Missing Credits, Pt. 2

Eventually, I’ll return to blogging the Living In Oblivion compilation, but in the meantime, a new regular feature will debut here: a series of open letters between myself and Matt Wood, published writer of some renown, who maintains Wood-Tang, the world’s foremost source for information about both the Wu-Tang Clan and child-rearing.

Matt’s opening volley can be found here, and concerns the recent Kanye West album Graduation.

Wood-Tang,

Sorry for the delay. Please understand that non-alcoholic beer won’t drink itself.

First, to address your point about your reduced consumption of records, now that we’re advanced in age, I think we choose to indulge our vices according to quality, not quantity. The gin is Bombay, not Gordon’s; steak, not Steak ‘n’ Shake; and the music ought to follow. Plus, there’s the time aspect. I don’t just want to listen to Jimi, I want to hear Jimi.

Now, thanks to this gig, I too have access to more music. And maybe it’s the quality that’s declining, but I’m finding myself less enthralled by the majority of new music. It’s still good, mind you, but not as gripping, save for that last Hold Steady record.

But perhaps it’s because we’re in a time when the paradigm keeps changing. We are in a time when music is entrenched in culture in a way that it hasn’t been since the grunge movement, with all the pros and cons that go along with that. As such, music has to work a little harder to be heard above the din.

And I guess that’s why I wasn’t all that enthralled with the new Kanye West record either.

I don’t blame you for expecting greatness from Mr. West’s record. Hell, the man himself practically guaranteed it. It makes perfect sense that you’d buy it without listening to it first (hey, remember when we did that all the time?) because the guy’s got a solid track record. Yet I still think it makes sense to give most artists a one-album berth of badness. That is to say, if the last record sucked, you don’t need to rush out for the next one.

Working where I do, my record-buying habits have diminished. More often that not, I’m able to walk over to the Music department and borrow a disc I’m interested in or find it on someone’s iTunes. But my record-consumption habits have changed, too. I read enough and listen enough that I get a taste of quite a few things, but don’t make a full meal out of too many discs. I imagine you’re in the same camp, which probably compounded your disappointment. In those rare(r) times when you actually take the time to sit down and get into a record, you want to be impressed.

And let’s face it, this Graduation is more like the ceremony they hold when you get out of 8th grade, not the one you attend when leaving high school.

On a recent edition of Sound Opinions, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis fell all over themselves in praising this record, mainly because they set it up like everyone else has: as a comparison to 50 Cent’s I’ll Kill Your Ass or whatever the damn thing is called. And honestly, if that’s your point of comparison, Graduation is going to sound like There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

To be fair, there are some good tracks here, and we’re getting more of the man himself, freed up from the skits and bloated guest spots of other hip-hop albums. If I still went to clubs, I’d be hoping they played “Stronger” and I’m pretty sure “Homecoming” is going on my year-end mix tape. And while “Everything I Am” is old school backpackin’ and “Flashing Lights” reminds me of the roller-skating rink, the former’s navel-gazing and the latter’s tossed-off reference to Hurricane Katrina highlight what gets under my skin the most about this album.

The moment this man said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” he became the new Chuck D. He’s seen as the anchorman for the hip-hop newscast (I’d call your man Ghostface and Clipse the on-the-street reporters) by everybody from the little black kid going to school in Bronzeville to Mayor Daley.

So isn’t it time for him to dump the introspection, and start talking about the world around him on his records? (Or, at least, something besides “Drunk and Hot Girls,” which is probably one of the worst songs I’ve heard all year.)

While Kot and DeRo both note that West’s introspective style and habit of spinning lyrical insecurities into gold albums is a refreshing change from the default braggadocio of artists like Fiddy, I’m pretty tired of how he takes every chance to talk about how he’s not given his due. It’s a joke that isn’t funny anymore.

His public persona would be easier to swallow if he’d bother writing about something other than himself for a change. I’m dying to know what Kanye thinks of predatory lending practices, grandmas raising babies, men who call women “bitches,” or even the troubled business model of the music industry. But what I’m getting is how hard it is to be Kanye. And I just don’t buy it.

I suppose all of this has more to do with what I expected, not what he’s attempted. But as you’ve said, this probably would have purchased if give an advance listen. Plus, criticism is a subjective thing though, and anyone who tells you it isn’t, is a liar.

On subsequent listens, I can set all this aside and can see the easy joy in songs like “Champion” and “The Glory.” But even in the seemingly glowing reviews I’ve read, most see this as a flawed album, and I can’t help but think that it’s because it’s largely built around an already boring topic.

Here’s my question to you P-T Poppa: am I wrong to look at what isn’t there as the basis of criticism of this album? Shouldn’t I cut Kanye a little more slack for being – like Wolverine – the best at what he does, even when he phones it is? Moreover, I’m feeling quite passionate about this album, and I’ve said elsewhere that the resultant passion of the 50/Kanye non-beef is ultimately good for the record industry. And I have a feeling that even though I’ll probably still disagree with it, I’ll find that come the end of this year, it’ll be one of the records that I found most interesting this year. And isn’t that worth something?

Sincerely,
Mr. Smith

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