – just sounds like a worse version of HAM (which, after I initially slated it, has grown on me #noMould).

So…the verdict after the hype has died down? WTT is definitely one of my favourite albums of the year. The beats carry on the elclectic sounds of Kanye’s MBDTF, while Jay-Z never fails to disappoint with his lyrics. Yes, the majority of the album is about ballin’ and doesn’t break new ground for either of them, but when they do it this well with such pinache, then who are we to complain. 2 months is a long time in this download obsessed world but the album still sounds just as good as when I first downloaded purchased it. Is is a classic? Nope. But it’s damn good.

10 things I have learned in 2010

Eastenders, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Prince, World Cup, x-factor

1. Kanye West, for all his eccentricities and ego issues, is a musical G and loves hip-hop. Regardless of what the ‘G’ stands for (Genius, Gangsta, Goofball) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the albums of the year.

2. Nicki Minaj totally sold out with that Pink Friday album. However, I can’t be mad at her because from that one guest appearance on ‘Monster’ she successfully slays all female emcees in the game. And most of the males too.

3. Global warming may not be the correct term for the big freeze that has engulfed the UK throughout this year. I loved the snow and our very British way of dealing with it – moan!

4. Make no mistake – Prince is a bad mamma jammer. He’ll steal your girl. And steal her high heels too.

5. I don’t begrudge any of those Chilean miners for pimping their 15 minutes of fame to the max. In fact, I look forward to Mining music videos and reality shows.

6. England will never host the World Cup while I am still fit enough to come on as a last minute sub. My childhood dream is over.

7. This Connor guy in Eastenders is proof that females are just as shallow as us guys. The twitter comments on his abs alone are enough to force me to go hard in the gym. Pause.

8. Justin Bieber is Usher’s pension plan and Mr Raymond is laughing all the way to the bizank.

9. Channel 4 have been responsible for the best programmes this year – Misfits, The Family (comedy gold) and This is England 86 (had me on edge pretty much every episode).

10. X-factor is fixed and this year it made no apologies for doing so. Autotune-gate, Gamu-gate, race-factor, Wagner… I could go on. BUT it was still the highlight of my Saturday nite and the tweets made it all the more enjoyable. Despite my personable beef with twitter (hold tight facebook mandem), x-factor and tweeting go hand in hand like… something that likes to hold hands. or something.

Don’t worry Treyc. I understand…

And with that I say “Goodbye 2010!”

L