Deege: Aaaand without going completely Frank Ocean on y’all, we’re back for the second and final installment of Top Five, Top Five, Top Five (T5T5T5P2, for short)! For those of you that missed our first installment, the concept behind this segment is for William and I (AKA: Washed ™ Boys International) to recap and discuss the top five albums that (collectively) meant the most to us and our college experience. Besides reviewing the final two albums on our list, both Jake and I will individually discuss an album that meant a lot each of us personally throughout college, but that the other just never enjoyed. It’s time to give the kids the music, bro!
2. YEEZUS BY KANYE WEST
Deege: Oh, man. Where to start with this one. The only consensus opinion about this album is that it’s Kanye’s most polarizing work to date. It’s an aggressive, pissed off version of 808s & Heartbreak that’s out for revenge on all of the industry old-heads that have tried to keep Kanye’s creative reach stagnated. Yeezus also contains Kanye’s most grandiose proclamations of all time (“I am a God…”), and I love it so, so, much. Easily in my top five Kanye albums, and quite possibly in my top three. And that right there, my friends, is a Hot Take™.
At only ten songs, Yeezus is a frantic sprint from start to finish that seems to inhabit a post-apocalyptic soundscape that Kanye rules with help from a few perfectly placed features. I mean, only Kanye could even get Justin Vernon and Chief Keef on the same song, let alone make it a classic. Combine the features with sparse, jarring, synth-based production and the sudden splicing of high-pitched samples in between the anarchy of drums, and you have an incredibly unique sound that only Yeezus inhabits.
Jake: “As soon as they like you, make ’em unlike you”. I don’t think I can put Yeezus in my top three ‘Ye albums, but it was definitely one of the most influential albums he dropped, and possibly the most hyped.
The album dropped when Kanye at his Yeezusiest. He was telling people a lamp was the greatest inspiration behind Yeezus (seriously), he spazzed on Middle America on SNL with a ferocious performance of Black Skinhead, and the album cover looked like a joke. Him and Kim were in the headlines pretty regularly. And of course, he 180s from the lushness that is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye was force feeding the public some pretty aggressive Kanye.
I don’t want to get too into the actual music that is Yeezus (I do, but I won’t), but I think one of the most underrated aspects of the album is that it really displays some of his most beautiful and innovative sampling. The gospel interpolation on “On Sight” and the outro on “New Slaves” stand out in particular for the suddenness with which they’re implemented into the songs and the contrast of the samples’ melody with the rest of the songs’ harshness. That sample work on “Bound 2” is just there to make sure the plebeians know he still has it.
Like you said, Yeezus inhabits its own unique sonic space. But ultimately, I think a lot of people will view this album as Kanye’s first great contribution to the fashion world. The man has always been the master of matching a sound to an aesthetic, and its clear that Yeezus is the product of Kanye taking in the Brutalist architecture and Rick Owens designs and avant-garde $110,000 lamps the high-fashion world showed him and giving back in the only way he knows how.
Oh, and the aesthetic he brought to life with the Yeezus Tour and the merch was pretty huge too, to culture at-large and our own small circle in college. Can we talk about that?
Deege: I’m still low-key salty I didn’t buy Yeezus merch that had the 80’s metal aesthetic to it. If I could do it over again I would have definitely went with the Indian Skull Head tee. It’s actually kind of mind-boggling to see the amount of creative influence even Kanye’s merch had — both Rihanna and Justin Beiber’s tour merch from this year have the same 80’s metal band look to it.
But let’s get back to the music — can you definitively pick your top three favorite songs from this album? If someone held a gun to my head, I think I’d have to go with “New Slaves”, “Hold My Liquor”, and “Blood On The Leaves.” While you’re thinking of your three, I’m just gonna list the ridiculous one liners from Yeezus.
- How much do I not give a fuck?
- If I woulda known what I knew in the past, I would have been blacked out on your ass.
- Hurry up with my damn croissants.
- I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.
- I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse/Came on her Hampton blouse/And in her Hampton mouth.
- Pussy had me floatin’/Feel like Deepak Chopra.
- Get you super wet after we turn the shower off.
- The entire fourth verse of “Blood On The Leaves.”
- Maybe it’s cause she into Leos and I was into trios.
- When I go raw I like to leave it in.
- Have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?
Jake: I lost my Yeezus shirt and it is the greatest clothing-related sadness that has ever influenced my life. Not only did it look cool, but it was also a fantastic conversation starter.
“Yeah, me and my friends drove to L.A. to see him! …No, we were actually in the top row of Staples Center, but it was still really – …no, i couldn’t make out the words he was saying but I knew the songs so I could still follow al- …Why are you telling me Kanye is an asshole? I don’t care. Every time I wear this shirt someone feels like they need to tell me they think Kanye is an asshole. Also I take exception to people calling them ‘rants’ because if you look at the way ‘rant’ is used in relation to race it’s reall- …Okay. Okay. Sorry, Mom.”
Actually, I don’t really miss the shirt.
I can’t definitively choose three songs, but if I also had a gun to my head in this terrible scenario, I would probably go “New Slaves”, “Hold My Liquor”, and a tie between “Bound 2” and “On Sight” depending on if I’m trying to chill or bash my head through a window, respectively.
I’ve always been a little low on “Blood On The Leaves”. I think “Strange Fruit” deserves better than to have that fourth verse rapped over it. Seriously, “I don’t give a damn if you used to talk to Jay-Z/He ain’t with you, he with Beyonce, you need to stop actin’ lazy” is a line a sixteen-year-old would write if he was pretending to be Kanye. It’s a Krispy Kreme flow. It makes it hard for me to fully enjoy the song without slightly dissociating from my body.
