Welcome to The Hot Take, a feature where a selection of writers discuss some of the noteworthy single releases of the last couple weeks. This time we take a look at the new singles from Kanye West, M83, M.I.A., A. K. Paul, and Oakland MC Kamaiyah.
Kanye West, “Wolves” (feat. Vic Mensa & Sia) / “Frank’s Track” (feat. Frank Ocean)
Luke Fowler: Is it better than the original album version? Yes. Is it better than the SNL performance? Probably. Does it live up to the song’s full potential? No, and I’m not sure what else it needs in order to get there; the Vic Mensa and Sia features are top-quality, and the new percussion adds a welcome sense of urgency. Maybe it’s the sandwich line that’s holding it back? Or maybe “Frank’s Track” should have been stuck at the beginning, not the end? I don’t know. I still don’t think Kanye’s done with this track, but on the off chance that he is, I’ll consider this sufficiently “fixed”. B+
Elena Badillo: “Ima fix wolves,” Kanye tweeted the next day after he put the initial version of TLOP on Tidal. Now, “fixing” something implies that there was something wrong with it, and absolutely nothing was wrong with the previous version (maybe that “stolen sandwich” line, but he didn't cut it, anyway). “Wolves” has been one of my TLOP top 5 since the beginning, but actually I do like this enhanced version, putting back Sia (how could he get rid of those stunning vocals in first place?!) and Vic, and fairly giving Frank Ocean’s beautiful verse his own spot in the album.
I know that many people can find TLOP 's rollout annoying and tiresome (I fully empathize), but I actually do like this dynamic album idea. I feel that it somehow builds an interesting link between the artist and its public, at a time when these links have been gradually disappearing. A
Brian Tabb: So thanks to a feverish outcry, Kanye fixed “Wolves”, a track that was assumed to be completed along with The Life Of Pablo. According to Ye, that kind of album creation is no more, and thus we’re presented with the OG version, Vic Mensa and Sia included. Oh, and Frank has his own track. Why? Who knows. And honestly, who cares, the music is great. Despite how janky and discordant it is, stumbling from each section to the next, “Wolves” features the best of each cryptic version. B
Luke: Remember when M83’s music made you feel something? “Solitude” tries to emulate the same 70s/80s throwback vibes as “Do It, Try It”, right down to the James Bond strings and Pink Floyd synth solo, and while it’s not as aurally offensive as that single’s desperate appeal to danceability, it’s hard to believe it came from the same artist who gave us “Midnight City”. It’s got some semblance of the scope, but where’s the fun? The grandeur, even? C
Elena: The effort in trying to connect the dots or trying to find a driving force within M83’s —now thirteen year-old— path has always felt futile. But M83’s latest work is explicitly suggesting that there will be no meaning or grounded concept to be found whatsoever, so we better just sit down and have a listen. Hopefully we’ll like it, but if we don't, Gonzalez doesn't really care.
When “Do It, Try It” was premiered on Annie Mac's Radio 1 show, Gonzalez talked about the difficulties of writing a new album after the enormous success of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming: “I just told myself, well, you had an amazing success with the previous album so now you can do whatever you wanna do, so just experiment and have fun with your music and just put it out.”
