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Kanye's Ugly Dark Twisted Reality

Backseat Freestyle
Kanye's Ugly Dark Twisted Reality
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #26 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. Please share this newsletter with your circle so they can enjoy too. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….
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Kanye West // Credit: Kevin Mazur (Getty for UMG)
Kanye West // Credit: Kevin Mazur (Getty for UMG)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
A KANYE WEST ALBUM came and went. If you were in attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, an insider who scored a listen in Vegas or happened to download the bootleg version before the link expired, you heard sketches of what DONDA could sound like. Emphasis on could because the album never arrived and ‘Ye is rumored to still be at the sports arena working on its completion for an August 6 release. That he’s still perfecting the project anchors him; the public should be used to it by now and behind the scene this endless tinkering by the producer existed long before DSPs exacerbated the process. Where Kanye and those in his thrall are less tethered is by where he stands. Or what he stands for. His audaciousness continues to be an elixir in the attention economy. But once the scrutiny begins, the narrative rerun of the Old Kanye coming back starts to fade. Sorry, Mr. West is gone.
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
LIKE KANYE WEST, I said something new was going to drop on Friday and then that date came and went with nothing to show for it. Fitting that my newsletter topic is actually Kanye. This past week, he did what he often does best: drumming up excitement for his talents via a pre-release experiential spectacle.
I vividly remember similar events in the past, such as the screening for all three versions of the “Jesus Walks” video, where I first met and interviewed ‘Ye. Then there was the theater event for the Graduation listening-cum-screening that I attended. Not to mention the film junket-styled sessions he set up for “Flashing Lights,” which was the last time I interviewed him. I was also there when he blasted the Yeezy album during a rave-esque setting behind Milk Studios. And most recently, I went to Wyoming to hear Ye. I always respected him as a complicated figure in hip-hop, who questioned and defied norms—be they cultural or societal. He was possessed by a drive to be legendary and he was equally obsessive over his production details. Personally, I celebrated his musical instincts while, professionally I analyzed his decisions away from the studio. 
That balance on my part started to crack 5 years ago. 
The MAGA movement gave Kanye an ethos to park his independent streak and have it rebranded as free thinking.
Inside Madison Square Garden where Kanye was previewing his Life of Pablo project, folks saw for the first time what many of us did. The audacity Kanye had for the spectacular, his real-time course corrections and later his commentary via Twitter over where the album stood or the changes he was making both before and after TLAP was released. People thought he was going crazy. I thought people were getting a peak at pure Kanye. I halfway finished an essay saying as much. 
Fast forward a few months to Trump riding down those escalator steps to announce his presidential candidacy. 
The MAGA movement gave Kanye an ethos to park his independent streak and have it rebranded as free thinking. The tenor of his voice had long changed into something that was unrecognizable from his Chicago drawl, then he cozied up to Cheeto Mussolini and Candace Owens, and the ugly remarks started hitting more than his music. The lowlights include: “‘I’m with her’ just didn’t make me feel — as a guy … it was something about this hat that made me feel like Superman” and saying “Slavery was a choice” and tweeting that his wife and the mother of his children a white supremacist.  
He always had the music to recalibrate his public standing. 
After storming the stage at the VMAs to protest Taylor Swift and proclaim in the name of Beyonce (a story I covered while at MTV), Kanye holed up in Hawaii and delivered his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Old Kanye wasn’t ever coming back and instead this was the new reality. 
Since then, his drums don’t snap like they used to and his rhymes don’t illuminate like they once did. 
Yeezus was uneven at best. Many look back at The Life of Pablo with reverence but it was retread masked as innovation. Ye was confounding. 
It was while in Wyoming for the Ye listening when Kanye as a person started to crest with Kanye the musician for me. I thought I could play my part as a journalist to participate in the event and absolve myself of the road he was heading down. Despite his music trending the wrong way, there was always hope that the Old Kanye would emerge and somehow wipe out the backlash and wash over it with goodwill. I was playing myself. 
The same criticisms of his recent work plagued Jesus Is King, but I engaged with that project even less, allowing myself to emphasize who Kanye was over his work because he seemed to put more effort into that. He mounted a run for president as an independent in a move that many saw could be harmful to democrats/most Americans in the push to get Tangerine Hitler out of the way. Old Kanye wasn’t ever coming back and instead this was the new reality. 
I’d been waiting for his new material to anchor this essay with tidbits of his lyrics to highlight my points. But after listening to the Donda bootleg, it didn’t really matter. It sounded like knockoff Playboi Carti; or, as my brother Bonsu coined it Holy Drill. Funny and also furthering his damnation. 
I won’t know if that version was close to what he was going to be released since he’s said to be retooling the project. 
