Complicated Feelings on the 10th Anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

It literally slipped my mind that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was turning 10 years old until I saw people tweeting about it. And if you’ve followed this website since our early days, you’ll understand how strange that is. Up until around 2017, It’s All Dead’s side project was that of a Kanye West fanzine. And then, well…you know. You live long enough to see yourself become the villain or whatever.

I gritted my teeth as I listed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at #1 on our 30 Best Albums of the Decade list last year. No matter how bad things have gotten, the fact remains. It’s one of those albums that I vividly remember where I was the first time I heard it. I literally remember my emotions hearing “All of the Lights”, “Monster”, and “Hell of a Life” for the first time. I remember how it was the only thing that mattered to me for a year, or at least until Watch the Throne dropped. It was the magnum opus from an artist that I revered more than anyone.

As a music critic, I’ve written and spoken more words about Kanye West than any other artist. I stopped a few years ago because it felt like there was nothing left to say. And it’s true. I have nothing new to add to the conversation on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy today. I listened to it again as recently as a few weeks ago. I’m torn between the memories of those feelings I felt and the feelings I feel now. It makes the music forever complicated and impossible to parse out.

This summer, I played The College Dropout for my daughter for the first time. She’s much too young to process anything about it, but I pondered aloud how I would talk about the album when she was old enough. Would I be able to articulate how important this artist was to me for a time – to my musical tastes, to my politics, to my life? Would I be able to explain why his seeming abandonment of all of the things that attracted me to him caused me such frustration and anger? Does it even matter?

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is 10 years old, and it’s a shame we can’t celebrate it more. But honestly, we’ve talked about it enough. And there’s enough brilliant art in the world to put our energy into, and I can’t wait to talk about the great music this hell of a year has given us in a few weeks when we release our end-of-the-year lists. Until then, happy anniversary, I guess. Here’s a toast to the douchebag.

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.

Podcast: Analyzing Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Recently, Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And guess what? There’s plenty to discuss. The It’s All Dead crew (Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz, and Nadia Alves) hopped on the podcast to make sense of it all.

The trio each share their thoughts on some of their favorite (and least favorite) rankings on the list, discuss the list’s welcomed and overdue shift toward diversity, and talk about a few albums that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. They also ponder how one might separate art from artist while making a list of this nature and how we can accurately and fairly look back on music and events from previous decades. Take a listen!

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What albums stuck out to you on this list? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Run the Jewels Arrive Right on Time with “RTJ4”

It was November 11, 2016. Just days after one of the most disastrous and damaging presidential elections in American history, iconic hip hop crew A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. It was an album 18 years in the making, set into motion in the years prior thanks to the mended relationship of key members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, and largely recorded before Phife’s passing in March of that year.

That album was a moment. Less a celebratory victory lap for one of the genre’s most revered acts and more a statement of resistance in the aftermath of the election. Even now, tracks like “The Space Program” and “We the People…” feel as though they were penned on that dreadful Tuesday night. How was it possible for Tribe to have such foresight?

You can buy or stream RTJ4 on Apple Music.

Because foresight wasn’t required. Donald Trump’s election was just another sad, terrible moment in a country whose history is filled with the marginalization, oppression, and blatant hatred of people of color. The members of Tribe didn’t need a new reason to speak that truth.

I couldn’t help but think of that album this week upon the release of RTJ4, the fourth studio release from hip hop duo Run the Jewels. The album arrives with the country in disarray and protests taking place in every major city over the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and quite literally countless black lives at the hands of a system that devalues them. RTJ4 sounds hand-crafted for this moment in time.

It was last Saturday that Killer Mike spoke during a press conference with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an unscripted and powerful moment that captured the attention of the country. It’s the kind of speech you would expect a leader to give – the sort of thing that is in short supply these days. By Wednesday, in the words of Run the Jewels themselves, “Fuck it. Why Wait?” RTJ4 was here.

