When Kanye West first announced plans to release five G.O.O.D. Music albums in five weeks, it seemed almost impossible that everything would go according to plan. Here was an alleged onslaught music that’d put the volume 2010’s G.O.O.D. Fridays to shame, that would dwarf 2012’s Cruel Summer, and on top that, it followed one the rockiest periods Ye’s career. The fact that the man who spent weeks fine-tuning The Life Pablo after its listening party even got all the albums out on time (minus a faulty stream, online delay, last-minute change or two) is a feat in and itself.
We can’t let the shock the delivery method cancel out discussions about the albums’ quality though. Kanye certainly made us listen and pay attention for an entire month, but did he, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Nas, and Teyana Taylor all turn in great albums? If you think so, it seems like you’re far in the minority online. Whatever your taste, whether you champion Kids See Ghosts or Daytona, whether you think Ye ranks with Kanye’s best albums or is by far his worst, there’s no way you can be satisfied with everything that arrived. Some songs feel hurried, some ideas half-baked, and some bars undercooked, all which are usually rarities in things bearing Ye’s stamp approval.
We’ve reviewed all the G.O.O.D. albums made in Wyoming over the past year, but now comes time to weigh them against each other.
5. Nas – Nasir
Going into this insane release spree, Nas’ album definitely had the most boom-or-bust potential. Here’s a legend, six years removed from his last album, previously plagued by complaints about his beat selection, linking up with the most celebrated rap producer the 21st Century. No one knew what it would sound like, or if it would even be good, but it was an experiment that got people interested, even those too old for Kanyemania.
For the most part, Nasir is a bust. Chalk it up to his bars, which are characteristically filled with batshit conspiracy theories (“Fox News was started by a black dude,” etc.) and uncharacteristically sloppy, or Ye’s production, which has its bright spots but is far too eclectic for a seven-track album. For every intriguing experiment like the Slick Rick-heavy “Cops Shot the Kid,” there’s a “White Label”— a song that attempts similar sound and structure but doesn’t quite click. For every righteous bit rage Nas throws our way, like, “Reminds me Emmett Till/ Let’s remind ‘em why Kaep kneels,” there’s a probably false claim that delegitimizes everything he says.
Perhaps most tragic all is “Everything,” a truly epic, beautiful track that gets the best performance from The-Dream that we’ve heard in years, and then Nas proceeds to absolutely squander it. How are you going to devote almost an entire verse to anti-vaxxing sentiments?! This is Nas at the lowest, lyrically speaking, that we’ve ever heard him, and the fact that he doesn’t even deem it necessary to address Kelis’ recent allegations abuse adds an even more confusing pall over this album. Dream teams ten don’t pan out as planned, and so it goes with Escobar and Yeezus, two legends in their own right whose styles don’t exactly click with each other (outside “We Major,” because that’s still an absolute banger).
4. Kanye West – Ye
It’s completely insane that it took Kanye 14 years and eight solo albums to release one that didn’t feel completely game-changing upon arrival. Every Kanye fan differs on their album rankings, but one thing that most us can agree upon is that every album preceding Ye is crucial in some way, whether it’s Graduation‘s merging backpack rap, mainstream pop, and indie/electronic sounds, 808s‘ impossible-to-overstate influence, or just pure enjoyment. Ye is where that train stops.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in which Kanye still sounds like he’s popping wheelies on a zeitgeist: somehow combining Pi’erre Bourne’s synthy textures with his own soul chops on “Yikes,” creating a collage out some R&B’s leading voices on “All Mine,” making the jumbled structure “Ghost Town” somehow work against all odds. But especially in the lyrics department, the cracks that started to shows years ago have now widened into vast chasms. Sometimes it’s punchlines that would make your lamest uncle cringe (“Don’t get your tooth chipped like Frito-Lay”), other times it’s toxic sentiments such as the “As a father a daughter…” point view on “Violent Crimes.” Either way, Kanye makes what could’ve been a compelling, vital treatise on mental illness into an aimless, swaggering dead end.
Ye by no means spells the end his creative genius— it has too much potential and was followed by too much good music to confirm total creative bankruptcy— but it’s a sobering moment in the lives most Kanye fans. Now we realize that our hero (musically speaking here, wading into Ye’s politics requires far more space than this ranking list allows) is mortal, and that he’s capable releasing subpar music. Hopefully Ye’s just a momentary bump in his larger trajectory.
3. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
A week after Ye, this one felt like a real breath fresh air. The pressure was f, the politics still unresolved but at least dormant, and the once-sidekick back at Ye’s side. Now they could get weird.
If you grew up infatuated with anything and everything Kanye and Cudi released between A Kid Named Cudi and “Gorgeous,” odds are this is your favorite the new G.O.O.D. albums. At times, Kids See Ghosts makes you wonder whether you hopped a time machine back to 2009, back when Cudi was collaborating with Ratatat (one-half whom shows up on three KSG tracks), Kanye was experimenting with tribal drum sounds and sampling obscure psych rock, Mos Def was still around, and Plain Pat was a household name. As a nostalgia trip, the album’s a blast, fering a brighter alternate timeline for Cudi in which his relationship with Ye remains strong and fruitful. But as a cohesive, meaningful, modern album, KSG falls a little short.
Perhaps an even bigger blow to me as a Kanye fan than Ye‘s ending his flawless streak albums is KSG‘s ending Kanye’s streak forward-thinking musical contributions. Not since College Dropout has Kanye ever done as much that could considered retro. And hey, retro isn’t by any means a bad thing, it’s just that Kanye’s paved some many new paths in hip hop that seeing him even glance over his shoulder at his past, at the “Old Kanye” as it were, is a little disheartening. KSG is fun, and it has moments like “Cudi Montage” that transcend the stoner dorm room dreams that many have had for Cudi’s career, but it has the underlying feeling a TV show or movie reunion that’s looking to recapture the glory days.
2. Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
Personally, I would draw a line between KSG and KTSE that divide the merely good G.O.O.D. albums from the great ones. Teyana’s album is the only one in the monthlong release spree that feels completely untethered from drama, the media circus, or prevailing narratives about Kanye and Co.. That’s great, because she really deserves some freedom after years playing waiting games to get her music out.
Effortlessly switching between singing and rapping, between neo-soul, steamy bedroom R&B, and vogue-ready house music, Teyana finally gets the chance to makes good on all the potential she’s shown since day one. She flexes her considerable pipes early on with cuts like “Gonna Love Me” and “Hold On,” but gives us a true tour de force her skillset on the autobiographical “Rose In Harlem.” “Been through more than a lil’ bit,” she raps, coming right out and addressing all the album delays and label problems while arriving at an empowering conclusion: “No album out and I got ’em asking/’What she do?’/I do everything.”
Kanye and his team producers also must be commended for their out–character work on KTSE. Unlike Ye and Nasir‘s aimless focus, or KSG‘s creative smorgasbord, this album’s vibe is extremely well curated, taking cues from The Miseductaion Lauryn Hill but definitely tailoring it into something that showcases Teyana’s strengths. KTSE is the only Wyoming album that makes me want to hear more, and that’s half because Teyana’s put out far too little music in her career, and half because it turns her into a star who seems more than able to carry an hourlong full length on her own.
1. Pusha T – Daytona
All killer no filler.
When Daytona arrived, it set the bar too high. It’s exactly what Push fans have always wanted: grimy beats, hard bars, very little attention paid to hooks, and absolutely no bullshit. Some might say he had the easiest, or at least most well-defined, task any G.O.O.D. artist, whereas Kanye had to keep one-upping himself, Cudi had to rebound from years mediocrity, Nas had to make it work with a new producer, and Teyana had to prove that her album was worth the wait. Push just had to step up to the plate and hit a homer. And although it’s by no means perfect, Daytona is as powerful a 20-minute statement as a rapper’s given us in the past five years.
If you, like me, loved “Numbers on the Boards,” this was the album for you. Like that song, Kanye handled Daytona‘s production almost entirely without the help his usual stable endless collaborators, opting for bare-bones, dusty beats as opposed to the knotty, unorthodox soundscapes he’s favored as late. That couldn’t suit Pusha, now matured into a grouchy, no-nonsense MC, any better.
Daytona won’t break any boundaries, save any souls, or influence any future XXL Freshmen, but it slaps. Sometimes, that’s what’s most important, and it seems like Kanye ten forgot that when making the other four albums on this list.