What I do know is that Kanye was incredibly influential, perhaps the most influential rapper/musician/culturist of the past 25 years. It powered his classic material and those snare kicks knocked so hard they also booted the placement of the line he could cross over and over again. He’s been flipped sides like Anakin, though, and no matter what comes of Donda it’s too late he’s gone
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
Lil Baby grabbed headlines when he compared himself to Lil Wayne on “5500 Degrees,” but EST Gee isn’t playing second fiddle to anyone on his newly released Bigger Than Life or Death. He connects with mentor Yo Gotti on “Run N 2 Me,” where CMG looks like an army better yet a navy. EST Gee and Pooh Shiesty bring the goods on “All I Know.” And Gee proves he’s a headlining act on “Real Reason.”  [Listen]
$not is a smooth criminal on his new joint, “Red.” [Listen]
He got next (now)? Bizzy Banks’s Same Energy is here and it’s as good of a time as any for the Brooklyn Drill artist to go for his. “City Hot,” “Azul” and “Driftin” are on my radar.  [Listen]
Lil Tecca steps off the gas for “Money On Me,” a long-teased track, that finds him more rueful than he is on the regular. His new project, We Love You Tecca 2, is set to arrive next month. [Listen]
A Paper Route Empire compilation album arrives next week and the first single, “Blu Boyz,” is out now, featuring Young Dolph, Key Glock and Snupe Bandz. Smells like money. [Listen]
The Rolling Loud crew is given the Vibe x Death Row cover treatment by the Miami New-Times. [Read]
Queen Latifah notches a first-look deal with Audible. [Read]
Jason Parham’s epic three-part history of Black Twitter is a must for anyone that spends time on the platform. (There’s more than one Black Twitter and you could write this still different ways to reflect that, but this is a great piece.) [Read]
This Variety article features a Q&A with Dame and a second part that is a primer of Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z. Have a look and @ me  which side you’re on. [Read]
There was much-needed discourse over the way Biz Markie’s passing was being covered, particularly the over-emphasis on his Clown Prince identity and it overshadowing how innovative and influential his contributions were to hip-hop. As I tried to note in a brief series of tweets, I did some research for a project earlier this year and was able to be reminded just how impactful Biz truly was. A number of obits and tributes have since been published that properly honor his life’s work. [Read] [Read] [Read]
Is there enough crypto to go around in hip-hop? [Read]
A colleague of mine who developed this, gave me a preview of what this pod would be last summer. Now that it’s launched as a part of Charlamagne’s Black Effect Podcast Network, it’s been fun to hear the show find its footing. The What!? Hip Hop Questions, Legends & Lists podcast recently had an episode dedicated to Brooklyn Drill and asking what the future of the subgenre looks like. Co-host Mouse Jones was informative and invested; he has a natural ability that’s becoming more polished with each project. Check it out.  [Listen]
Speaking of Black Effect, they got another one: The Geto Boys Reloaded with Scarface and Willie D. [Listen]
A Wall Street Journal report finds TikTok’s algorithms are stickier than YouTube. [Watch]
This live version of Vince Staples new self-titled album is better than the retail version imo; his charisma and sly humor pop more. Catch his Tiny Desk performance. Related: Vince x Drink Champs. [Watch] [Watch]
The album is on point and the creative is too. Tyler, The Creator’s Converse short is hilarious. Stars Tim Meadows. [Watch]
Revolt premiered their new countdown show, “Off Top,” which featured Conway The Machine as the first guest. Big Tigger and Rapsody need to find their footing together when it comes to interviewing guests. This chat wasn’t very interesting. However, the way this was shot was beautiful and the camera movements provided some engaging viewing angles. [Watch]
Megan Thee Stallion made history appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue and to celebrate the hot girl spoke to Tyra Banks, herself a history-maker with the brand. [Watch]
Jim JonesFraud Department project is one of my favorite joints this year and for the second half of 2021 Capo is pulling out another collabo LP: The Jones’s with Scram Jones. Jimmy swapped out the winter aesthetic from the last album for summer vibes on “Filet Mignon,“ the first single on the forthcoming set. [Watch]
It’s been a slow grind for Sheff G but you can see his movement being built brick by brick. The foundation is almost finished. Consider “On Go” featuring Polo G an open house. [Watch]
Speaking of Polo G, he delivered a visual for “Toxic,” one of the best tracks from his Hall of Fame album. I suppose the dash of audio at the beginning is a nod to his Miami arrest? This could have been an opportunity to really go off about that incident. [Watch]
The  video for “Industry Baby” is a statement about Lil Nas X’s identity and the song is a statement about his artistry, together it’s a tour de force. Related: finally finished the Lil Nas X cover story in the Sunday Times and his drive, dedication and savviness are admirable. [Watch] [Read]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
(I added a couple of new links below because I might experiment with promoting Backseat Freestyle on TikTok and Clubhouse or Twitch.)
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
Clubhouse: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
Tips/coffee/beer via Venmo: @jaysonrodriguez
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Jayson Rodriguez

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