I didn’t make it through the first track before I had to pause and compose myself. “Yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” begins with the sort of fictional, fantastical banter that sometimes backdrops Run the Jewels’ music, adding moments of levity between the weight. The track itself is punishing, highlighted by its rapid-fire drum beat and rattling bass line. Mid-way into the track, Mike drops the kind of verse that makes time stand still:

“I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside
I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes
Chose the latter, it don’t matter, it ain’t suicide”
And if the news say it was that’s a goddamn lie
I can’t let the pigs kill me, I got too much pride
And I meant it when I said it, never take me alive”

Before you can digest those lines, El-P enters the scene with humor, jerking us back into this getaway episode, spitting, “I got the Grand Nat runnin’ in the alley outside / Now, Michael, run like you hungry and get your ass in the ride”. It’s a textbook Run the Jewels moment, but this week, it hits harder than ever before.

The same applies to “walking in the snow” featuring another heartbeat-skipping moment as Mike alludes to the last words of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 by New York City police. His verse now lands hauntingly in the wake of George Floyd:

“And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’”

Jesus. And he’s not done:

“And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy”

I could go on, diving in on tracks like “JU$T” featuring Pharrell and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, which features the repeated cry of, “Look at all these slave masters”, but you get the point. While this past week has served as a wake-up call (hopefully) for so many white and privileged people across the country, the stories of George Floyd and Breona Taylor are nothing new for the black community. Albums like Thank You 4 Your Service and RTJ4 feel so in the moment when they arrive because they exist in a moment that never ends.

At a certain point in time as the genre evolved and expanded, hip hop as protest music became a sort of subgenre. But truthfully, protest has always been in rap’s DNA. It has to be. Because black voices are marginalized and maligned today just as they were in the 70s when the genre began to form, and just as they were for hundreds of years prior to that. And while we’d all be wise to listen, maybe it’s time to act, too. Fuck it. Why wait?

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.

Podcast: Making Sense of Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20”

Last month, a surprise new album from Childish Gambino hit the web with little promotion and few details. A month later, we’re still trying to figure out 3.15.20. On this episode of the podcast, Kiel Hauck is joined by Richard Clark to discuss the twists and turns of the new album and debate 3.15.20‘s place in Childish Gambino’s discography. They also take a look back at the artistic growth of Donald Glover, one of the most fascinating pop culture figures and artists of our time. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite album by Childish Gambino? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The Weeknd – After Hours

In a recent article for The Ringer, music writer Rob Harvilla described The Weeknd as “self-quarantine R&B.” That’s kind of a perfect label. Not only does it have to suffice given our current pandemic lock-down, but Abel Tesfaye has made a very illustrious, successful, wildly entertaining career out of his dark, loathsome, isolated-at-the-party persona. 

You can buy or stream After Hours on Apple Music.

And when it works, it approaches perfection. But after nine years, four EPs, three full-length albums, and an avalanche of guest appearances, when does it get tired? That kind of depends on who’s asking.

After Hours arrives at a strange time. There will be no headlining tour in support of it anytime soon, no summer festival appearances, and very few (if any) big events blaring the sounds of its singles. Instead, we all get to enjoy it in isolation. And that setting lends itself to a more purposeful, thoughtful listen. When Tesfaye is at his best, that’s truly the ideal way to consume his art.

Upon the release of My Dear Melancholy in 2018, I noted how Tesfaye’s return to more emotional depths after his brief celebration at the summit felt oddly refreshing. Starboy served its purpose as making the most of a moment in which The Weeknd had fully crossed over from Coachella darling to mainstream celebrity. It comes as a relief and a surprise that After Hours picks up where Melancholy left off.

Much like Tesfaye’s breakthrough smash “I Can’t Feel My Face” served as a red herring prior to the release of Beauty Behind the Madness, early After Hours singles “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” find new life and meaning within the flow of the album. Also like Madness, After Hours moves at its own pace, gradually shifting shape across its 14 tracks and blending into something cohesive.

