Cecilia and Emmet hop in a Fit and drive to Chicago. The playlist is exclusively Kanye, running for eight hours from 2004’s The College Dropout to new album The Life of Pablo (we counted Watch the Throne). The next day, Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring Day floods the South Side’s U.S. Cellular Field with superb music, a parade of guests, and an overwhelming radiance of Black joy.
Log notes from the Magnificent Yeezus Odyssey:
Words by Cecilia Johnson // Photos by Emmet Kowler
Friday, September 23, 2016
The College Dropout — goofy, gospel, disillusioned
“Intro” // “This is either the best or the worst idea I’ve ever had,” I say, climbing into the silver hatchback. I just put my duffel bag and a case of LaCroix in the back, and Emmet’s cueing up the first of eight Kanye West albums. “Either way,” I continue, “no regrets.”
“Graduation Day” // “Do you think the dig at skits on Atlanta was about this album?” Emmet asks from the driver’s seat. I burst out laughing, nod, and settle back. We’re three songs into Kanye’s goofy, dead serious takedown of college. Kanye’s high school teacher, voiced by DeRay Davis, is master of the tirade.
“I’ll Fly Away” // Here’s the one I heard just after downloading Coloring Book last year. I’d known Chance The Rapper looked up to Kanye. But when I heard this song, I realized just how crucial Kanye was for him. It drags and drops church music to mainstream rap, prototyping Chance’s “How Great” to a T; I’d heard many present-day music fans credit Chance with mixing gospel and secular rap, but “I’ll Fly Away” made me realize Kanye has been in that space since at least 2004.
“The New Workout Plan” // This song. It’s jokey, and if you ask some critics, it’s satirical — but something inside me can’t help squirming when it plays. Another part of me adores the beat and the vocoder breakdown. Life is conflict?
Late Registration // classic, percussive, sample heaven
“Heard ‘Em Say” // Kanye makes the prettiest songs. I normally think of rap as an aggressive art form, and Kanye can be as violent as anyone. But some of his music, particularly the older sort, has a softness I’d all but forgotten about. See also: “Never Let Me Down” and “Homecoming.”
“Touch The Sky” – Flashback to November 2015 in Morris, Minn., when Twin Cities band Danami and the Blue covered this song at a basement show. Best of times.
“Drive Slow” // This song always makes me think of Minnesotan music journalism. “Ye told me drive slow,” Allan Kingdom raps in “The Ride,” and most local critics thought it referenced some advice that Kanye gave him (maybe when they both worked on “All Day”). But Kingdom wrote “The Ride” before actually meeting Kanye, and if we were up on our hip-hop, we would’ve known that “drive slow” literally means “Drive Slow,” the song from Late Registration. We need diverse writers.
“Crack Music” // Oh hey, Lizzo.
“Addiction” // So: Late Registration was the only Kanye album I’d never heard in full before. I thought this road trip would fix that, but somewhere around “Addiction,” my head met the window and I couldn’t stay awake. Woke up during Graduation’s “Good Morning.”
Graduation // proud, orchid, gold standard
“Stronger” // I still love this song to death. It got me into Daft Punk, through many swim practices, and interested in Kanye.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” // At concerts, Prince liked to smirk and mutter, “Too many hits,” meaning that he’d made so many successful songs he couldn’t possibly get to them all. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” reminds me of Kanye’s “too many hits.” It constantly slips my mind; it lost the Grammy for Best Rap Song to Kanye’s “Good Life,” and “Stronger” was a much bigger radio smash. But it’s still one of the best songs of 2007.
“Drunk and Hot Girls” // Yuck.
“Big Brother” // Adorable. I want a playlist with all of the songs Kanye and Jay Z have worked on together.
808s & Heartbreak // melodramatic, quiet, acrimonious
“Say You Will” // Here begins another album I don’t know all that well. I’m hooked, though, by the choir and flatlining heartbeat; it calms me down even while it pokes a melancholy nerve.
“Welcome To Heartbreak” // I dig the transition between “Say You Will” and this song. Also, I think I’m falling in love with 808s.
“Love Lockdown” // This was one of the first songs that ever made me cry. I had no idea who Kanye West was or what he was doing with an 808, but one gray afternoon, shuffle played it while I plowed through Girl With a Pearl Earring. I had to close the book.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – faaaavorite
“Dark Fantasy” // Hearing Nicki Minaj growl over these cooing vocals is like sinking back into a cushion. This album is dense; it’s dear; it’s home.
“Gorgeous (feat. Kid Cudi and Raekwon)” // Once I saw a tweet that counted Kanye among the poets of the ages. Here’s the evidence:
Penitentiary chances, the devil dances
And eventually answers to the call of Autumn
All of them fallin' for the love of ballin'
Got caught with thirty rocks, the cop look like Alec Baldwin
Inter century anthems based off inner city tantrums
Based off the way we was branded
Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon
And at the airport they check all through my bag and
Tell me that it's random
“All Of The Lights” // My favorite Kanye song, and one of the few music videos that’s ever gotten me into a song instead of vice versa. It feels right that Alicia Keys and John Legend will both play Magnificent Coloring Day, since they’re two of several uncredited vocalists on this song.
