Our Attempt To Edit Kanye’s Wyoming Albums Into Cruel Summer 2
Fridays may be a little less frenzied now. With the release of Teyana Taylor’s new K.T.S.E. last week, a wild monthlong parade of albums produced by Kanye West has concluded at last. Taylor’s project marked the fifth and theoretically final LP out of Kanye’s orbit in as many weeks.
A couple months ago, Yeezy returned after one of the longest stretches he’s ever had removed from the public eye, after an apparent downward spiral that included Kim Kardashian getting robbed in Paris, his befuddling meeting with Trump, and hospitalization for a mental breakdown. Of course, the Kanye that came back was just as much a complex and seemingly erratic character as always. Amidst promising that there’d be five new albums to come out of his recent retreats in Wyoming, he embarked on a bizarre path built on provocative (and by SNL’s account, life-threatening) tweets and interviews in which he doubled down on his love of Trump with a MAGA hat and appreciation for their shared “dragon energy,” tried to make his case with baffled collaborators like T.I., and issued claims that were shocking even by Kanye standards, like his infamous outburst at TMZ that slavery “sounds like a choice.”
At any rate, you know what all this means: Yeezy Season had arrived once more. It was a rollercoaster ride, the plunging downturns amplified by West’s lengthy absence and the context of the America in which he reemerged. Even outside the current sociopolitical climate or a recent interview with Jon Caramanica in the New York Times that painted a portrait of a more self-aware and reflective West than might’ve seemed plausible in recent months, Kanye promising five albums in five weeks is the exact kind of thing you would expect to not go according to plan. After all, this is the guy who, in comparatively simpler times, challenged the notion of the album as a static, finished artistic product by constantly tweaking The Life Of Pablo in an act of “living breathing changing creative expression.”
Well, Kanye and company actually pulled it off. Naturally, there was still plenty of chaos, with last-minute finishing touches defining several of the albums. Kanye suggested the cover of his own LP would be a photo of the plastic surgeon who performed his mother’s final surgery, only to then reportedly take the photo of a Wyoming vista that adorns Ye en route to its listening party. Each of the projects had one of these launch parties, all of them broadcast worldwide via janky livestreams riddled with errors and crashes. They stumbled out to official vendors and streaming services behind schedule, at least one of them with incorrect song titles. Kanye was reportedly still editing Taylor’s album as he flew back from Paris last Thursday, and even after premiering that night K.T.S.E. underwent further tweaking before finally seeing official release Saturday morning. According to those on the inside, the Wyoming sessions was a focused, frenzied period of creativity; the albums arrived like an impatient overflow from that time, before that energy could dissipate.
Of course, you can argue the definition of “album” into the ground over these, too, considering that most of them total seven tracks and clock in around EP length. (Yes, Taylor’s has eight tracks, because how could this not end with one more piece of random divergence.) Sure, plenty of classic albums are short, but Kanye is an artist who’s trained us to expect Events. So some felt like cohesive, satisfying listens — after a couple days, it feels as if K.T.S.E. solidly joins Daytona in that category — and others, like Kanye’s own Ye and Nas’ Nasir, don’t entirely add up to their promise.
In some ways this ordeal was reminiscent of G.O.O.D. Fridays, Kanye’s 2010 spree of singles preceding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was a whole range of artists and rough drafts on display there — a shorter version of “Devil In A New Dress,” a young Justin Bieber popping up on “Runaway Love (Remix),” Kanye’s short-lived trio with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell called Child Rebel Soldier, whose theoretical full-length never materialized. These Wyoming albums were something similar, a Kanye-led procession that made room for some old accomplices, influences, mentees, and previously unheard voices, all collected across these five releases.
In that sense, there was a lot of room for polarities in style and quality. Pusha-T’s Daytona was a welcome, addicting return of the G.O.O.D. Music president’s opulent coke-rap. (Shortly after its release, it emerged as one of the best albums of 2018 so far.) While not without its bright moments, Ye was a disappointment, the first time Kanye hasn’t really hit the mark with one of his own solo albums. You could blame it on circumstances, or perhaps the lack of mind-blowing ingenuity we’re used to with him, or the unavoidable feeling that an unfocused seven-song collection from West feels slight relative to the ambitions of his other work — even Spartan recordings like Yeezus.