Buzzing opener “Alone Again” sets the early pace and makes clear that After Hours will live up to its name. This isn’t a collection of club bangers. This is what you play at 3 a.m. when it’s clear that your demons won’t be allowing you to sleep. Just two tracks later, “Hardest to Love” jars the listener with its off-key synthesizers, sounding like the evil twin of an 80’s ballad. It would almost be sweet if it weren’t so drenched in self-loathing: “I don’t feel it anymore / The house I bought is not a home / Together we are so alone”.

But lest the album feel like a dredge, the pace picks up when Metro Boomin enters the mix around “Escape from LA”, right before “Heartless” turns up the volume. It’s here that Tesfaye reveals his hand: He hasn’t changed. And the track feels like Weeknd circa 2012 with the line, “I’ve been dodging death in the six-speed / Amphetamine got my stummy feelin’ sickly”.

“Faith” follows suit by leaning all the way into the pain. It would almost feel like caricature if the track wasn’t so goddamn smooth: “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me / I want you to follow right behind me / I want you to hold me while I’m smiling / While I’m dying”. The song’s outro takes note of the blinding ambulance and city lights fluttering across his eyes before spilling into the previously innocuous single “Blinding Lights”.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, right? But that’s the thing. I’m a firm believer that 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness stands as The Weeknd’s best work, which is why his Starboy journey into broad daylight felt so…off. After Hours is a return to Tesfaye’s wheelhouse in every sense, and if it feels too familiar, well, that’s totally fine with me. Because that’s kind of what I’m looking for right now.

I saw The Weeknd perform during his Starboy arena tour in 2017. It was a spectacle and a hell of a night. It also didn’t feel true to what I loved about his music. In many ways, After Hours is built to be listened to in solitude, in the dark. Fortunately, we all have plenty of time on our hands right now. But it’s understandable if that’s not what you’re looking for. 

For me, it’s a welcome return to form for an artist who has soundtracked so many of my favorite, albeit tipsy and spinny memories over the past decade. It’s also an invitation to explore an anti-hero type narrative around an artist who probably needs to change, but is bound by bad habits and old demons. “I thought I’d be a better man, but I lied to me and to you”, he slurs on the chorus of “Faith”. If that’s something that resonates with you, dim the lights and indulge.

4/5

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 Music of 2020: Kendrick Lamar Continues His Streak

In case you missed it, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar spent the 2010s crafting one of the greatest three-album stretches in recorded music history, capped in 2017 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN. So essentially, it was a pretty great decade for Lamar – and hip hop music in general. But what comes next?

Rumor has it that he has put the finishing touches on album number five, which will likely drop this year. Lamar has explored a variety of sounds across his previous work, at times blending a variety of genres, such as jazz, funk, and soul. A tweet from one Billboard columnist suggests that rock could be added to the mix on this latest effort.

No matter what it sounds like, one can rest assured that Lamar has plenty left to say. In 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly became a piercing exposition of institutional racism, full of deep reflections on the black experience in America. DAMN. followed suit while taking an internal detour into Lamar’s own pysche. Whatever is to follow is sure to kick the decade off right and continue the artistic trajectory of one of the most powerful voices in music.

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.

Review: NF – The Search

Nate Feuerstein (NF) has become one of the top names in hip-hop. What sets him apart, and what draws me to him, is the fact that he refuses to sing about wasting time on anything hollow. He makes clean rap but never fails to make it almost unbearably relatable. 

If you listened to his last album, 2017’s Perception, you’ll know that the topics talked about in his latest are not new to NF. He’s simply telling his story in real time. Perception’s success is what allowed NF to keep that same raw approach on The Search.

You can buy or stream The Search on Apple Music.

It’s hard to live in today’s society. The culture we live in is as divided as ever. And that’s why NF’s music is thriving. We are interested in hearing something that’s not merely a distraction. NF refuses to cut corners. He speaks unashamedly about mental illness, imposter syndrome, and the toll that our fame-focused culture is taking on today’s youth.

