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Getty Images / WireImage / Johnny Nunez

Think what you will of Kanye West, but the self-proclaimed conduit of “dragon energy” has made some bold choices this year. From declaring his support of President Trump to claiming that slavery was a “choice,” Yeezy’s eccentric musings have transformed his image from a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy into something far more lurid, threatening to overshadow what made him famous in the first place.

However, amongst all of the controversy and talk of boycotting Kanye altogether, hype also began to build for the G.O.O.D. Music rollout following its announcement in late April. Channeling the spirit of his G.O.O.D. Friday giveaways from yesteryear, Kanye revealed that he would produce five albums scheduled for release on five consecutive Fridays, thereby turning the months of May and June into his very own Cruel Summer compilation.

Alongside Kanye’s own studio album, the project would include new solo releases from Nas, Pusha-T and Teyana Taylor, as well as a collaborative effort between himself and Kid Cudi. In an effort to streamline each artist’s process and differentiate the rollout from what’s come before, West also revealed that the five albums would all feature just seven songs on their tracklists, which is arguably the boldest choice Kanye has made yet this year in terms of his artistic vision.

At the listening party for DAYTONA, G.O.O.D. Music’s first project this summer, Pusha-T elaborated on the label’s new approach in more detail, explaining that “You know, G.O.O.D. Music anti-everything. If everybody doing 18 tracks, we doing seven.” Now that all five of the G.O.O.D. Music albums have been released, it’s time to see whether being “anti-everything” paid off for Kanye & co. or whether hip-hop fans should reconsider West’s place in their hearts after the most challenging year to be a Ye-stan yet.

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Highsnobiety / Kyle Hodge

Simple Things

Hip-hop is inherently political by its very nature, yet the message that rappers strive to convey is often lost in the mix these days thanks to bloated track listings that lean hard towards an excess of filler. To be fair, things have changed a great deal now that Billboard incorporates streaming figures into their record sales tally, so it’s no wonder that the likes of Migos and even Kanye himself have recently recorded albums that span at least 18 tracks minimum. How else can they compete with the golden age of hip-hop sales back in the ’90s and early 2000’s?

The problem of course is that the industry as a whole seems to have forgotten that some of the most legendary rap records also number among the most concise. 24 years before Nas recorded NASIR this summer for the G.O.O.D. Music rollout, Escobar changed the game with Illmatic, an unstoppable debut that was just ten tracks long. This sharp focus is literally worlds away from Chris Brown’s latest project, Heartbreak on a Full Moon, which spans a devastatingly tedious 45 tracks with nary a hit single in sight. For the most part, quantity over quality has gradually become the mandate of hip-hop, and it’s admirable that Kanye would try and hearken back to a time when that wasn’t always the case.

With the release of DAYTONA on May 25, Yeezus proved that the concise approach which would come to define this G.O.O.D. Music album cycle could not only work in a modern day setting, but could even triumph. Never before has Pusha-T sounded so focused on one record and with no obligation to secure radio play; he and Kanye were free to create seven bangers for an album that featured no real filler to speak of. Fans also seem to agree, relishing how the skip button was rendered redundant for large parts of DAYTONA and other G.O.O.D. Music releases too.

The shorter length of these albums may put them at a disadvantage in terms of streaming tallies, yet the G.O.O.D. Music cycle has still enjoyed considerable chart success in spite of this, even when pitted against longer albums from popular contemporaries. For example, DAYTONA moved 77,000 units in its first week, beating out competition from A$AP Rocky’s TESTING, which sold 75, 000 in the same amount of time.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, all seven tracks taken from Kanye’s ye also took the top seven spots on both the Spotify and Apple Music charts in the record’s first week of release, eventually netting the star his eighth number one album on Billboard. ye was also joined at the top of the Apple music charts in subsequent weeks by both NASIR and the KIDS SEE GHOSTS collaboration. At one point, these three releases reigned together in the top three slots, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. lands in the top five too once charting information becomes available.

Yikes

These various achievements are particularly impressive given that Kanye produced every single track on each of these five releases, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Over the past 15 years, every new venture from Kanye West has become a cultural event of significance in of itself, regardless of the quality at hand, and by releasing each album without a promotional single first, curiosity has always played a key role in bumping up these initial sales. After all, not everyone can be invited to the exclusive listening parties.

