Eras of Influence: 2010-2016 – Kanye West

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This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on Underoath, covering the years 2004-2010.

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It’s been nearly a year since I wrote the last installment of my admittedly self-indulgent and meandering Eras of Influence series. They take a lot of time and mental energy to write, and I tend to be lacking in both lately. But if I’m being honest, the series hit an all stop when it came time to write about Kanye West. Even as I type this, I hand-to-God still don’t know what I have left to say at this point.

For a not insignificant portion of time, Kanye West was the most important artist in my life – and in the life of many others. He’s an artist and a figure with no real 1:1 comparison. That’s certainly rare, but it’s also rare for someone to be so convinced of that very fact about themselves that they’ll do anything to ensure that their voice is heard and admired. It’s that unique quality that is Kanye West’s greatest strength, and also his achilles heel.

For the sake of this project, Kanye’s greatest influence in my life falls between the years 2010 and 2016, but as I mentioned in a previous installment, his music entered my ears much sooner. First, as a producer in the late 2000s, then as a rapper in 2004 with the release of his debut solo album, The College Dropout. That album, perhaps more than any other, captures a time and feeling that I can feel viscerally when I put on the album and close my eyes. It’s hard to even call it just an album. It was an experience.

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You can buy or stream My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on Apple Music

Even so, as my last installment documents, those mid-to-late 2000s years would ultimately be defined by very different sounds and a different artist (Underoath). Kanye’s 2005 follow-up Late Registration was fine, although it was surrounded with some of our early experiences of Kanye with a taste of fame. The resulting 2007 album Graduation, was a pop rap extravaganza, which seemed to lean into all of the trends that bothered me about hip hop at the time, for better or for worse. Like the rest of the world, I wasn’t ready for 808s & Heartbreak, an album that left me scratching my head upon its release in 2008, only to become my favorite Kanye album years later.

And so that brings us to 2010. That fall and winter, I was in the throes of divorce, and it wasn’t pretty. Not only was I living through the hell of that experience, I was also completely alone and nocturnal, working overnight shifts at my job and rarely having meaningful human interactions. In hindsight, it’s almost incredible that I got through it all. But it was amidst that figurative and literal darkness that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy arrived. 

Upon that album’s release, I was asked by my good friend Richard Clark to write a piece for his website at the time, Christ and Pop Culture. I still remember the November night I listened to the album for the first time, and every emotion I felt track-to-track through that hour of excess, extravagance, insanity, beauty, pain, and everything in between. I had never heard anything like it. Nobody had. What was this? To call it rap would be to sell it short, but no other genre fit, either. 

This was something else: The product of someone living in a self-imposed exile in the wake of a great public failure, fully dedicated to creating something so personal, powerful, and incredible that it would win everyone back over. It worked. It was one of the most visionary artists of his time creating his masterpiece. A dark, introspective album arriving at exactly the most dark and introspective period of my life. 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy caused me to re-examine and re-evaluate those previous albums. Suddenly, Late Registration, Graduation, and 808s & Heartbreak each sounded revolutionary in their own right. During this stretch of time, I undoubtedly listened to more Kanye West than almost every other artist combined. It was a lock that Kanye would top my annual Spotify Wrapped charts as the most listened-to artist.

Kanye’s penchant for experimentation and genre-blending mirrored, or perhaps even influenced, my own musical tastes at the time. In the early 2010s, new and exciting artists began emerging from unexpected channels like SoundCloud and YouTube. I became obsessed with anything that felt like it was stretching my understanding of traditional pop music structures or trends. In particular, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean – artists undoubtedly influenced by Kanye’s work at the time – became personal favorites and artists I couldn’t wait to share with anyone who would listen.

That dark winter of 2010 gave way to the light and warmth of the summer of 2011. My divorce was finalized and in the rear-view mirror. I was no longer working overnight shifts. I was hanging out with friends again, writing about music, and about to meet someone new. Kanye and Jay-Z’s collaborative Watch the Throne took a decidedly different and more celebratory tone, serving as a great soundtrack for my climb back up the other side of the valley. 