His team-up with Kid Cudi as Kids See Ghosts was better, an eponymous LP of bleary big-screen psych-rap experiments. What remained afterwards was a curious one-two of West production efforts: first Nas, the ’90s legend and one-time rival of West’s estranged big brother Jay-Z, then Taylor, an R&B singer and longtime G.O.O.D. Music signee still awaiting her big break. The former, while once more not without its bright spots, sounded depleted and jumbled; the latter, more often than not, sparkles with humanity.
Whether because of the albums’ collective brevity (the lot of them add up to 36 tracks), their rapid-fire release slate not allowing much time for each to sink in individually, or because of their oscillating quality, chances are you’ve heard friends hypothesize about what an album culled from these sessions, featuring all these figures, might’ve sounded like instead. As these albums unfurled, many music fans — including Stereogum commenters — have pieced together their own dream playlists built from the best of the Wyoming harvest. There’s precedent for this, too, of course, in the Kanye-helmed 2012 release Cruel Summer, which while uneven gave us instant classics like “Mercy,” “Cold,” and “Clique.” Whether you were trying to make a classic album out of the Wyoming sessions, or whether you just wanted to cherrypick your favorites for a sprawling playlist, there’s something interesting in the endeavor: All of these works are symbiotically linked in their ways, so what does it sound like when you break them down and put the songs more directly in conversation with one another?
There’s already plenty of interconnectedness across these five albums. K.T.S.E. stands for Keep That Same Energy, a phrase you could’ve previously heard sung by Ty Dolla $ign on Ye’s “Wouldn’t Leave,” three weeks earlier. Ye standout “Ghost Town” got an answer seven days later on Kids See Ghosts, in the more fried “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2).” Stories, particularly Kanye’s, start and end on different albums. He appears on each of them, while other important figures hop between releases, too — Pusha and Cudi, Ty and 070 Shake. You can hear all the ideas, all the voices, calling out to each other, even when another album feels like more if its own separate and cohesive whole.
Around the time of The Life Of Pablo, an album on which Kanye often didn’t rap that much and gave center stage to others like Chance The Rapper or Desiigner, there was a lot of talk about his genius as a conduit, as the guy who collected and attracted these different talents and knew how to collide their work together into his own vision. Upon Ye’s release, Spin’s Jordan Sargent explored that concept with more negative connotations, even comparing Kanye to DJ Khaled: “someone who is not a rapper, exactly, or a producer, really, but is instead a music industry figure who convinces dozens of other artists that it’s in their best interest to create and release rap songs under his name.” For better or worse, the Wyoming albums double down on that notion of Kanye as curator. They weren’t all released under his name, but they certainly exist under his banner — a handful of releases delivered into the world from unusual circumstances, arriving as a series probably more unprecedented than we’ve entirely given it credit for.
So, following that theory of Kanye’s artistic disposition, we decided to attempt some curation of our own, culling the best from Daytona, Ye, Kids See Ghosts, Nasir, and K.T.S.E. and compiling them into a sort of imagined Cruel Summer 2. The result is an imagined super-album for which Kanye collected all these disparate talents in rural Wyoming, and everyone felt free to venture any direction, no matter where it might lead, whether it might work. In real life, a lot of the G.O.O.D. team’s ideas did work, and below, we’ve resequenced them into an alternate-universe version of the Wyoming sessions. –Ryan
1. Pusha-T – “If You Know You Know”
“If You Know You Know” is one of the great opening tracks of the year, so there’s no better way to imagine a collective Wyoming sessions album than with this as the first salvo. The song keeps you waiting initially; you know Pusha’s building to something, and then he finally utters the title about 35 seconds in and the beat and sample crash in. It is a sublime, glorious bit of production from Kanye, and “If You Know You Know” doesn’t let up from there — they know they have a highly addicting beat/sample combo here, and they ride it for the rest of the track. Fitting for King Push’s latest opus of luxury drug raps, “If You Know You Know” is all regal, triumphant swagger. There’s a whole lot of competing ideas and disorder across these five albums, but every now and then it all sharpens into moments of perfection like this. –Ryan