Although KIDS SEE GHOSTS was lauded by many for its frank portrayal of mental illness and DAYTONA was arguably Pusha-T’s best solo effort yet, the truth is that the G.O.O.D. Music project as a whole has received surprisingly mixed reactions. Despite the love Kanye must have felt from whooping journalists at the Wyoming listening party, ye didn’t resonate as much with the critics working from home, most of whom were disappointed by the album’s distinct lack of polish. Without a longer tracklist to play around with, the epic themes that usually dominate Kanye’s discography were absent for the most part, much like the political beliefs that have come to define him in the public eye this year.

Ironically, NASIR accomplishes exactly what fans expected ye to do – and that’s explore the impact that racial inequality still has in Trump’s America. However, the 11th studio album from Nas also defied expectation by deliberately choosing to avoid the controversy that swirls around his personal life in the form of domestic abuse allegations that recently came to light. DAYTONA’s release was burdened by controversy as well after Kanye changed the album cover last minute, using a paparazzi photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom sink following one of her many drug binges.

Only Kid Cudi and Teyana Taylor have emerged from the G.O.O.D. Music rollout entirely unscathed, and it’s likely that the unprecedented mainstream attention will do them both more good than harm in the long run. Taylor in particular has impressed critics, one of whom even compared her vocal stylings to the late Amy Winehouse. Either way though, it’s unfortunate that the G.O.O.D. Music releases will still pass by fans who refuse to listen because of contentious choices made by a few of the artists in question.

Ghost Town

Content aside, the G.O.O.D. Music records have also drawn controversy thanks to the sloppy way that they’ve been rolled out too. Time and time again, Kanye’s team failed to deliver the goods when promised, struggling to stick with his self-appointed release schedule.

Although DAYTONA emerged issue-free for the most part, Kanye reportedly shot the artwork for ye on his iPhone, just hours before the album’s release, and technical difficulties plagued both the KIDS SEE GHOSTS listening party and the subsequent tracklisting online. To make matters worse, NASIR was released almost 24 hours later than initially promised, and Teyana Taylor’s album also suffered from delays after it was revealed that Kanye was still working on K.T.S.E. while flying on a plane, hours after her listening party had been unveiled. When the album did eventually arrive, the signature seven track approach was also bumped up to eight and without the Lauryn Hill guest spot that Taylor had previously hinted at online.

However, there’s something rather powerful about withholding what people want. By leaving a veritable ghost town on the likes of Spotify and TIDAL for more than one of these Friday releases, music from G.O.O.D. Music artists like Nas and Teyana Taylor was hyped up to the nth degree, trending on Twitter before their albums were even released.

Reborn

Despite its various issues, the G.O.O.D. Music rollout was wildly successful as a whole, serving as a powerful reintroduction for both stalwarts like Pusha-T and relative newcomers like Taylor. By limiting the length of each album, Kanye honed both his own production skills and the talent of each star on display. The focus should always be on quality, not quantity, and that’s a lesson the hip-hop industry sorely needed to be reminded of.

However, in his desperation to make an impact, Kanye also never stopped to consider how restricted track listings might work better for some artists than others, something which he himself seemingly conceded to by the time that K.T.S.E. came out with eight tracks instead of seven. By shining a tighter spotlight on the music itself, West drew attention to the weaknesses of each artist too, which is arguably most evident in his own solo effort, ye. Sometimes, it’s better to release longer albums that can explore a wider narrative from multiple angles, crystallizing the message more clearly, although this can still be lost amidst filler if not handled right.

Just like he did back when he first released 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West has once again changed the game, and while the G.O.O.D. Music rollout won’t become a definitive new blueprint for the entire industry, it will doubtless serve as a powerful reminder that sometimes less is more. It’s just like GZA once said, “Yo, too many songs, weak rhymes that’s mad long/ Make it brief Son, half short and twice strong.” As long as the up and coming SoundCloud generation remembers to heed these words, then the future of hip-hop not only looks G.O.O.D., but maybe even amazing.

For more like this, get our take on why British rap may finally be having its crossover moment right here.

Words by David Opie
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