The following year, Kanye’s Cruel Summer compilation provided the background music to my life in a new city, with new friends, and an exciting engagement. In 2013, I wrote about Yeezus and my initial struggles with yet another new version of Kanye, even if the album itself was once again unlike anything we’d heard before (or since). It was that article that sparked a lunch invite from a curious co-worker who would become one of my closest friends. A year later, we’d find ourselves nerding out on a podcast for the recently-launched It’s All Dead, ranking all of Kanye’s albums.

If you came to our site back in those days, you could almost call it a Kanye West fanzine. I don’t have to go back and count to tell you that more words have been written and words spoken about Kanye West on our site and podcast than any other artist over the years. But it would soon become not so fun.

To follow Kanye in recent years has been an exercise in exhaustion, frustration, disgust, and sadness. Sure, there have been some good moments, like seeing him in concert for the first time in 2016 or singing Kid Cudi’s opening chorus of “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” at the top of my lungs that entire summer. But the rest…well, you already know the rest. And that’s what has made this so hard to write. I’ve said my piece multiple times over at this point. The days of Kanye West residing at the epicenter of my interests are well in the past. And it’s hard to imagine that ever changing.

Earlier this year, Coodie Simmons released jeen-yus, a Netflix documentary largely filled with unseen footage from Kanye’s early days as he scrapped and clawed his way to relevance amidst a music industry that had no belief in him. A lot of the scenes were jaw-dropping, like seeing Kanye play beats for Mos Def and Talib Kweli in a car or drop by Pharrell’s studio to play him “Through the Wire”. There were genuine moments of joy in that documentary that reminded me of everything I loved.

But sadly, the documentary’s closing chapters zoomed in on all of the things that have pushed myself and so many others away. As a fellow human being fighting my own demons, I hope Kanye gets the help he needs and finds a real kind of redemption. For now, those high moments don’t hit quite the same as they used to. I still put on Kanye from time-to-time, and there are moments when I can transport myself back to when things weren’t so cloudy and broken. And those are good feelings to hold onto, I guess.

Second Tier: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, The 1975, CHVRCHES, The Wonder Years

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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Ah yes, the year is 2012. I am 14, a few months away from 15, and simply desperate to prove I am “not like other girls.” I am at a friend’s birthday sleepover, and one of the girls asks if we should turn on some music. I volunteer immediately, pulling my orange 5th gen iPod Nano, camera and all, out of my pocket. I say, “Listen to this,” and proceed to play Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” that I ripped off YouTube, complete with the vocal interpolations from the music video’s found footage clips. I am on top of the world. Then one of my friends says it sucks and is not God-honoring and I lose aux privileges for the rest of the night.

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You can buy or stream Born to Die on Apple Music

It took me a few more years to get into the rest of Born to Die, an album I still consider to be Lana Del Rey’s magnum opus, the album that will be remembered long after she retires from making new music. The album outlines a lifestyle I have never and don’t ever want to experience, so why do I continue to get lost in this materialistic, drug-addled work?

I once jokingly texted a friend that listening to Lana made me feel “slutty” in the best way. There’s something about the image she portrayed in this first album that made me feel powerful and excited to be a woman. Feeling like I could take hold of this weird twisted destiny she was singing about. When really, in looking at the lyrics, the album is a story of abuse: emotional, and in some versions (I’m looking at you, “Diet Mountain Dew” demo) physical. There is a sick obsession with youth and what it can buy you. It’s an ode to the sugar daddy. It was a portrait of the American Dream, but it’s definitely not idealistic.

Born to Die was like nothing I’d ever heard at that point in time. Even when I didn’t get the literary allusions and references to pop culture from yesteryear, I could still sense something special in what Lana was trying to do. She has changed her style in every way possible since this album, and yet I will always see her with her 40s Rita Hayworth curls sitting between those tigers. I will always see her as a stand in for Jackie Kennedy, lamenting over the lost love in her marriage. I will always see her as the perfect pin-up girl, plucked from the 60s and dropped into a music scene that still doesn’t quite appreciate what she has to offer. With Born to Die, she ushered in an entire generation of girls who went on to make music for themselves, and outside of and despite the male gaze.