2. Nas – “Cops Shot The Kid” (Feat. Kanye West)
There’s a lot of questionable knowledge-dropping on Nasir — anti-vaccine rhetoric, half-baked conspiracy theories, etc. — but on “Cops Shot The Kid” Nas comes through with a timely sermon about systemic racism and police brutality. He skillfully paints a picture that has become all too familiar, summing up the pattern of police killing black people in simple turns of phrase like, “Reminds me of Emmett Till/ Let’s remind ‘em why Kaep kneels.” A prelude by the late Richard Pryor and a looped Slick Rick sample drive home the point: This is not a new problem. Kanye rides shotgun, complicating his recent political profile with a return to the defiant critique of police that dates back to The College Dropout. –Chris
3. Kanye West – “Yikes”
As the dust settled from Ye, part of the letdown was that it was just more functional than the fascinating disaster some of us had been primed to expect given West’s recent antics. It was just kind of there. But even then, the prospect of a Kanye album feeling like a non-event took some time to process, too, as did the attempt to engage with some of the songs on their own terms. Assisted by a Drake-penned hook, “Yikes” is one of the most memorable cuts off Ye; he pops up all over the Wyoming albums, but “Yikes” is one of his most dialed-in appearances on his own album. Any new 2018 Kanye material requires you to reckon with his lyrical and thematic content, and “Yikes” is no exception. But it’s also one of the few songs from Ye that you can already imagine being a powerful addition to his fiery live performances. –Ryan
4. Kids See Ghosts – “4th Dimension” (Feat. Louis Prima)
Flipping an 82-year-old Christmas jazz ditty into the bastard child of “Jesus Walks” and “Clique,” Kanye and Cudi deliver a simple, effective banger here. In contrast to most of the Kids See Ghosts album, which huffs and puffs with sprawling ambition, this one’s just two rappers talking their shit over a nasty beat. We should note that in the case of Kanye comparing his partner to a sex slave from The Handmaid’s Tale — probably the most objectionable lyric he’s voiced throughout this whole tortured rollout — the rapping is also nasty, and not in a good way. In more positive news, the transition from “Yikes” into this is [chef’s kiss emoji]. –Chris
5. Teyana Taylor – “Rose In Harlem”
More of Kanye’s signature sample-tweaking put to good use, this time turning a delicate Stylistics ballad into something of a personal anthem for one of Harlem’s finest. Taylor shows off some of her most versatile vocal stylings on this one, flexing your favorite sing-rapper’s dexterity but in the context of actual singing. It’s a trick Beyoncé has been pulling off a lot lately, but Taylor does it just as well without making a big show of it. –Chris
6. Pusha-T – “The Games We Play”
Those “Amen!” breaks, that gnarly guitar sample, drums that really and truly slap, turning most other usages of such lingo into bankrupt hyperbole — what better canvas could a coldblooded technician like Pusha ask for? And once he’s done his work, taking delight in each snarling syllable — “This is for my bodybuildin’ clients movin’ weight/ Just add water, stir it like a shake” — what more could we, the listening public, ask for either? –Chris
7. Kids See Ghosts – “Feel The Love” (Feat. Pusha-T)
What functions as a fiery introduction on Kids See Ghosts is here repurposed as a gibberish-laden interlude of sorts, an extended bridge between the drug-dealing escapades of “The Games We Play” and the the head-slapping sexcapades of “All Mine.” –Chris
8. Kanye West – “All Mine” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign & Ant Clemons)
Here it is: The most ridiculous, quotable song on Ye. The intro, with Ant Clemons tip-toeing across the beat and Ty Dolla $ign buoyantly promising to fuck the pussy up, is one of the most satisfying musical elements on the album, but mostly this is Kanye’s chance to get out his corniest sex jokes. It’s all goofy as hell, but whatever points he loses for that “none of us would be here without cum” business, he more than makes up for with uproarious punchlines like “All these thots on Christian Mingle/ Almost what got Tristan single” and “I love your titties ’cause they prove I can focus on two things at once.” –Chris