So I guess that we'll just have to take all these new songs at face value, whether they are explosive dance blasts like “Do It Try It”, or dreamy ’80s style ballads like “Solitude”. In both of them I really like the piano and synths instrumentation, and in the latter I love Gonzalez's beautiful, haunting vocals. The track can get a bit boring after the first four minutes, though. B–
Brian: Junk has me worried. While “Do It, Try It” was just plain bad, “Solitude” has me worried for entirely different reasons. Hot on the heels of two motion picture soundtracks, it feels Anthony Gonzalez dutifully placed “Solitude” among the rubble of soundtrack music. It’s not bad, just obsessively intent on providing emotion through manufactured orchestration. It forgoes the catchiness found on many M83 hits in place of solemn tension, losing some of what makes Gonzalez interesting along the way. C–
M.I.A., “M.I.A. O.L.A./Foreign Friends”
Luke: A characteristically vague political message, effective sampling work (that bit from “Circle of Life” could have been used in so many wrong ways, and it’s a relief to hear it repurposed well), and a minimalist yet commanding piano riff work to this song’s advantage, but the outro isn’t fleshed out enough to warrant its inclusion, and the lack of variation threatens to derail the track’s main stretch. Quite a banger, though. B–
Elena: Unsurprisingly, in both “MIA OLA” and “Foreign Friend”, M.I.A.’s lyrics are politically charged. This time, and following her 2015 single “Borders”, the topic is immigration. In “Foreign Friend” the lyrics get significantly deeper into these issues, whereas “MIA OLA” is absolutely superior, sonically speaking. I seriously I dislike the way “Foreign Friend” sounds, and this just grows each time I try to listen to it. As for the first track, I find her rapping catchy to the point of addictive, although the Lion King sample is a massive turn-off, and her constant references to her own past albums, tweets, and anecdotes (the middle finger at the Super Bowl, etc.) are a bit out of place, thematically.
I have mixed feelings toward this couple of tracks, which, by the way, lack a lot in the production side (maybe they're just bare demos, who knows?). But nothing that those first three minutes of brilliant rapping and nice beats can’t partially overshadow. C–
Brian: On “Ola” and “Foreign Friend” M.I.A. sticks to the controversial views found on “Borders”, a song that sought to dissolve the heated discussion of whether or not to welcome refugees. M.I.A.’s political fervor wouldn't be half as noted if it weren't for the music behind her, and with “” that's well on display with stuttering vocals and a clear world music influence. “Foreign Friend” does the same but takes it to the streets of India, adding a filthy bass for good measure. B–
A. K. Paul, “Landcruisin’”
Luke: I could listen to this riff all day. Looking at the amount of times I’ve played this song in a row so far, I might actually end up doing that. Mesmerizing stuff. A–
Elena: It’s inevitable to compare this one against Jai Paul’s “BTSTU” and “Jasmine”, especially given the Paul brothers’ recently formed joint project, and their three-song repertoire. “Landcruisin” is unbelievably good, experimenting with car engine sounds, metal percussions, hooky guitar licks, and perfectly engineered synths. However, it doesn't come close to Jai’s absolutely legendary and groundbreaking pair of tracks. Let’s just hope that a new album from these geniuses is coming soon! A–
Brian: He may have only released two songs since 2010 but A. K. Paul’s brother, Jai, took the Internet by storm and still retains their interest to this day. Needless to say, a drop by his brother is worthy of focus. And “Landcruisin’” does not disappoint. Similar to Neon Indian’s Vega Int’l Night School, “Landcruisin’” defies redundancy thanks to a barrage of textures found underneath. Each layer invites a new rhythm to dance to, a new energy to invest in, a new mystery to unravel. B+
Kamaiyah, “How Does It Feel”
Luke: Lose the electronic cowbells, tweak the background vocal mixing, maybe add a breakdown in the middle, and you’ve got yourself one of the year’s best hip-hop tracks. These vocals are excellent, and “I done worked all my life, now I wonder/How does it feel to just live?” is the most startlingly sincere lyric I’ve heard in a while. Somebody needs to remix this into something amazing. B
Elena: I love what she’s mixing here and I love the result. Definitely has this carefree, funky ‘90s R&B vibe, strongly recalling Missy Elliot. But she enhances it all with smart lyrics and awesome synths that explode just before the hook comes out. Considering that she’s only 21, there are bigger things coming from her. But for now, she’s already putting out great party music. B
Brian: On “How Does It Feel”, Kamaiyah takes you straight into the streets of Oakland. But with a twist! Peeling her sound from the fabric of hip-hop’s Golden Age, “How Does It Feel” works in ways that feel purposely in the present and nostalgic about the past. Her clear Missy Elliott inspirations only heighten that, as she looks to escape the ghetto for a taste of the wealthy life. A non-commodity in hip-hop for sure, but one that feels lived-in and earnest here. B+