Kanye West feat. Mr. Hudson: Paranoid
Taken from the album 808s and Heartbreak on GOOD (2008)
I’ve finally accepted things as they are. It’s taken me four albums and nearly five years, but I get it now. Kanye West understands music better than we do.
How else can you explain the fact that every time he drops an album, he sends the whole of the critical world into an existential crisis about “where rap music is” (or drop the “rap” and let’s talk about music wholesale); they lambast his cheeky sound, his would-be populist approach, the hubris that he seems to wear just barely under the surface of his Prada. He’s out of touch. He’s out of his mind. “Kanye’s finally gone too far,” they say. “This time, he missed.”
And then a funny thing happens: two weeks, two months, two years later we’re still bumping those very same songs deemed duds by those in the know. Somehow the music doesn’t stagnate. Tracks off College Dropout still fill headphones from Tokyo to Toronto. A witty line dropped on Late Registration is still being quoted years after the fact. And perhaps most tellingly of all–the true test of what the masses crave at their most unguarded–DJ’s can still invariably pack a dancefloor with at least half a dozen cuts off of any single one of his albums. WHO ELSE DOES THAT?
Now. All that said, one of the things I’ve always appreciated in particular about Mr. West is that he not only challenges us, but that he challenges himself. How? By nurturing and keeping company with tremendous musical talent. Dude gets the best guest spots in the game–collabos that look like pure gimmick on paper but down the road leave folks scratching their heads for the pure genius of it.
At the level of a Kanye West, I reckon it’s not terribly hard to get Jay-Z in the studio to record a verse. Or Madonna. Or Justin Timberlake. The list goes on. (Hell, I think Timbaland actually created a List). And Yeezy could do it, I’m sure. And he’d still sell a grip of records. Every song an all-star affair with the kind of big name artillery that would make Quincy Jones shudder.
But Kanye, for all the critical bellyaching he has engendered by not sticking to a “gameplan”, understands something that other superstars these days just don’t seem to get: it’s not the shine of the name, it’s the scope of their talent; it’s not about label politics, but the real, intangible chemistry between artists that makes for innovative collaboration. Sure he’ll put Lil’ Wayne on a track (he’s gotta be on every album somewhere, as a rule), but he’ll also introduce you to Lupe. He’ll tap T-Pain (see Lil’ Wayne), but also remind you that Dwele is a serious songwriting force.
Kanye West’s music is as much the showcase of an expert recruiter as it is the singular vision of music maven. His work surprises us because he knows how to assemble a team around him whose composite parts–incredibly diverse and rich in talent–measure up to a greater whole than Kanye West.
And talent is the key. He gets the best in the Hip Hop game (the list is long), the best in Dance music (Daft Punk), in Alternative Rock (Coldplay) or, as in his latest effort, pure, unadulterated Pop…
And this, friends, is where Mr. Hudson comes in. I actually stumbled upon this album while living in South Africa last year, where I was starved for music and only had sporadic access to new albums. This was one such disc that really floated my proverbial boat. An unadorned gem; a highly likeable record; a rarity these days.
The London/Birmingham based quintet, Mr Hudson and The Library dropped Tale of Two Cities in March of last year and made some noise in the UK but never really arrived stateside. Maybe it’s because the music speaks rather simply for itself, or the band didn’t have the flash of something revolutionary(!) in their sound. But of course, that’s all set to change…
After co-starring with Kanye on what is in my opinion the absolute standout sleeper track on an album full of standout sleeper tracks and producing or contributing to a handful of others (“Street Lights”, “Robocop” and “Say You Will”), the group has now signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music and, critics be damned, will likely forge on with General Kanye West leading the charge toward the future of pop music.
“Tale of Two Cities” is a start to finish winner. I had trouble even whittling the selections down to just four or five… but I think you begin to get the idea. Brit-guitar-pop with equal parts catch and class, laid over a hip-hop backbone. Dig deeper and you’ll be treated to grimey-remixes and even a few club-friendly dancers.
This is good music. But, of course, Kanye West already knew that.