First things first: We don’t know that Kanye West is bringing back G.O.O.D. Fridays, the dizzyingly exciting 2010 song-a-week series that led up to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. All we have, in fact, is a tweet from Kim Kardashian one that promises new music “#EveryFriday.” “Real Friends,” the song that West released last Friday, didn’t come with that red-letters-on-black artwork that helped to make the original G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks so iconic. It doesn’t pile on guest artists, the way those original songs did. It’s not even one song; it’s, what, a song and a half. On “Real Friends” and the “No More Parties In L.A.” snippet, there are only two guest voices: Ty Dolla $ign, lending mournful gravity, and Kendrick Lamar, rapping like he’s being chased by an apocalyptic motorcycle gang. Nobody from Kanye’s camp has so much as tweeted the phrase “G.O.O.D. Fridays.” SWISH, West’s new album, is only a month away from release, so maybe he won’t spend months cranking out a new song every week, the way he did in 2010. Still, it’s looking good.
It’s looking good, in part, because “Real Friends” is the best new Kanye West song in at least a year. (I’d put it on an equal level with “Only One,” the nakedly emotional Auto-Tuned dead-mom hymn that Kanye released at the very beginning of 2014, but I am part of the tiny minority who think “Only One” is a great song.) It’s clearly miles beyond “FACTS,” the halfassed Nike diss that Kanye turned into his New Years Eve song this year. (“FACTS” technically came out on a Thursday, so I’m perhaps-foolishly choosing to believe that it’s not a part of G.O.O.D. Fridays 2.0 and that it didn’t doom the entire enterprise before it even started.)
“Real Friends” is a more intense and personal song than anything that West released during that initial G.O.O.D. Fridays rush, and it’s pretty unsparing, both in its treatment of the people in West’s life and of West himself. He claims on the song that a cousin stole his laptop and held it for a $250,000 ransom, but he also admits to making no time for the people who were in his life before he got famous: “Damn, I forgot to call her, shit, I thought it was Thursday / Why you wait a week to call my phone in the first place.” He’s a deadbeat cousin, and he couldn’t tell you how old your daughter was. Both in its unflinching lyrics and its mournful, downbeat track, it recalls the digital blues that West helped to invent on 808s & Heartbreak. And it’s a real song, compact and structured, not something you could say about too many of those old G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks.
Of course, the fun of those old G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks was their excess. Those songs were long as hell, each one overstuffed with big-name guests. And even when Kanye came with something completely halfassed, like the “Christian Dior Denim Flow” verse where he was just naming supermodels he wanted to fuck, someone like Pusha T or Ryan Leslie could always be counted on to come along and save it. A lot of the in-the-moment excitement, from week to week, was trying to figure out who would show up on the next track; when West would invite a Lloyd Banks or a Keri Hilson to his party, it was exciting to see the team grow. A minor moment — RZA getting two bars to sink his fangs into the phrase “fuckin’ ridiculous” could linger with you all week. They were less proper songs, more collections of moments. But those moments were fun and memorable, and at least one of them — Nicki Minaj’s still-stunning career-best “Monster” verse — ranks among the greatest rap moments of the past decade.
West was working on a masterpiece, and he was doing it in an interesting way. He was rounding up everyone he liked on the 2010 musical landscape, flying them all out to Hawaii, and pushing them to do their best-possible work in a secluded studio. The process became the story. And he clearly loved making music with this array of personalities, to the point where he ended up giving way too much mic time to a zero like CyHi Da Prince. (To this day, CyHi’s limp “Trojan in my pocket – Matt Leinart” line is somehow practically the only thing I remember about CyHi or Leinart.) A few of the songs ended up on the album; most didn’t, presumably because Kanye knew that they were the sorts of songs that stop sounding that great exactly a week later. Plenty of the G.O.O.D. Friday songs haven’t aged well, and that’s fine. They weren’t meant to age. They were meant to do their job — stoke excitement — and then disappear into the ether. The versions of those songs that are still online are all bootlegs. The rush of the moment was the entire point.
I work five days a week, and I tend to hate returning to my computer on a Friday afternoon to write up some shit that just happened. That’s my personal time. But when G.O.O.D. Fridays were happening, I didn’t mind. I was ready to do it. I was living in Chicago at the time, working for Pitchfork. And if the G.O.O.D. Friday track hadn’t come out by the time I left the office on Friday afternoon, I’d jump off the bus to my apartment, run home, and check my laptop immediately. I had to know what West was putting out that week. I’m already starting to feel some version of that today.
We don’t know too much about the SWISH recording sessions. He cranked out a ton of songs over the past year, but they all seemed like tentative half-steps, like first singles from the vast number of not-good-enough versions of the album that West might’ve recorded in the past few years. “Real Friends” was the first song that suggested that he’s figured it out, that he knows how he wants things to sound. He’s a dad now, with a celebrity wife and a whole setup in the Los Angeles sprawl, so he’s not going to do anything like those Hawaii sessions again. But “Real Friends” and the “No More Parties In L.A.” clip still represent a hell of a collection of talent. It’s not just Kanye and Kendrick and Ty$; the two songs cumulatively feature production work from Madlib, Havoc, Boi-1da, Frank Dukes, and West himself — that’s a hell of a lineup. And unlike on those original G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks, West doesn’t sound like he was trying to find places for all those guys. Instead, he listened to what they were doing, took the best sounds and ideas, and used them in a song (or a song and a half) that make them all work organically together. In its way, that’s as exciting as that original G.O.O.D. Fridays series. I can’t wait to hear what he does the day after tomorrow.
1. Anderson .Paak – “Come Down”
I picked something else for Album Of The Week, but I’m a big admirer of Malibu, the new one from the Oxnard, California soul singer Anderson .Paak. And since he’s a singer and not a rapper, I haven’t had a chance to devote this column to him, either. I might not get a chance to write about the album at length, so you should just know that it’s great. And my favorite song on it is the one that’s closest to being a rap song: .Paak ripping up a hazy, psychedelic beat from Reflection Eternal producer Hi-Tek, turning his voice into this strained cocksure yelp that draws from both Kendrick Lamar and James Brown.
2. Chief Keef – “Check It Out”
Keef has burned practically every music-business bridge he ever had — or, at least, his managers have. But he’s improving as a rapper at a scary rate, to the point where he’s now delivering lines in this effortless lope that reminds me of his onetime mentor Gucci Mane. This Zaytoven-produced track is chaotic and all-over-the-place, but he sounds like gold on it. Also: “These hoes eat me out”? Is he talking about getting his salad tossed? What does that even mean?
3. Nef The Pharaoh – “#Saydaat” (Feat. Philthy Rich)
As with Juvenile’s “Ha,” every line is a discrete little slice-of-life sketch. This time, though, it’s over a breezy, handclap-happy post-Mustard beat, with Nef, a craggy-voice youngster, adapting some of mentor E-40’s prim, loquacious pimpery. Bet on this kid.
4. Darq E. Freaker – “Spin A Man” (Feat. D Double E) (Feat. Philthy Rich)
Two oft-neglected rap offshoots — New York vogue-ball club music and London grime — come together in a tangled piece of fractured futurism.
5. Lushlife – “This Ecstatic Cult” (Feat. Killer Mike) (Feat. Philthy Rich)
Hard raps over shimmering synthpop beats: Can this be the new wave?
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
i did a bad thing. https://t.co/hpKDwhvmZJ
— Ellie Sunakawa (@elliesunakawa) January 7, 2016