The Atlantic

Kanye West’s Rock-and-Roll Moment

On the highlights of two recent albums—Ye and Kids See Ghosts—the rapper reaches across genres to redefine “freedom” again and again.
Source: Rob Grabowski / Invision / AP

Kanye West has put a lot of words into the world this year—in tweets, epic-length interviews, and an album-a-week producing spree—but his most memorable statements haven’t been verbal. They’ve been beats, as in the sleek rattle of Pusha T’s Daytona. Or they’ve been images: the crackling bonfire of the Wyoming release party for his album Ye, or the infamous signed MAGA hat he put on Twitter. Or they’ve been mouth noises: the gat-gat-gats he opens the Kid Cudi collaboration Kids See Ghosts with, or the scoopity-poop he trolled the world with on the pseudo single “Lift Yourself.” He’s in a phase of feeling, of signaling, rather than effectively explaining. Words fail.

Which might explain why, in 2018, the best music from hip-hop’s lead provocateur and the follow-up are a duo—“Ghost Town” and “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. II)”—that roil with peeling guitar, off-key yowls, and drunken drumming. Six-string strums, including from a Kurt Cobain sample, figure in other songs, too. Rap and rock have been for the last few years in a crossover moment as the younger genre has , and and have long admired guitar gods. But West’s work of the past month highlights the deeper ethos that’s been crossing over: rock’s specific approach to the visceral over the verbal—its comfort with the gloriously inarticulate—as it strives to portray inner conflict.

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