Deege: You seem to be getting very angry at me, your lost shirt, people that don’t like Kanye, your mom, or some combination of the four, so I think that’s gonna make a nice little segue to move onto our NUMBER ONE ALBUM…
…K-Dot? You good, blood?
1. GOOD KID, M.A.A.D CITY BY KENDRICK LAMAR
Deege: So, I suppose we can’t really get into GKMC without first talking about our special experience with this album, right?
Jake: So we had just moved into our new apartment, our first place living away from home/the dorm police, and it was very exciting. We were both extremely high off the adrenaline of finally being done moving what felt like four hundred and twenty pieces of furniture up three flights of stairs, so we celebrated by plugging in the record player and spinning good kid, m.A.A.d city. At this point, we had both had separate experiences with the album, which is told like a story. We had a disagreement over what the story actually was, and after much debate and a full album play through, we were enlightened.
I understand that description isn’t incredibly clear, but essentially we were debating that the record jumps back and forth in time in the same story line of Kendrick going to hook up with a girl, Sherane, getting jumped, getting drunk, getting revenge, getting a homie shot, and coming home.
For those of you interested, we decided the correct sequence of events was: “Backstreet Freestyle”, “Sherane”, “Poetic Justice”, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “good k.i.i.d”/”m.A.A.d city”, and then “Swimming Pools” thru “Compton”.
Don’t argue us on this, we spent way too much time to be wrong!
Deege: Besides My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, GKMC is easily my most critically analyzed hip-hop album. What makes it special is that it plays all the way through as a concept album with a definitive storyline (that even restarts itself going from the end back to the beginning), but also allows for the listener to easily plug-n-play singular songs without losing the song’s individual meaning.
A perfect example of this is “Backseat Freestyle” — by itself “Freestyle” is obviously about being a teenager not yet beat down by the world, and the unlimited amounts of confidence that accompanies that feeling. Plugged into the album storyline, it retains its singular meaning, but also gives context to the song that follows it, “The Art of Peer Pressure.” That feeling of invincibility Kendrick experiences allows him to be roped into a situation with legitimate consequences when his friends pressure him into committing a robbery.
I’d also like to mention just how sick seeing “m.A.A.d city” was before that first drop became absurdly overplayed. Does everyone remember how hard that beat used to go after the “YAWK YAWK YAWK YAWK” hit? It’s not the same now because every DJ and his mom has played that shit at some point in time, but that happened for a reason. A month after GKMC dropped, in a sold out, 2,000 person venue in Tucson, and Kendrick absolutely murdered that shit. To this day my favorite hip-hop show I’ve ever seen.
Jake: And that’s absolutely part of the genius of the album. He sucks in the unaware listener with “m.A.A.d city” and “Money Trees” and “Backseat Freestyle” and you’re like “cool, these bang” and then all of the sudden, you’re eight minutes deep on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” and you hate yourself for ever thinking Hopsin was woke (note: this links to the most fake woke lyric of all-time. Please let me know if you have a better candidate).
I’m trying to find the best praise I can give to GKMC. It could be that, ignoring the relatively-speaking mediocre music videos (see: “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe“), the album is fighting for the most cinematic listening experience I’ve had, against MBDTF. It’s billed as “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar”, and it lives up to the description. It set the new benchmark for a debut hip-hop album, replacing The College Dropout. Its commercial and critical success gave Kendrick the freedom to make the best hip-hop album of 2015. Absolute gold.
SO THAT’S IT
So those are our Top Five albums of our college years: Currents, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, Acid Rap, Yeezus, and good kid, m.A.A.d city. They say the music you fall in love with in high school always has a special notch in your heart, no matter how poorly the music ages or your taste changes. How else could I explain how Blood Sugar Sex Magik is still so important to me?
But no matter how important the first music you adopted when you realized you could listen to music that wasn’t your parents Dave Matthews CDs, I think the college albums, or the albums you found while first stepping out of your nest, are more important.
Immersing yourself in a world where the safety net is more of a fishing net is terrifying and exhilarating, and for many people music is the easiest way to find comfort. The best friends I made in college were the first friends I made in college, and the first friends I made in college were the people I saw hanging Kanye posters in their dorms, bumping Section.80, wearing Chili Peppers shirts, and I don’t think that was coincidence.
Music taste telegraphs something about the listener. We don’t gravitate to people with similar musical inclinations just because we can’t listen to bullshit songs at a pregame (although that’s certainly a factor). We do so because a Christian rock fan can assume a certain degree of shared values with a fellow fan, the same with punk fans, hip-hop fans, country fans. I wish I remember the piece I recently read (and if I can find it, I’ll link to it) that said just making hip-hop in 2016, the year of vitriol and demagoguery, is a political statement.
So that’s why Top Five is important. They were touchstones between me and Deege (and a number of other friends) that signaled a shared appreciation not just of Chance’s knack for writing catchy hooks, but of stories about the paranoia and joy of growing up. It’s not just about Kanye’s prowess as a producer, but about a deep desire to make an impact on pop culture, to strive for perfection in a world where too many settle for “good enough”. If You’re Reading This just kind of bangs.
If you’re already washed, I encourage you to think about how your music taste shaped or was shaped by your experience. If you’re stepping out of the nest soon, I encourage you to make sure you get any Hopsin or similarly devastating artists out of your system.
P.S. We’re working on a few honorable mentions for important college albums that didn’t quite make the cut, either because one of us appreciated it significantly more than the other or it just wasn’t quite essential enough to crack the top five, so stay tuned for that.