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  • 18Jun

    On Yeezus, rap-as-pop, formulas for selling records, June 18th and “creation-over-commerce…”


    I recently asked this question of a good friend of mine: “If making music isn’t making money, than why make music to make money?” In 2013, the commercial landscape of the music industry is vastly different than ever before. Sure, there’s still massive successes –  Justin Timberlake went platinum in just over seven days – but at what cost? The push for Timberlake’s release involved Budweiser and Target, massive corporate advertising arms whose wholesale support absolutely comes at a hefty price. Thus, it’s an easy to support point to mention that – quite possibly – the ends may not have justified the means. When contemplating Kanye West’s Yeezus, the album’s most intriguing quality may not just be its incendiary and profoundly provocative lyrical content.  Rather in being so barren, stripped and raw, it could reflect a new “creation-over-commerce” initiative in the creation, development and dissemination of music.

    Yeezus isn’t as much an album as it is a performance art-based referendum on modern times. Clocking in at roughly 40 minutes, it’s nearly half the length of Justin Timberlake’s similarly ten track 20/20 Experience. Unlike other rap releases of-the-moment, the release’s seemingly intentional pastiche of minor key chords, uneven basslines and disembodied soul samples makes it not so much a difficult listen as much as an aural curiosity – an appreciated and intentional use of the centuries-old concept of theme and variations. In being both compact and profound, what it lacks in bloated largess it more than compensates for in intrigue. Like any great performance art, the excellence lies in achieving infinite replay value.

    If Kanye were interested in recording an album to make money, it certainly wouldn’t sound like this. Fellow June 18th release partners J. Cole and Mac Miller more than have the market cornered on pop-friendly sounds. By comparison to Yeezus, Watching Movies with the Sound Off - Mac Miller’s druggy ode to the concept of discovering spiritual and physical truths in the midst of substance abuse – is a non-offensive pop introduction to the wonders of blog-friendly, indie-trending rap. J. Cole’s Born Sinner is a pure cheek pinching charmer of a record – Cole’s winsome crooked smile attempting to worm its way into the hearts of pop fanatics worldwide. Intriguingly enough – whether based off the fame of Kanye or by mere intrigue due to the freshness of his product – it’s entirely possible that an album seemingly birthed of pure creative motivation may out-sell releases with definite commercial intent.

    The influence of the internet and global recession on mainstream music becomes more apparent when considering the net sales (after subtracting promotion and marketing, namely) of each hotly anticipated 2013 release. As much as you may love Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, were the ends used to justify the means of that grand slam of an album ultimately worth it? Of course, that’s a question with a yet-to-be determined answer. However, in even having to ask that question, there’s a clear statement being made.

    Kanye West achieved his living legacy by being a passionate creative with a talent for creating unique and intriguing hit pop singles and albums. Impressively, in an era where hit pop singles appear to not be enough to truly make a difference by traditional (aka commercial) measures of success, West has created a record with minimal traditional pop intrigue, and amazingly enough may find both pop success and a sustainability rarely found in the present era.

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