Yeezy Season Approaching? 2015’s race for the King of Summer

EVERYTHING comes back to Beyoncé. Maybe it wasn’t clear to everyone at the time, but by releasing her self-titled album with a music video for every song on December 13 of 2013, with no prior warning, she changed the way music is released to the world, possibly forever, and multiplied her chances of winning another “Best Music Video” MTV Award by fourteen.

It’s with this knowledge that Kanye West said in February that his new album, So Help Me God, was 80% finished, and would see a surprise release later in the year. Early summer is the best bet – it’s worth noting that at time of print, the Saturday night slot at Glastonbury has yet to be filled – and if his recent run of (often incredibly controversial) media appearances are anything to go by, he is gearing up to take this album on the road.

It’s entirely possible this announcement was made to circumvent a recent ruling by the IFPI stating that all new music will now be released on Fridays around the world. But what is more likely is that West has recognised that this is the direction music is headed. At risk of sounding like some drake-cover-650antiquated broadsheet critic, shaking their head at the kids with their Beats and their Adidas Yeezy Boost shoes, this generation is now used to binge-watching, and are used to having new content whenever they want it, and the world’s most popular musicians are happy to oblige.

Another significant artist involved in this movement, pitching the artist against “The Man” is Drake, whose mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was released, again, without any promotion or fanfare last month. The title has been interpreted as a stab at Young Money and its head, Birdman; although it is technically a mixtape, it fulfils a 4-album contract Drake has with the company, allowing him to make his new album, Views from the 6, on his own label, OVO Sound. His mentor, Lil Wayne, is suing Young Money for $51 million.

Depending on your opinion, Drake is either the softer, more sensitive foil to Kanye’s aggressive narcissist or Drake is the narcissist. After all, he can afford to be. Last year in an interview with GQ, Kanye admitted “[Drake] got last summer… and I’d never given it up till last summer”, further commenting “Let’s be respectful: [Drake is] the hottest rapper”.

“I’m having a hard time adjusting to fame” he sang in 2011. Now, on “Draft Day” he raps “Signing off on more deals than a lawyer with a heavy caseload / How’d the game turn into The Drake Show?” If You’re Reading This proves his newfound braggadocio isn’t unfounded. While the production on some tracks don’t feel album-worthy, others, like the strangely infectious chorus of “Know Yourself” and the grandstanding Jay Z homage “6PM in New York” could easily be a cut from Nothing Was The Same.

Barely a week went by before Kanye’s response came. An explosive performance at the BRITS – literally, there were flamethrowers – introduced a new single, “All Day”. The track starts with a hook that sounds like the one from “Black Skinhead” metastasised and grew a second, angrier head. And then? Well, a lot happens, and a lot of people made it happen. The producer’s credits for the studio single include French Montana, Hudson Mohawke, Kendrick Lamar, Mike Dean and, centrally, Paul McCartney, providing a bizarre, whistling outro. But this version of the song, the one that will appear on So Help Me God, lacks something.

Why does a song with a cast of artists to rival “All of the Lights” sound so sparse, comparably? For me, a sense of indecision plagues the singles released so far for So Help Me God, a by-product of Kanye dramatically re-entering the public sphere, after denouncing commercialism and mainstream hip-hop aesthetics on Yeezus. “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds” are much safer than that record, by virtue of having one fourth of the most successful band in history as a featuring artist.

KanyeIn many interviews, So Help Me God was born out of  “A fight to design”, and the way he talks about fashion makes it seem like he wants to be an artistic leader, but it feels like if that were true, there would be some clear stylistic alteration except what sounds like a shift back to populist verses. Which is not to say something popular is bad necessarily – these days if people accuse me of being that kind of smug hipster, I can raise the shield I made out of 1989 CD cases – but to me “All Day” doesn’t have the strength of its convictions. So Help Me God is shaping up to be the first of Kanye’s albums that doesn’t bring anything really new to the table; Late Registration brought Jon Brion’s production and live strings, 808’s and Heartbreak brought autotune and influenced every mainstream hip-hop album after it, including Drake.

With both artists expected to bring out their albums this year, the battle will be for the summer, that period of time in the year where people have the spare time to listen to the radio, and hits are born. The last time the two were pitted against each other with albums in the same year was 2010, where My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the clear winner. But don’t expect it to be a two-horse race; Kendrick Lamar, rivalling Kanye, Drake, and Frank Ocean over the last three years with Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, also hopes to bring out his album in 2015. With “i” and “The Blacker the Berry” their lead singles, fan of hip-hop and pop music in general will be spoiled for choice in the months to come.