Gossiping last night with friends at a party in Putney about that well-worn topic: ‘the future of the record industry’. ‘Cos, you know, we’re the guys to, like, save it.
Bound up with this was a suitably broad conversation about those saviours of commercial hip-hop, Kanye West and Jay-Z. In my opinion Kanye, for all his narcissism and apparent insanity, is someone who is at least trying to push boundaries with everything he does. The best summing up of his last record I’ve read describes it as an ‘album-length auto-tuned sigh’ – his latest is anything but.
Just look at the way he owns his slot on SNL – a white, middle-class, cynical comedy show that has a hip-hop artist guesting once in a blue moon. No half measures here and you’ve got to love him for it.
You’ll see 101 other glowing reviews of it but suffice it to say I love it – it’s dark, wildly imaginative, puffed-up, grandiose and all the things we love and hate about Kanye. I will say that ‘The Blame Game’ and ‘Monster’ are particularly fine – the latter with a beat that, on its own, would make it a more interesting record than half of what Kanye’s competitors put out.
Setting the music aside, the record is a prime example of Kanye definitively choosing one of the two paths open to artists wishing to successfully release music that cuts-through and makes a lasting impact.
With the rise of Twitter and the all-access celebrity culture artists have two options:
1) Do a Kanye – embrace it and let it feed your music’s development. Through his ‘G.O.O.D. Friday’ releases, constant ravings on Twitter and seemingly insatiable appetite for media attention, Kanye puts it entirely in his audience’s hands how they want to approach him and his music. He lets them in to his insane world at regular intervals and this results in a genuine sense of hype and intrigue. Hip-hop, with its somewhat tired themes and fragmented musical nature lends itself to this approach.
2) Do a Vaccines – The Vaccines have appeared on Jools Holland and are tipped to be the biggest thing in 2011. But they haven’t released a single record. They haven’t done any interviews (until this week in DiS). Their website is a stream of bizarre vintage photos and videos. ‘The band don’t create media interest – the media do’ – and it would appear Justin Young et al are leaving them to do just that.
The danger comes in a middle path of semi-orchestrated hype and confused musical branding that seems to say ‘Hey, you’re a part of this man, just look at our Twitter page. But you can’t change anything and we’re about to release our debut album featuring that one single you love from the trendy compilation before our talent has matched our levels of exposure’. That’s where bands die on their arse. Local Natives, FrankMusik, We Have Band…