Even as 'Ye has left his hometown behind for the museums and runways of cities more cosmopolitan than the old hog butchery capital of the world, Chicago still plays a big role in the sound of his music. It comes up in obvious ways; the two guest rappers are Chief Keef (on a hook only) and King Louie, young leaders of the city’s infamous "drill scene." His inclusion of King Louie is particularly interesting. Keef, obviously, had the attention of the same kind of trend-spotting art students that seem like a core part of Kanye’s aesthetic world these days. But Louie, although a part of the same scene, missed much of that attention, despite considerably more developed lyrical abilities. But it could also be about Kanye’s former manager and old friend, John Monopoly, who discovered King Louie early on; he is referenced on “I Am A God”: “Monop in this bitch again.”
Other Chicago touch-points are more musical. Kanye has claimed an early Chicago House influence in his recent New York Times interview, and there is a focus on texture and abrasion that seems, at the least on a surface level, derivative of Chicago House music’s searing 909 basslines and synthesizers. (At times, the rough timbre of certain tracks sounds even even closer to industrial artists like Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle.) But the opening, Daft Punk-produced track “On Sight” was actually more reminiscent of a later Chicago house artist who Kanye might have heard on a few runways in his early years: Felix Da Housecat, whose “Silver Screen (Shower Scene)” was a key single in the early-'00s “electroclash” movement that took hip urbanites by storm in the early 2000s—right around the time ‘Ye first started seeing success. Of course, the album is considerably less functionalthan most house music is. There are beats, but they don’t seem very focused on the physicality. Instead, they sit apart, a piece of art.
Of course, the most Chicago moment of all is “Black Skinheads,” which seems to flip the drums from Gary Glitter’s “Rock N Roll Part 2,” a song used in plenty of sports arenas, but that has been a longtime staple at the Chicago Bulls’ United Center. Tommy Edwards, the Bulls’ announcer from 1976 to 1990, is credited as the first sports announcer to play the song, back when the Bulls still played in Chicago Stadium. To this day in Chicago, it’s common for Bulls fans en route to the arena to hear a bucket boy play the beat while singing the na na na na na na, HEY chorus. —David Drake