Of course, I couldn’t see any of that when I was 14. I only saw a way to appear edgy and cool and on top of the newest and best of pop culture. In a way, Born to Die has brought me here to this 10-year anniversary. I don’t doubt if I hadn’t started branching out back then I wouldn’t be writing this now. Songs like “This Is What Makes Us Girls” were so refreshing to me back then. She can try to hide it behind dramatic metaphors about the Kentucky Derby and by singing about drugs and alcohol, but there’s a truth and a timelessness to Born to Die that is impossible to separate. It’s at once a picture of the best and worst of luxury, two sides of a dangerous coin, and it never grows old for me.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Taylor Swift Keeps the Momentum Rolling

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If I’m being completely honest, I am okay with Taylor Swift taking time off. The woman has been arguably the most prolific artist in the world, having released three new albums and two re-releases of past albums in the last two years. While it would be natural to assume she has to be near the point of burning out, there is still always reason to be excited. With four more re-releases scheduled, if she keeps at the same pace she has been going at, the next Taylor’s Version may be only a few months away.

These re-releases made her older material somehow nostalgically refreshing and relevant again despite being listened to thousands of times already. Her “From the Vault” B-Sides would be worthy of a release all on their own, but in this context we can see how she evolved as an artist between albums and how she tested the waters with genre and style before fully jumping in. Whatever her next Taylor’s Version album is, it can’t come soon enough for fans who already know every note by heart.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Mitski Opens a New Chapter

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I remarked to my husband at the end of 2021 that I was officially entering my indie sad girl years, not to be confused, of course, with my emo sad girl years. I said this after spending a particularly emotional week in the world of The Mountain Goats, and I kind of moved away from the notion as I looked at my Spotify Wrapped and realized I’m still very much emo. And then I listened to the (now three) singles from Mitski’s upcoming album Laurel Hell. And unlike my other most anticipated projects, it’s real and tangibly close to being in my hands.

Not only is this album coming very soon (February 4th), but it is proving to be my favorite Mitski project so far. She is so consistently good at what she does, and for a lot of artists, we would see “sixth album” and write it off as a has been or a reach. But Mitski gets better with age. Her lyricism improves, her confidence in using new instrumentation or new influences improves. Based on the singles so far, I am already placing Laurel Hell in my running for favorite album of the year.

Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Dashboard Confessional Moves On

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I truly wouldn’t have imagined myself including Dashboard Confessional on a most anticipated feature like this in the year 2022. And nothing against Chris Carrabba – his music has meant the world to me since he joined Further Seems Forever for The Moon is Down all the way back in 2001. But I guess that’s the point. He’s delivered so much that’s felt so meaningful over the years. There really isn’t anything else I could imagine touching me quite so deeply at this point.

But then he released first single “Here’s to Moving On” from his upcoming album All the Truth that I Can’t Tell. Before my first play of the song was even finished, I reached out to It’s All Dead senior editor Kyle Schultz to tell him to drop everything and listen. It’s the kind of nostalgic throwback that hits every note perfectly without feeling forced. It took me back to those college nights listening to Swiss Army Romance and all of the emotions that only Carrabba can invoke with the strum of an acoustic guitar.

So here we are. It’s 2022 and I’m more ready than I realized to shed some tears to the sounds of Dashboard Confessional.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2022: My Chemical Romance Deliver Another Dose

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In late 2020, My Chemical Romance announced a return to form with a worldwide tour that set the scene rampant with excitement at not only seeing the band again, but hope that after so long there might be new music on the way. Just as the band began their tour, complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic paused the reunion entirely, with the band postponing dates around the world, including a headlining gig at Chicago’s Riot Fest.

