“… I would much rather wait 3-5 years for an album from my favourite artist than hear them feature every week on a new song, or constantly see them on the news for their latest controversy.”
The past few weeks saw the release of brand new full-length-LP’s from two of the biggest recording artists currently working today – Drake with Certified Lover Boy and Kanye West with Donda. Both of these album releases have been pushed back seemingly indefinitely and have been continuously held up as potential career highs for both artists, but finally they are here. From both, what we have received is a confusing mishmash of wasted promise and flashes of their old genius.
These releases illustrate more than ever that Drake and Kanye’s best years are most likely behind them, having fallen prey to the trappings of their unprecedented celebrity status, thus rendering them unable to produce the innovative concept albums they were once known for.
Certified Lover Boy is arguably the least redeemable of the two – Drake’s evolution from the hottest property in hip hop to that creepy uncle cracking lewd jokes in the corner has been coming for a while, and this record cements his final departure from the zeitgeist. A few years ago you could slap Drake on anything and it would be the number one thing in the world – unfortunately what this meant is that Drake’s overexposure and seeming inability to do wrong lead to him getting lazy, and his drive to create something unique faded in lieu of just simply cranking out the hits.
Certified Lover Boy doesn’t even have any hits; it is completely forgettable, if only for that infinitely insulting line: ‘heard you a lesbian girl, sh*t me too (ay)’, which will haunt me for a while.
Donda has more to say for itself, taking risks and still displaying Kanye’s unparalleled capacity for sonic experimentation and utilising his features to augment his tracks rather than distract. The thing with Kanye is that his earlier discography is so strong that anything that follows is set up for unfavourable comparisons. The ‘5-album test’ suggests a truly great artist should have 5 perfect albums in a row – I would argue that from The College Dropout right up to The Life of Pablo Kanye didn’t miss; his last two albums, and now Donda, aren’t quite up to that 5 star standard he set for himself.
It’s also harder these days to wash the bad taste out of your mouth when you talk about Kanye; separating the art from the artist becomes harder and harder as his music becomes marred by knowledge of his political affiliations, and the general mistreatment of the people around him.
The length of both of these albums is to their detriment: I am of the mind that many disappointing LP’s could be great EP’s with just a few tracks taken off. The issue with the rise of modern streaming platforms is that they necessitate longer albums to get the listening numbers up and therefore the label can make more money – it is the mindset that if you keep throwing stuff at the wall something is bound to stick eventually. This cynical mentality does have its enemies – you have artists like Donald Glover, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator, who are masters at creating hype, dropping a perfectly crafted album, and then going away, leaving people wanting more. I would much rather wait 3-5 years for an album from my favourite artist than hear them feature every week on a new song, or constantly see them on the news for their latest controversy.
When you have an artist as successful as Drake or Kanye there is a time when it seems they are too big to fail – but now it seems apparent that these two are almost too big to succeed, at least at the level they once did. Kanye is still bursting with a capacity to create, but he often veers into incoherent rambling and his self awareness of his own character flaws becomes more irritating than endearing the less he does to remedy them. Everything that Drake touched used to turn to gold, but I think it’s clear that that’s over now, and I hope for his own sake he slowly removes himself from the spotlight.
Drake and Kanye are two of the most influential artists of the last decade and more. Drake was able to simultaneously sing the hooks and rap the verses on hit songs like nobody else, and Kanye inspired a whole generation of rapper/producers with one of the most consistent album runs of all time; it’s just a shame that these latest releases show that their reigns may finally be coming to an end.
Image: Drake fox theatre via Wiki Commons & Kanye fo MOMA via Wiki Commons