Five years ago, Kanye West’s career floated in uncertainty.
Swiftgate, the cancelation of his and Lady Gaga’s Fame Kills tour, and overall exasperation with life pushed Kanye into exile in late 2009. He resurfaced from Hawaii the following year with what became My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but anticipation and speculation surrounding his return created a seesaw of opinions regarding the upcoming project. His behavior triggered questions about his mental state, his absence led to inquiries about his focus and level of interest, and the mixed reaction to 808s & Heartbreak—the musical deviation that preceded Yeezus—made the direction of his career a mystery. By year’s end, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (the popular choice as Kanye’s best album) became arguably the decade’s first masterpiece, but the events leading up to its arrival fueled the legend.
The concept of silent success is unfathomable to Kanye West; he understands that the impact of every endeavor must land like a knockout punch. With his legacy riding on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he realized that every step he took up until its release required a sniper’s calculated precision. There’s rarely a dull moment during his album rollouts, but with so much at stake, he knew he had to go substantially harder to properly position his comeback. That included randomly appearing at LeBron James’ "The Decision," rhyming on top of tables at the Facebook offices like the class clown, and giving away free music on a weekly basis. The latter— G.O.O.D Fridays—was the sonic Yellow Brick Road leading up to Kanye’s fifth album, but also embodied viral marketing at its finest. Through G.O.O.D Fridays, he meticulously placed the hip-hop community’s attention span in a full nelson, creating a singular moment in the process. No one man should have all that power, indeed.
"My socket was out the plug, now it’s time to get the power back"
That bar from the "Power" remix was Kanye’s prophetic take on his resurgence. Part of his promotion strategy was finding a new method of engaging fans, so in addition to giving live performances at Facebook and Twitter headquarters, he joined Twitter in July 2010. Because he had denounced social media a year prior, his move to the platform marked a turning point. He used the shock as momentum, and used Twitter to reconnect with fans by making announcements about his new music. Just days after releasing the "Power" remix in August 2010, Kanye revealed that a new song would follow each Friday through the holiday season.
On one level, dubbing the music giveaway after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was problematic, but this is the guy who would title his most-discussed album Yeezus. On a non-religious level, it was a brilliant fusion of the G.O.O.D. Music brand and excitement about the end of the week. Fridays are highly anticipated for paychecks and the unrestrained recoup of free time the weekend provides. G.O.O.D. Fridays gave the music community another reason to look forward to Friday night, and forced them to watch Kanye’s Twitter for updates. Because his following is so massive, Kanye doesn’t need to actively engage with anyone on social media. He accrued tens of thousands of followers when he first joined the network, and currently accumulates thousands of retweets in the same amount of time. His 2010 tweets didn’t arrive as infrequently as they do now, but they were still treated like marquee events because of the possibility that they included clues about new content. The suspense he created piqued interest, but the music still had to match the intrigue for Kanye to stick the landing.
A week after the "Power" remix surfaced along with the formal announcement of G.O.O.D. Fridays, the full version of "Monster" became the series’ first official release. It showed his penchant for assembling artists at opposite ends of the spectrum (Rick Ross and Bon Iver), as well as his skilled use of artists on the incline. Nicki Minaj was one alley-oop away from stardom at the time, and "Monster" was exemplary of the ferocity and charisma combination that made her a superstar the following year. This also emerged the same summer that Ross released Teflon Don (Kanye appeared on the fifth track, "Live Fast, Die Young"), a summer in which his street anthems "B.M.F." and "MC Hammer" reigned supreme in clubs nationwide. The timing of "Monster" was perfect, and a verse from a motivated Jay Z was the finishing touch. This was a mere preview of the G.O.O.D. Friday treasures to come.
The playful horror movie ambience of "Monster" was followed by an ode to love gone sour, "Devil in a New Dress." Producer Bink! channeled the urgency of a turbulent relationship through a wailing soul sample, and the abrupt conclusion of this unfinished version of the song is a different type of satisfying than what appeared on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with the theatrical guitar solo prefacing Rick Ross’ verse. This was a rare G.O.O.D. Fridays solo track—the bulk of them were posse cuts, and the draw was finding out which artists Kanye could cull to execute his vision.
With "So Appalled," he tapped RZA to bring the lo-fi, Wu-Tang element to the multi-verse song. "Lord Lord Lord" and "The Joy" layered the talents of each artist (namely Mos Def on the former and Pete Rock on the latter) to place mellow ’90s hip-hop in the aughts. "Christian Dior Denim Flow"—which could’ve been played during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that year—had listeners Googling the names of models they didn’t immediately recognize, and was another early indicator of how Kanye planned to fit several artists on one track and stack their vocals as he did on "All of the Lights." Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell joined him on "Don’t Stop!," the long-overdue Child Rebel Soldier follow-up that no one expected. "G.O.O.D. Friday" became the definitive G.O.O.D. Fridays release thanks to those trademark stumbling Kanye drums, and the utilization of his G.O.O.D. Music caucus. The song also served as Pusha T’s unveiling as a member of the clique just days before he joined Kanye on stage for his comeback performance at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, salmon blazer and all.
The quality of the music (who anticipated a standout Christmas song?) and thrill of learning which artists would appear on the next G.O.O.D. Friday release created a demand so strong that some eager fans would wait for the drops before going out on Friday nights. They were tone-setters for the weekend, even on the occasions when they didn’t hit the Internet until early Saturday morning. And while the music is ultimately what thrust him over the hurdle of adversity, the minutiae was the exclamation point on his redemption narrative.
The artwork that accompanied each song showed the scrupulous level of care Kanye placed into the release. Every image was an intersection of the disturbing and beautiful; motionless portals into Kanye’s mind during the creative process. Above that, they added a visual element to G.O.O.D. Fridays: After scanning the red text for the song title and featured cast, the eye naturally wandered to whatever arresting chaos lay in the background. This extra detail transformed the songs into distinctly packaged pieces of art, almost like brilliant tweets with the perfect image. It helped create a new model for advertising music, be it a free song or a lead single, in the new millennium. In addition, it helped make G.O.O.D. Fridays something imitable—a tell-tale sign of their influence.
In the wake of G.O.O.D. Fridays’ traction and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s release, other artists began to mimic the series. Before Future's #MonsterMonday series, Swizz Beatz, who appeared on G.O.O.D. Friday tracks and the album, gave away free MP3s via his own Monster Mondays—Kanye even made the announcement via his Twitter account. Shortly after, Timbaland instituted Timbaland Thursdays. Recently, Fabolous and Jadakiss issued reminders of their lyrical proficiency with weekly freestyle series. Although none of have held the weight of G.O.O.D. Fridays, they were evidence that the hip-hop community was paying close attention to what Kanye did. Once again, the world was marveling at his moves.
Distress often rouses artistic excellence, and it elicited Kanye West’s best. Not every G.O.O.D. Friday song was perfect ("Take One for the Team" was amusing, yet weak by comparison), but they were part of an unparalleled promotional run. The use of social media and high-quality throwaway music paired with high art resulted in Kanye’s absolution, yanking him from transitional limbo. It was also a pioneering practice for what's now common in hip-hop. Artists like Drake can seemingly dominate years in which they don’t release albums by giving the masses hits in the form of loosies, but that still doesn’t compare to how Kanye managed to rebrand himself through G.O.O.D. Fridays, the VMA performance, a short film, and inspiring dudes to dress like sartorially-apt government agents. Just as Rosewood became a lifestyle, G.O.O.D. Fridays were a novel audio sampler that helped Kanye West deploy his dark fantasy. The story sold itself, but G.O.O.D. Fridays thickened the plot.