(Post-it notes for Kanye’s studio):

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown (Remastered)”: All those people who bought this on iTunes are huge suckers. Remember like two months ago when this supposedly came out? And then a new version came out that was better? And then this version came out? Well, if rushing out an album in two weeks struck anyone as a bad idea, this is proof that sometimes it pays to tweak things until they are better. This song still isn’t going to win any awards (well, I mean, it probably is, but that’s not the point), but ramping up those tribal drums and the filling out the bassline and whatever else is different, was a really good call. Hey, there’s still a lot of post-election goodwill, maybe nobody will be upset if it takes a couple more weeks to fine-tune this album.

Kanye West – “Heartless (Remastered)”: I’m not exactly sure how this song was changed other than moving the bass on the equalizer up a little bit, but I don’t really have an ear for these things. I kind of liked the spareness on the original version, but this one was altered so slightly that it won’t make a huge difference. The video is really cool, even if animated Kanye is still a terrible actor. “Any Way” would have been a better single pick than this one, though.

Jay-Z – “History”: Oops, you mixed this wrong. This is an awesome beat, but seriously, despite the problem I mentioned on the “Heartless” note, within two seconds of this song starting I could tell the bass needed to be brought up and the vocals on the sample sounded tinny and high-pitched. I think I can fix this with the EQ dials on my car stereo, so it should be possible on ProTools too. It would be a shame to put this version on the album because this is an amazing song. In addition to the implications that this song has by being leaked the day after Election Day (the original leak version sounded a lot fuller, by the way – bring that back, that’s all), it sees Jay confronting his role as the preeminent figure in hip hop. There is obvious desire to read into the lyrics about making history and achieving victory as a commentary on Obama, but this is also about Jay’s career, and it’s deep stuff. With its personification (Victory, Defeat, Success, History, etc.) there is little subtlety, but it still is dipping into the literary concerns of poets like Spenser and Shakespeare. In his Amoretti Spenser claims “For I myself shall like to this decay/And eek my name be wiped out likewise./Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise/To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:” hoping that his poem will immortalize his love. This is not the kind of thing that it’s cool to rap about. The fact that I’m quoting a 16th century poet proves that. But consider Jay’s lyrics:

“Rank me amongst the greats, either one two or three/If I ain’t number one, then I failed you Victory /Ain’t in it for the fame, that dies within weeks/Ain’t in it for the money, can’t take it when you leave/I want to be remembered long after you grieve/Long after I’m gone, long after I breathe/I leave all I am in the hands of history”

It is the same theme. Jay is wondering about his art’s ability to immortalize him, and he’s shooting for place in the annals of art next to the names you hear in museums and college courses. It’s not an absurd goal; The Beatles and Bob Dylan are pretty well cemented in the historical narrative. Anyway, it’s an interesting direction to heard lyrically. Granted, probably only Jay-Z or maybe the smallest handful of others are in a position where they can be looking at their place as rappers in history, but when’s the last time you heard a rapper who wasn’t talking about rappers who brag about money not bragging about money? I was listening to The Black Album the other day (if you’ll remember, that was Jay’s retirement album), and it occurred to me that Jay-Z is really braving unknown territory for hip hop since no artist before him achieved the same level of superstardom. In twenty years, will he be like The Rolling Stones, touring for aging Gen X and Yers and sort of mildly cool for kids rediscovering their parents’ music? Chances are good that unlike hip hop’s elder statesmen (KRS-One, Rakim, Public Enemy, etc.), he will not fade into relative obscurity. A little thought piece for you.

Those notes got kind of long, huh? And I still meant to throw another little Obama victory goodie at you: Diz Gibran – “Black Emperor”

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