The frustration of Yeezus is gone. On his new album, [prayer hands emoji], Kanye West showcases a lighter side, but the output remains exceedingly experimental and genre-defying.
From its onset, the album pulls no punches. The first song features Taylor Swift. Their collaboration, "Blank Space (Reprise)," takes the title to heart—it's 19 minutes of silence. The length is representative of the amount of time West and Swift reportedly spent reconciling their differences in a recent meeting. West, not wanting to appear as if he had an agenda, felt it was more authentic to keep the content of the conversation private. The result is riveting.
Complete and utter silence has never been so immersive. The record is a captivating swath of literally nothing, bringing new meaning to the term "nothing was the same." Is it commentary on the uselessness of sonics? A call for equal rights for the deaf? We'll never know and that's the beauty of it. West buries a longstanding beef and pushes the boundaries of creativity in one fell swoop. He's aggressively challenging the status quo, yet again.
The next track, "Water Bottle Design," featuring Poseidon, references a quote from West's now infamous BBC interview with Zane Lowe. The song appears to be a subversion of the anger expressed at that moment and is simply six minutes of rainforest sounds that West himself captured on a handheld recorder during a trip to Brazil in 2013. The distinct sound of macaw parrots is interspersed throughout with the only human presence coming from a woman, said to be Kim Kardashian, screaming at the sight of what many suspect is a venomous elapid snake at the four-minute mark. This transcends music.
25 minutes into the album and there have only been two songs, zero words and no drums. It comes as an even greater shock than the Auto-Tuned singing of 808s & Heartbreak once did. This is the essence of risk. [prayer hands emoji] will draw comparisons to Lou Reed's polarizing opus, Metal Machine Music, and rightfully so. Acoustic lullaby singles "Only One" and Rihanna-assisted "FourFiveSeconds" make up the middle portion of the album and they've turned out to be the safest, most conventional offerings on the project.
The long-awaited "All Day" finally makes its proper debut here in drastically different form than its leaked predecessor. West is joined by yacht rock legend Christopher Cross, who brings a remarkably stripped down element to the track. References to the mall have vanished. On this reworked version, West interpolates Cross' seminal masterpiece, "Sailing," with new lyrics that also extoll the virtues of sea travel. Is this is a subconscious ploy to get Grammy and Oscar voters to award Kanye Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Original Song, although the song has yet to appear officially on any soundtrack, as they did Cross in 1981? Definitely. And it just might work.
Continuing the album's trend of enlisting critically-acclaimed aging white people, West taps Brian Eno for "Microsoft Sound," a nod to the seven-second Windows 95 startup music that Eno famously crafted...on a Macintosh. As a nod to that irony of that, West simply repeats his "I am Steve Jobs" quote over the sample and the song ends after only a few seconds. Like Shakespeare—who West has also compared himself to—said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
In a thinly veiled homage to the book of Genesis, [prayer hands emoji] concludes with its seventh and final song, "Yoko Ono." Here, the album's tone shifts as abruptly as Yeezus did on its closing track. In stark contrast to the Lite FM acoustics of the rest of the album, Metro Boomin provides a bombastic Atlanta trap beat for the spellbinding finale.
After solely contributing production elsewhere on the album, Paul McCartney finally speaks, and it's worth the wait. McCartney raps in the double time flow reminiscent of Migos and takes shots at Mark David Chapman, with Ringo Starr providing triumphant ad-libs such as, "Sgt. Pepper wit da beretta!" Then, the full payoff occurs. All three Migos show up on the chorus and riff on the late John Lennon's 1971 hit, harmonizing, "Imagine all the people, whipping up the work today," before McCartney tears into another career-defining verse. West is mysteriously absent. It is both absurd and brilliant at once.
Just as [prayer hands emoji] began, it's over and you're left wondering what just happened. Trying to make sense of it is futile and, quite frankly, dangerous. One Def Jam executive has already rumored to have been hospitalized after trying to grasp the purpose and meaning of this record after hearing an earlier version at a listening session. There have also been two reports of Twitter users resorting to IRL violence after disagreements about the album occurred on the timeline, recalling the dark days of the Temecula incident in December 2014.
[prayer hands emoji] will be available exclusively at Whole Foods and is free with the purchase of any gluten-free product.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter here.