You Can’t Go Home Again is a monthly ATG feature that looks at music, nostalgia, and the deepest of the deep cuts.
When my editors approached me about having my own column on ATG, I was bereft of ideas. You can only write on the internetz for so long before you run out of things to say, and I was worried I was encroaching on that turf. I was on the verge of panic, and then I remembered that I wrote a blog called You Can’t Go Home Again for a long time. YCGHA was mostly about music and nostalgia, so I came up with a brilliant idea: self-plagiarism. If Rick Reilly can write the same fucking thing for 35 years for ESPN, I could do the same. An idea was born.
So yeah, that’s what I‘m going to try and do here every month: talk about music and nostalgia, and how the two interconnect. I thought about calling the column ‘Music and Memory’, and I thought about calling it ‘Jamming Out and Doing the Remembering Thing’, but I just decided to keep it with You Can’t Go Home Again, mainly because I’m tremendously uncreative.
STREAM: Kanye West – “Black Skinhead”
It’s been a full two weeks since Kanye West’s Yeezus was released officially, and even longer since ‘Ye most likely leaked it himself, so I realize that any opinion I have on the matter has probably been written sixteen times already, and sorry everyone, OK? I’m sorry.
This is a divisive album. Duh. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it in the last two weeks, and for every person I’ve met who has loved it, I think I’ve talked to 1.5 who hated it. This was Kanye’s plan all along, of course. Yeezus is as combative and uncomfortable a listening experience as you’re going to have this–or, until Trent Reznor gets back in the studio, any–year.
And whether or not you like this album, I’d argue, has little to do with what you think of the beats or the rhymes and more about what you’re looking for in a man who you spend time listening to. For those of us who like our heroes dark, and complex, and angry and disgusting, we’re going to like Yeezus. Kanye is Walter White. He’s Don Draper. He’s presenting himself to you as a nasty, gross, egomaniacal asshole. If you find that interesting, you’ll like Yeezus. If you find that repelent–and trust me, there’s nothing wrong with finding this version of Kanye repellent–you won’t like this album.
Kanye West, the real life man, is about to be a father. He’s an unqualified music success, a crossover star, a critical darling. He’s on the front page of Us Weekly and Star, and his girlfriend is the biggest faux-celebrity on the planet. And, like many of us when we start stumbling into real adulthood, Kanye took a look around at his current situation, saw himself on the covers of the magazines in the grocery stores, and thought: This is not the person I set out to be.
We all know this feeling. Decisions lead to decisions. You take a job out of college, you take a promotion, you follow what you think is important, and all of a sudden you’re closing in on middle age and thinking: shit, is this what I wanted to do with my life?
Kanye’s life is a bloated version of this, of course, but it’s there. He wanted Jay-Z to love him (The Blueprint), and then he wanted young America to love him (College Dropout), and then he wanted rap heads to love him (Graduation), and then he wanted Pitchfork to love him (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and then he wanted the girl he never could have, and all of a sudden he found himself a household name, with middle-aged Midwesterners chatting about his and Kim’s relationship over their TV dinners [No offense, all the middle-aged Midwesterners who read this blog.] At that point, Kanye looked around and said, nope. This is not what I wanted. This is not what I set out to become.
So he made an album that sought to alienate. He had to go big, to be as combative as possible. For fuck’s sake, on the last album he had a track called “Monster” about what a monster he was, but it backfired—all he got was a club banger on which 13-year-old girls all knew the Nicki Minaj verse by heart.
So he took a different approach; show, not tell. On Yeezus he raps about cheating on his famous girlfriend. He throws in racist lines about Asian women. He takes a sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and transforms it into a story of asking a groupie to get an abortion. This is #hashtag dark shit we’re working with, here. And, so far, it worked. Christian America is not going to like Yeezus. Kim Khardashian fans are sure as shit not going to like Yeezus. Most casual Kanye fans are not going to like Yeezus. This album, in that regard, is an unqualified success.
But look at what happens on the last track of the album, “Bound 2.” After ten songs of grating electronica and vicious lyrics, Kanye drops a gorgeous sped-up soul sample. Yeah, sped-up soul, the same shit he was doing on College Dropout. It’s a throwback Kanye song, one you can imagine as the final number of Late Registration. It’s beautiful.
STREAM: Kanye West – “Bound 2″
The first time I heard “Bound 2,” though, I thought, “this is Kanye throwing us all some scraps.” I imagine him thinking “here you animals, here’s a song you’ll all like. Take what I give you.” The more I listened to the album, though, the more I discovered that it wasn’t a throwaway, but rather a reconciliation with the fans who have been on the Kanye-coaster since the start; a head nod saying, “I still got you, people who stuck with me.”
It’s a hat tip to his roots, to where he started, to Chicago. It is no accident the only guest verses on this album belong to young Chicago rappers. With “Bound 2,” Kanye is trying to go back home again.