9. Nas – “Adam And Eve” (Feat. The-Dream)
Nas is not rapping on the virtuosic level of his past highs. There’s no getting around that. But there’s also an old-school charm on “Adam And Eve” that’s hard to resist. A hard, piano-driven beat from Kanye marks one of the moments where his production matched up with Nas’ approach a bit better — and with as many directions the material from these respective albums fires off into, it’s nice to have straightforward material like this to help ground it all. –Ryan
10. Pusha-T – “Hard Piano” (Feat. Rick Ross)
Speaking of hard, piano-driven beats there is also … “Hard Piano” from Daytona. Part of the immediate appeal of Pusha’s latest was obviously his own gritty charisma; the other was the momentary assuaging of fears that Kanye had completely lost it. Across Daytona, he gives Push the exact ammo he needs to snarl and growl as viciously as ever. Some of it felt like a callback to some of Ye’s earliest work — something about “Hard Piano” feels like a scarred descendent of stuff like “Get By” and “Guerilla Monsoon Rap,” tracks West produced for Talib Kweli’s 2002 LP Quality. Even if Kanye didn’t give us anything truly visionary this time around, he showed a lot of range on these Wyoming albums, and it’s plenty gratifying to hear him crafting low-key bangers like “Hard Piano.” –Ryan
11. Teyana Taylor – “WTP” (Feat. Mykki Blanco)
Coming at the end of K.T.S.E., “WTP” is an outlier — after an album of smoky R&B, all the sudden we’ve got a lustful jam indebted to disco and house by way of ’90s club anthems. As far as Kanye/Teyana Taylor team-ups go, it almost feels like a continuation of “Fade,” the similarly house-tinged track from The Life Of Pablo-era that later gained a pretty iconic video of Taylor dancing and, uh, then turning into a cat person. She was the star there anyway, but now she has a showcase all to her own, a piece that seems beamed in from the past and yet destined to fill dancefloors all year. “Save your tears, honey! You’re a motherfucking diva!” Mykki Blanco shows up to proclaim to Taylor, thus closing K.T.S.E. with a joyous coronation. –Ryan
12. Kids See Ghosts – “Kids See Ghosts” (Feat. Yasiin Bey)
Here’s another way to think of this playlist: Imagine the highly-implausible situation in which this run of releases was capped by a blow-out show that gathered all the artists involved for a giant, collaborative performance summing up all the different albums in question. The main set could presumably end with the dance party elicited by “WTP,” and the first encore serves as a heady, dense, emotive chapter between the preceding highs and the subsequent catharsis of a second encore.
So that’s where “Kids See Ghosts” would sit. The title track of Kanye and Cudi’s album is a murky, nocturnal piece appropriately representing their duo’s moniker and the melted, psychedelic textures they use across the album as the hazy backdrop for grappling with mental illness, darkness, anxiety. Joined by a character as idiosyncratic as Yasiin Bey, West and Cudi use the opportunity to forge into some of the strangest territory of any of these five albums. “Kids See Ghosts” situates itself in your head, but not in a traditionally catchy way. Rather, it’s the lure of something haunting around the corner, and the moment when you’re trapped, unable to take another step forward as much as you need to venture forth and discover what awaits. –Ryan
13. Nas – “Everything” (Feat. Kanye West & The-Dream)
As short as each of them are, each Wyoming album has some kind of moment of exorcism or salve answering the demons laid out elsewhere. (Save Daytona, Pusha has little time for that shit.) Some of the albums, like Teyana Taylor’s, have a lot more of that than their counterparts. It’s strange that the one from Nasir, “Everything,” appears on this album at all. It features, and is nearly sunken by, some of Nas’ most infamously head-scratching lyrics from the album. There’s a way in which “Everything” feels like a vaporous prayer that really belongs to Kanye, and it’s curious to imagine a version he kept for himself in which he attempted a self-accounting as towering as “Runaway.”