I would say the best lyric that sums up the album’s main theme comes from the title track, where he says: “I’m lookin’ for the map to hope / You seen it?” I think I might want that tattooed onto me. The album is an absolute mountain: 19 tracks clocking in at an hour and 12 minutes. This isn’t an album that you throw on in your car as background noise. This album demands your absolute attention. That’s something I rarely find in today’s music, so I reveled in it for quite some time before trying to talk about it.

The album truly speaks for itself. Anything I write here will either only repeat what the album says better than I will, or completely prove the point that Feuerstein is trying to make. I got into NF when my younger brother started talking incessantly about Perception. I took him to the Boston date of that album tour and it convinced me that NF was someone to add to the list of the few rappers I have in my repertoire. Rap is my bottom genre choice, so if I’m listening to a rap album, it’s really worth listening to. 

I can’t talk about stand-out tracks or hard hitting lyrics because literally every song stands out and every lyric hits hard. “I Miss the Days” is one of the softer tracks but it made me tear up because it’s all about childhood and remembering the days when we didn’t have anything to worry about other than what time we’d get to go out to play. He hasn’t had it easy in his life, which is something he speaks often about. 

NF is not afraid to bring attention to the rough edges in his life. In “Nate”, he recalls being young and watching his parents go through a divorce, as well as watching his mother fall into drug addiction. He ends the verse by saying “You look uncomfortable / I’m sorry / Let me change the subject”. 

What I appreciate most about NF is the fact that he doesn’t pull a Kanye and say life was hard but now I have a life of luxury and beautiful women and everything I could ask for. He’s honest about the fact that life is a lot more complicated than ever before. He’s become a spokesperson for being grounded in reality and realizing that experiencing success doesn’t magically mean that life will be smooth sailing, and that it’s hard, but it’s okay.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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.

Podcast: Who Won the 2009 Hip Hop Title Belt?

Crossover episode! In our latest podcast, we share another podcast (meta, right?) Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel recently launched a new show called Decade Rewind, and in the latest episode, the two discuss which rapper took home the hip hop title belt in 2009. In a year of transition for hip hop, a slew of new artists hit the scene (Drake, Kid Cudi, etc.) and would shift the sound of the genre. Meanwhile, hip hop greats like Jay-Z, Eminem and others were holding fast to the sounds that led to their success. Listen in!

Like what you heard? Be sure to check out Decade Rewind and give us a review! Subscribe here.

What was your favorite hip hop album in 2009? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Who Won the 2018 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel drops by the It’s All Dead podcast studio to chat with Kiel Hauck about which rapper took the Hip Hop Title Belt in 2018. The two discuss some of hip hop’s hottest storylines of the year, break down 2018’s best hip hop tracks, and look ahead to what might come in 2019. So who won the belt? The conversation includes candidates such as Cardi B, Drake, Travis Scott, Vince Staples, Pusha T, and many more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What were your favorite hip hop tracks in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2019: #1 Childish Gambino Makes His Final(?) Appearance

A year-and-a-half has passed since Donald Glover announced at the Governors Ball Music Festival his intention on releasing one final Childish Gambino album before riding off into the sunset. Since that time, Glover has released one of most powerful songs of the decade (“This is America”), unexpectedly dropped a new Summer Pack EP, created another wildly successful season of his TV series Atlanta, and starred as Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Glover has never been one to rest on his laurels, and the past several years have been a whirlwind of creative success. If the next Childish Gambino album truly is his last, we can rest assured that whenever it comes, and whatever it is, it will surely be great. His artistic progression from Camp to Because the Internet to Awaken, My Love! has been fascinating to watch, and there’s no telling where he might take his sound next.

Whether that rumored final album drops in 2019, or whether we receive something else completely (which seems just as likely), we patiently await whatever comes next from one of the most important and mysterious artistic voices on the planet.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.