by J. Joseph
When Kanye West released Yeezus (and simultaneously started to refer to himself as Yeezus), the music world was divided. On the one hand, his musical production had reached new heights and entered into very interesting territory; it was generally lauded. On the other the lyrics on the album suffered tremendously (and he himself noted that the lyrics on the album were decidedly lazy). It seemed that Kanye West, the lyricist, was dead and gone, lost in his musical development. But then he stopped partying in L.A.
As would be expected at this point in his career, the most immediately striking thing about Kanye’s single No More Parties in L.A. off The Life of Pablo is its musical composition. While Kanye West is known for prolific use of samples, the use of them here is nothing like what we could have expected. Perhaps a product of co-producing the track with musician Madlib, the instrumentation lacks the bombast of West’s previous songs. Instead, the music plays out like a bluesy montage, not far off from other Madlib work. The deep bass riffs sound as if they’re melting into your ears, dripping with the sounds of slow jazz. Listening to it is a calming experience, the type of music you could fall asleep to, but the vocal samples keep the energy moving, turning the instrumental from a deep bass lullaby into a head bumping hip-hop jam. Assembled from the sampling of three different songs, the instrumentation is reminiscent of the very same Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness, but takes obvious influence from the West Coast hip-hop tradition. The backing guitar riff, for example, strongly resembles the notorious riff from Dr. Dre’s The Next Episode (itself a sample of David McCallum’s The Edge). Being a Chicago native, this seems to be a strange choice for West, but ends up paying off in a multitude of ways.
First and foremost, the instrumental allows featured artist Kendrick Lamar to shine in full. A West Coast native, Kendrick with his lyricism and style fits in perfectly here and we almost feel like we’re hearing a verse from his debut album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City rather than a featured verse on a Kanye track. He unpacks complicated rhyme schemes and action-packed flow construction on the beat as if he produced it himself knowing it inside and out:
She said she came out here to find an A-list rapper
I said baby, spin that round and say the alphabet backwards
You’re dealing with malpractice, don’t kill a good n***a’s confidence
Just cause he a nerd and you don’t know what a condom is
He matches the downbeats perfectly, pounding his points down in places that sonically force us to listen. Kendrick makes full effort here to get our attention and keep it. This striking musical flow makes it incredibly easy to get lost in the mere rhythm of what he has to say. He allows us to recognize the poeticism without even beginning to unpack the metaphors and double entendres he has locked up in his lyrics. Because of this, what easily could have been a run-of-the-mill featured verse became a shining example of hip-hop excellence.
Alternatively, Kanye goes for a less complex approach. Instead of trying to keep up with the prodigal intricacies of Kendrick (“The pop community, I mean these b***es come with union fee / and I want two of these, moving units through consumer streets”), Kanye opts for short stark statements that culminate as an eloquent confessional:
A backpack n***a with luxury taste buds
And the Louis Vuitton store, got all of my pay stubs
Got p**sy from beats I did for n***as more famous
When did I become A-list? I wasn’t even on a list
In a nontraditional move, he puts his verse (that of the primary performer) behind Kendrick’s (that of the featured performer), which allows for his words to pack even more punch; they are the last thing we hear before the well cobbled slow jam that is the instrumental returns to book end the song. The result is a verse that sounds less like Kanye showing off his ability to be lyrically complex and more like a highly refined statement that he, in all his glory, has returned to the world.
Beyond strengthening the effectiveness of Kanye’s verse, this structure illuminates an underlying theme of this song: perspective. Both Kanye and Kendrick are giving their perspectives on the exuberant lifestyle of being a hip-hop artist, but more importantly, those confessionals give some perspective on hip-hop legacy. Kanye, a self made hip-hop legend is helping further build up the already bolstering career of Kendrick, while still building on his own career. And we can feel this in the music, as the sampled tracks of days long gone are assembled in perfect form to create something new, and striking, and jarring. The beat to No More Parties in L.A. is in this way, so ironically unique, that it will most certainly become an immediately recognizable piece in hip-hop history. The single worked as a solid precursor for Kanye’s latest album The Life of Pablo, as it sets the stage for us to expect a resurgence of the legendary; it got us ready.
That said, No More Parties in L.A. was a terrific indicator of the lyrical prowess to come on The Life of Pablo. On this track, Kanye sees some return to form, utilizing a lyrical flow reminiscent of verses on his albums The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. He even notes “I know some fans who thought I would never rap like this again / but the writer’s block is over, emcees cancel your plans.” Any criticism of his lyrical work on his last album Yeezus will ultimately fall short here, as his vocal rhythm and lyrical grace are in full form, transitioning from topic to topic seamlessly. With No More Parties in L.A. it seems that Yeezus has been crucified, and three years later has risen from the dead with fiery musical ambition.