Why Kanye West is the Modern Day Beatles
By: Staff Writer Cliff Boan
The Beatles. Named Rolling Stone's (as well as many other huge media names') greatest band of all time. What is it that made them the greatest? They weren't the most technically perfect, fastest, or most precise players, so what could it possibly be? The Beatles were brilliant songwriters. They changed the music industry with their music.
The Beatles' first major album, Please Please Me, was an innocent album. Some 20-somethings writing about love. A pop wonder, as with their next few albums: With The Beatles, Meet The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night… All of these albums had the same sort of underlying themes. When conjoined with these themes - the relatable lyrics, the hummable melodies, a beat that just makes you want to do the twist with your favorite gal. That was The Beatles.
So what? Plenty of people write songs with all of these characteristics. It wasn't what The Beatles did in the beginning, but the metamorphosis that really made them the greatest. Around the time they made Rubber Soul, The Beatles started experimenting with new instruments. Things that haven't been heard in pop music before, such as the sitar in "Norwegian Wood," sparking a trend to be followed by many others to bring in 'non-traditional' instruments. The lyrics of the album had greatly evolved as well. There were many more subtle nuances and metaphors describing not only love, but also their lives and telling stories of others.
Rubber Soul started to help usher in the psychedelic era of music. Said to have been written under heavy influence of drugs, the album used more worldly instruments, backwards guitars, and blurred melodies that fuse together to create one of The Beatles' most important albums of their career.
Their next release almost a year later, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, kept the band moving forward, adding crazy amounts of orchestral instruments and special effects. Rolling Stone has it listed as the #1 album of all time, calling it, "the most important rock & roll album ever made," due to its brand new concept, complex orchestration, and progressive songwriting. They continued on this trippy path with Magical Mystery Tour. They then went all over the place with their next release The Beatles (The White Album). This record had everything: hard rock, psychedelic rock, country, classical, orchestral style, blues rock, and a few more avant-garde styles.
They had went back to a split in genres with their next release, Yellow Submarine, with mainly psychedelic rock and rock-and-roll. Finally, with Abbey Road and Let it Be, they had stripped down to the basics. Guitars, bass, and drums (with a few extra instruments thrown in here and there). All of these albums are considered absolute classics. The contrast in songwriting is astonishing.
The Beatles had changed everything. They challenged what a band or artist could be. Their songs had changed from singing simple words about love, to these drug-influenced stories of life and lessons, then on to simple, yet beautiful compositions about anything they wanted. Kanye West continues to push the boundaries of what artists can do today, carrying on the Beatle legacy of doing something different. rapkanye
Kanye West started out like many hip-hop artists, only better. His early works - mixtapes, early songs, and his first album - were all very much like what everyone else was doing, but at the same time, very different. He used the traditional samples taken from classic hits, but wasn't sucumbing to the at-the-time standard of 'gangster rap.' Kanye was born to a middle-class family in Chicago, he didn't know the struggles that a lot of the other artists of the time had to deal with. So instead of trying to pretending to be something he wasn't, he decided to rap about what he knew. Growing up an average kid in a suburban, middle-class family. That may not sound too interesting, but Kanye made it work.
His first big release, The College Dropout, covered many different styles of hip-hop. He dealt with things ranging from money to women to drugs - classic rap topics. However, West added many things that weren't too popular at the time: gospel choirs, string ensembles, and many intricate drum machines and synth lines. He was not only ahead of his time with these, but also a pioneer of the modern rap scene.
The next release, Late Registration, continued to push the rap scene forward when West brought in a wider array of music for sampling and instrumentation. Many unusual instruments can be heard on this record, from Chinese bells all the way to harpsichord, along with many others. The album used both samples and original music (from producer and film composer Jon Brion) ranging in styles such as jazz, blues, orchestral, soul, and many more.
Graduation, the last of the 'college series,' brought yet another innovation to the scene, adding many electronic aspects to his music, as well as a wider sound overall. He almost completely left the jazz, soul, and blues behind as he 'graduated' with this album.
808s & Heartbreak was a marriage of all that he had put out prior to the album. It took big orchestral music and added electronic aspects to almost all of them, and, of course, 808s for that fat, pumping bass drum feel. His voice also went to a much softer, more melodic, and very emotional tone, as opposed to the hard rap style we had seen before. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy traveled down this path a little more, bringing back gospel choirs and cool electronic drum beats. However, in contrast to 808s, he did not overuse the electronic style, but rather blended the styles together nicely in each song. Some have called this album the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop, and it is currently ranked at #353 on the Rolling Stone greatest album list.
His two most recent albums, Watch the Throne (with Jay-Z) and Yeezus were two horses of different colors completely. Watch the Throne had many aspects of both artists' styles - West's overproduction and intense melodic creations, and Jay-Z's classic hip hop style with tried and true drum beats and old, yet great samples. Yeezus, West's most recent album is very, very different. He brought a very dark, eerie style into the music, and very odd, controversial lyrics. The album used very industrial sounds, and many synths, yet, at the same time, kept it bare-bones with the depth of the instrumentation. Some of these songs make you question if this is actually a rap album, or if it's punk, electronica, industrial rock or really anything else due to subject matter and presentation.
You may be thinking, "Wow, I listened to music like this for years before Kanye," or, "Psshhh, The Beatles didn't so this first, there were so many other people to do this before them." Good for you, sir or lady hipster. Did everybody know about this style? Did they influence everybody else in the scene to change what they were doing to keep up with them? Probably not. What Kanye and The Beatles did was bring all of these different styles to the attention of everyone. The changes they made to their music, they made first, because they wanted to - not to keep up with the artist that had already done it. They were innovators. They changed and continue to change the popular music scene as we know it.
*This is not the view of The Torch as a whole, just one writer. Literally. Only me.