“Hell Of A Life” // The Weeknd’s “Starboy” always reminds me of “Hell Of A Life.” Thus, a triangle.
“Lost In The World” // Throwback to a different road trip I took with Emmet: the ride to Eaux Claires Festival on the first day we met. Somehow, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came up in conversation, and Emmet mentioned that “Lost In The World” had one of his favorite lyrics. “Which one?” I asked, as the goofy “masseuse” line ran through my head. “You’re my stress and you’re my masseuse,” he recited.
Watch the Throne // mighty, old-school, fanfared
“No Church In The Wild” // We debated putting this album on the playlist, since it’s technically a Kanye and Jay Z enterprise. But then, “No Church In The Wild” is one of my favorite Kanye songs of all time, and how can you skip “Ni**as In Paris” or “Otis”?
I’m intrigued by the relationship between Kanye and Jay Z, particularly as Kanye transitions from a contemporary rapper into a legend or mentor figure. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad he’s still putting out music. But when I think of Kanye these days, it’s usually more associated with people who look up to him (Chance, Childish Gambino, Allan Kingdom) versus people who are in his league (Jay Z, Nas, Common). I know more journalists are covering the up-and-coming artists, so maybe it’s a media bubble thing. But it seems like Kanye and Jay Z’s paths have grown apart.
“Ni**as In Paris” // Emmet, convicted by Blades of Glory: “That’s a good sample.”
“Gotta Have It” // Sad truth: we had to skip the rest of the album so we could hear more Kanye before arriving in Chicago. However, Jay will be back.
Yeezus – iron, stinging, sharp
“I Am A God” // The song that sparked a thousand thinkpieces — including, to some degree, my own.
“Hold My Liquor” // I always think of Yeezus as the ugly album, but this song is straight gorgeous, mostly because Justin Vernon is a treasure. I do find myself wishing P.O.S’s Justin Vernon collaboration had gotten a fraction of the attention this one did, because I think “How We Land” is just as good. I want to detour to P.O.S’s We Don’t Even Live Here, but Kanye’s discography isn’t getting any easier to squish into a one-day drive.
“Bound 2” // I’ll never forget the time YouTube autoplayed this video for me at an internship. My supervisor wasn’t jazzed.
The Life of Pablo – overblown, runny, manipulated
“Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper)” // It looked like we weren’t going to get to The Life of Pablo — but then, rush hour. Chicago traffic got us good and stuck behind stoplights, so we’ll probably make it through most of Kanye’s latest album. Aside from “Ultralight Beam” and a couple of other songs, though, both of us hate it.
“Famous” // Just noticed the “Wake up, Mr. West” throwback at 1:14 in this song. The beauty of listening to 2005 Kanye and 2016 Kanye on the same day.
“Low Lights” // Just picked up Dunkin’ Donuts on the home stretch of this drive. We’ve been crawling through traffic for about 45 minutes and needed a break from the car, so we hopped out in search of an ATM and snacks. Although The Life of Pablo is still not doing it for me, The College Dropout’s gospel murmurs through the mess. I can hear 808s & Heartbreak in the slathered AutoTune treatment. I accept this as Kanye canon.
“Real Friends” // Like my house in Minneapolis, our Airbnb is off Lake Street near Corcoran (Place). “How many of us?” Kanye asks as Emmet rings the doorbell of the house. I pack up my notebooks and wait. We have arrived.
Magnificent Coloring Day
So, we got to our Airbnb. We took the Green Line into the city. We ate at a Jewish deli, saw a show at Second City, and got back home and crashed. The next day, Chance The Rapper’s festival started at 1 p.m.
All road trip long, we wondered whether Kanye would join Magnificent Coloring Day. While I drove, I made Emmet look up Kanye’s tour schedule (he was due to play Nashville at 8 p.m., but I refused to take that as a “no”). We sent a passive-aggressive tweet to potential guests.
But even we were surprised when Tyler, the Creator’s set got cut off around 4:15, leaving Tyler shipwrecked on stage for a moment. The crowd started muttering about why he’d gotten pulled, but they, too, were interrupted. As the intro to “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” blasted all around the stadium, out bounded Kanye West.
At Chance’s festival, even the chaos felt joyful. By the time Kanye finished jogging to the end of the stage, hundreds had hurdled the barriers between the lower deck and the field. Thousands sprinted in pursuit.
Kanye’s set lasted for ten songs — a medley, of sorts, with a breakneck pace — and it again recalled “too many hits.” Aside from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2,” which the crowd loved because of its “Panda” parallel, Kanye steered all but clear of Pablo. Hopping from Yeezus to Graduation to The College Dropout, he rolled out old favorites until Chance joined him for “Ultralight Beam.” Unforgettable.
Kanye // Magnificent Coloring Day setlist
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 (The Life of Pablo, 2016)
Pt. 2 (The Life of Pablo, 2016)
THat Part (ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP, 2016)
All Day (non-album single, 2015)
Black Skinhead (Yeezus, 2013)
Can’t Tell Me Nothing (Graduation, 2007)
All Falls Down (The College Dropout, 2004)
Gold Digger (Late Registration, 2005)
Touch The Sky (Late Registration, 2005)
Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper) (The Life of Pablo, 2016)