This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Kanye West, Lorde, Janelle Monáe, Ellery James Roberts, Beck, Mikky Ekko and Sampha.
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Kanye West – “Black Skinhead”
On this season’s finale of Saturday Night Live, Ben Affleck – the Toast of Hollywood and holder of a freshly minted Best Picture Oscar statuette – introduced Kanye West as “the man you came to see.” Affleck’s words were neither humble nor exaggerated. This was our first encounter with Yeezus, an album that had been teased for months but hadn’t even been completed at that point. No shit he was why we were tuning in, Ben.
The performance was revelatory. West’s ferocious, rock star delivery of “Black Skinhead” unsubtly suggested what we now know to be true – the new album would snarl and froth as aggressively as those wolves projected behind him on the Studio 8H stage.
Of the ten songs on Yeezus, “Black Skinhead” exemplifies the album’s dark turn. There’s no respite from the song’s wrath. It offers no pleasing soul sample. Its lyrics relentlessly project spite at no clear target. Its chorus is merely a seething pause in the onward-bound barrage of its rage.
Though “Black Skinhead” doesn’t contain a single guitar note, it marks a turning point in the ongoing flirtation between rap and rock. Where earlier attempts at joining the two genres mostly resulted in the ugly kluges of late-90s rock radio, West instead channels the notion of rock while he just gets his scream on. Those who mistakenly thought he was sampling Marilyn Manson were on the right track. He may not have lifted explicitly from “The Beautiful People,” but Yeezus and Antichrist Superstar are connected by more than the biblical inversion of their titles.
Daft Punk contribute robotic vocal punctuations on “Black Skinhead,” really the only proof they collaborated with West on the song. After all, Yeezus is the antithesis to their breezy Random Access Memories. Daft Punk’s mechanized blurts provide giddy thrills nonetheless, as does “Black Skinhead” throughout every second of its brisk three minutes.
West insists he’s an outsider, a King Kong on the Empire State Building, encircled by cruel biplanes. He’s being provocative, for sure. In a sense, he’s right though. Too much of his personal life eclipses his artistry. And so West’s detractors remain in the shadow of the skyscraper on which he straddles, high atop the world. – Peter Tabakis
tags / Beck, Ellery James Roberts, Featured, Janelle Monae, Kanye West, Lorde, Mikky Ekko, Sampha, Tracking