That’s fan fiction more or less, but the version of “Everything” that we do have is still plenty affecting if you can brush aside some of the missteps. What you’re left with is Kanye and The-Dream beautifully layering their vocals, as if capturing the competing voices within West himself. “If I had everything/ Everything/ I could change anything/ If I changed anything/ I mean anything/ I would change everything,” West sings, delivering one of his simplest, most impactful lyrics of 2018. –Ryan
14. Pusha-T – “Infrared”
In the context of an imagined collective album or show, here’s where we enter the final act, the second encore. Kanye wasn’t the only person igniting headlines through the various Wyoming rollouts. Daytona came with a blood-stained closer called “Infrared” that set off a brief feud with Drake. The latter in turn responded with “Duppy Freestyle,” which prompted Pusha to pretty much go nuclear with “The Story Of Adidon.” You know, the song in which Pusha accused Drake of not supporting a supposed child (among many other things), over the beat from Jay-Z’s “The Story Of O.J.,” with a cover featuring a real photo of Drake in blackface. I mean … shit.
Pusha’s response was one of the most eviscerating dis tracks in some time; it prompted our own Tom Breihan to argue it “out-ethered ‘Ether'” and to celebrate the Pusha/Drake beef as one of the more entrancing rap feuds in recent memory. The whole situation reportedly reached some kind of détente soon after, but it doesn’t change the fact that the catalyst, “Infrared,” remains one of the most important tracks to emerge from Wyoming. –Ryan
15. Teyana Taylor – “Never Would Have Made It”
The most straightforwardly beautiful song on K.T.S.E. — and maybe in all of the Wyoming sessions — results from flipping Marvin Sapp’s modern gospel survivor’s story into an exultant beat-driven ballad. “Never Would Have Made It” pushes Taylor’s voice to its limit in the best way. Every bit of wear on her vocal cords shows as she belts out a love song for her young daughter, who makes a brief, touching cameo at the end. The song would make a fantastic finale in its own right, but as on Taylor’s own album, here it serves as the prelude to a louder and more outlandish conclusion. –Chris
16. Kanye West – “Ghost Town” (Feat. PartyNextDoor & 070 Shake)
One of the silver linings of Ye was the occasional glimpse of the Old Kanye; even if you prefer the erratic, restless seeker of his more recent albums, there’s still something comforting in hearing him let in some of the warm, healing soul that was once his primary trademark. “Ghost Town” is the peak, the cleansing gospel, that rests well above the surrounding songs; it’s the main song on Ye that could evoke the same chills as West’s classics throughout the years. Part of that is how it actually feels like a bridge between various chapters of Yeezy. You could imagine a version of this, organ-drenched and string-laced and a little brighter, on Late Registration. Those molten guitar sounds link it to the thick, ambitious prog-rap of Dark Fantasy.
There’s another, crucial aspect of “Ghost Town” that similarly recalls its predecessors. If you think about Kanye as an arranger and curator, there are plenty of times where he knows when to give someone else the spotlight, to achieve the maximum emotional impact. Think how the entire sprawl of Dark Fantasy concludes with a verse-via-sample by Gil Scott-Heron, or the key appearance of Desiigner on “Pt. 2″ of “Father Stretch My Hands.” Kanye does the same thing here, ceding the grand finale of “Ghost Town,” its climactic refrain, to 070 Shake. It speaks to Ye’s ear as a producer and sculptor: He steps aside and lets 070 Shake steal the scene. And her performance is not only the main redemption on an inherently flawed album, but also one of the most moving moments from any of the five Wyoming albums. –Ryan
17. Kids See Ghosts – “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
Think about it: If all these five Wyoming albums had been condensed down into a shape-shifting, twisting document of a dozen artists in conversation with one another, it wouldn’t end with the sheer beauty of Teyana Taylor’s music, or the rousing conclusion of “Ghost Town.” No, that collection would end with the more bug-eyed “Freee (Ghost Town Pt. 2).” The fuzzed-out, smeared answer to what 070 Shake sang on Ye, “Freeee” is one of several moments across the Wyoming albums that depict two voices, two identities combatting with each other. (This is not to discount the fact that, with the self-harm of putting her hand on the stove, 070 Shake’s version isn’t exactly uncomplicated itself.) In the end, something healing still prevails. “Freeee” sounds like an alien sunrise, one of the same lurid colors that splattered across the Kids See Ghosts cover. But it still sounds like a sunrise. –Ryan
Listen to the playlist below via Spotify, and share your own ideal tracklist in the comments.