A year later, it looks like MCR may be preparing to get back into the world’s collective consciousness. With the 2022 tour dates still on the docket from March through October, My Chemical Romance is going to be busy. As one of the most anticipated reunions in the rock world, an active and energetic My Chemical Romance offers a universe of possibilities, stories and concepts that are ripe for the taking. With the band back in full swing, there is always the possibility that new music is one tweet away from being announced.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Hozier Returns to Form

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Hozier has given us crumbs since the release of Wasteland, Baby! in 2019. He released a dance song with Meduza in October, and recently posted on his Instagram story that we will receive a project called Unreal Unearth at some point this year. Whether that’s an album, an EP, or just a single remains to be seen. I liked Wasteland, Baby!, but it’s not an album that remained in my rotation much longer than the year it released, unlike Hozier’s first self-titled album.

With Unreal Unearth, I’d like to see a return to form from Andrew, and based on the title, I think that’s what we’re in for. Please Hozier, give me the tunes of a Celtic god who has just awoken from his hundred-year slumber. I want “In A Week” part 2, please and thanks. Oh and I want a collab with Florence Welch. Of course, we know Hozier will do what he wants, and we will still sit at his feet and ask for more, and then he will retreat back into his songwriter’s cave and emerge again when he sees fit.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2022: The Weeknd Breaks the Dawn

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Okay, so this is kind of a cop out. Dawn FM, the latest album from The Weeknd, dropped last Friday. But I did anticipate it in the week between its announcement and release, so there’s that!

Honestly, my first reaction upon hearing the news was to think, “Didn’t he just drop After Hours?” But then I had the sad realization that it had been almost two years and that this pandemic has now lasted a full album cycle.

But nevertheless, Dawn FM is another stroke of genius from Abel Tesfaye, an artist who continues to paint an unexpected narrative and blur the lines between The Weeknd as a character and Abel as a real human being. Created as a radio broadcast of music and existential ponderings after the events of After Hours, Dawn FM is oddly reflective and pensive as it explores the idea that, just maybe, there is peace to be found in this life, which feels like a completely new note for The Weeknd.

Here in this new context, recent single “Take My Breath” feels alive in new and unexpected ways. Tracks like “How Do I Make You Love Me?”, “”Best Friends”, and “Don’t Break My Heart” carry the kind of longing and questioning we’re used to but inject each track with a stroke of humor. It’s another masterclass in pop excellence, and what I anticipate most at this point is playing it again and again throughout 2022.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2022: The Rejuvenation of Real Friends

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Ever since the addition of lead singer Cody Muraro to the band’s lineup, Real Friends have been on an absolute tear. Shortly after release of the stellar Torn in Two EP last year, the band embarked on a full autumn tour. Not only are the band preparing for another full tour with Mayday Parade and Magnolia Park, they’ve been in the studio all winter recording new material.

Real Friends seem to be utterly rejuvenated and at a creative peak in their career that many bands seem to lose after their first couple of releases. If their new music even remotely compares to the quality of emotion and blazing guitar riffs of Torn in Two, Real Friends are preparing for a release that will be known as a career highlight for the band.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: A New Album from Paramore (Please?)

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This is my wild card album that I always toss into the Most Anticipated. I got it right with Lorde last year, but I doubt I’ll have the same luck with Paramore. My actual prediction is next year, but it only feels right that they would come back and grace us with another Paramore album after Hayley and Zac have had such blockbuster years with their own solo albums. My other bold prediction is that this will be the final Paramore album. As much as I don’t want that to be true, as Paramore has been a true constant in my life, it feels like a natural ending for what has been an incredible movement in both the scene and modern music as a whole. 

I think that Zac and Hayley will move on to do illustrious things on their own, and they’ll let Paramore rest easy very soon. As for an album? I want it to head back to their scene roots and give us some headbangers, but I know this is almost impossible given the moves they’ve made artistically since 2017’s After Laughter. But at this point, I’m willing to latch on to anything they offer me.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.