Top Pops: Featuring Kanye West

As well as being a Beatles admirer I’m also a big Kanye West fan.  This one’s a little more controversial because he’s obviously a complete idiot, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying his unique brand of hip-hop.  Most of his albums so far have been superb, but today I’ve decided to go a little outside the box and look at my favourite songs including Kanye as a featured artist (thus also excluding anything from 2011’s Watch the Throne as well as Cruel Summer from the Kanye-led collective GOOD Music.). Kanye is a popular featured performer as he usually adds something different while bringing some much-appreciated star power.  I’m sure there are a few that I don’t know, but these are my favourites of the ones I do:

#7 E.T.  (Katy Perry, Teenage Dream, 2010)

Teenage Dream is an album I like a lot, and although in my opinion E.T. is probably the least remarkable of the five singles I still consider it worthy of inclusion as one of the most successful songs of 2011.

#6 This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race (remix) (Fall Out Boy, 2007)

This one is included more out of sentiment and suspicion than merit if truth be told.  I still don’t really know why Fall Out Boy collaborated with an artist of such a different style, but I think it’s an intriguing song that captured my attention a long time ago.

#5 Make Her Say (Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, 2009)

This song is a lot of fun; originally called “I Poke Her Face” Cudi was coerced into renaming it to make it radio-friendly.  It also features Common and an acoustic sample of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, around which the chorus is based.

#4 Run this Town (Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3, 2009)

Into the more serious contenders comes “Run This Town”.  Kanye and Jay-Z are long-time friends and collaborators, and this song, also featuring Rihanna, was a big success.  Kanye’s verse is good enough that it’s even been criticised for overshadowing the rest of the song.

#3 Supernova (Mr Hudson, Straight No Chaser, 2009)

Far more successful in Europe than the US, Kanye’s collaboration with British artist Mr Hudson is a song I have a lot of time for.  Hudson was signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label the year before and the two wrote “Supernova” together.

#2 Knock You Down (Keri Hilson, In a Perfect World…, 2009)

This song, from Hilson’s debut album, is very close to being my favourite.  Hilson, West and Ne-Yo come together to create an R&B classic about love and heartbreak that I really enjoy.

#1 American Boy (Estelle, Shine, 2008)

In truth, “American Boy” was always going to be top of my list.  Estelle’s vocals mix perfectly with Kanye’s humorous verses and the song was a big hit across the world, being nominated for the Grammy for Song of the Year and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

So it appears that for four years from 2007-2010 Kanye West entered a golden age of collaborations while releasing two excellent albums of his own (and one mediocre one – no prizes for guessing).  2009 in particular was a standout year and the songs from that year take me back to a time in my life I enjoyed; a lot of people don’t like the guy, but he was undoubtedly a big part of my teenage years.

Music Pop: The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Artist: Eminem
Year: 2013
Example song:  Rap God

As I promised a good while back (in my first post in fact) I’ve finally managed to find the time to give The Marshall Mathers LP 2 enough of a listen to be able to say something about it.  As a big Eminem fan (second in my all-time most played list) I got hold of this album as soon as it came out and played it through within a couple of days.  It impressed me immediately, and it usually takes me a few goes to get into an album (for example Kanye’s Yeezus).  Last night I gave it another go and it’s only growing on me.

The LP opens with “Bad Guy”, a surprisingly long but certainly worthwhile sequel to “Stan”.  Eminem sings from the perspective of Stan’s little brother Matthew, who picks up the stalking baton with added thirst for revenge.  This flows into the album’s only skit before Zombies-sampling “Rhyme or Reason” and my personal favourite “So Much Better”, a hate-filled yet catchy song which reminds me of “Puke” from 2004’s Encore.

Then follows “Survival”, an aggressive, almost rock-y single which might even sound more at home on 2010’s Recovery.  “Legacy” and “Asshole” come next, two decent but unspectacular efforts.  “Berzerk” (the album’s first MMLP2single) is a good fun throwback to the Golden Age of hip-hop, with a couple of Beastie Boys samples, although it is perhaps a little incongruous to the flow of the album which is itself an homage to 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP.

In “Rap God”, Mathers boasts of his rapping prowess while simultaneously proving it with the performance. “Brainless” and “Stronger Than I Was” are good solid tracks, and “The Monster”, featuring Rihanna, is a good song but I’m not sure it deserves all the attention it’s getting.  “So Far…” and “Love Game” are again not bad but neither has apparently stuck in my mind.

The album heads towards a close with “Headlights”, an apology track to Eminem’s mother for all the blame he placed on her throughout his career.  The first time I heard this song I just sat there stunned, unable to believe my ears, but it seems that Marshall and Debbie Mathers have actually patched things up, hopefully for good.  It’s a decent song featuring Nate Ruess of fun., an artist currently popular with the industry as well as with me.  “Evil Twin”, the final track of the album proper (there is a lot of bonus material), is nothing special but not bad.

After the rubbish of Relapse and the more modern sound of Recovery, MMLP2 harks back to a much earlier time in Eminem’s career and feels more traditionally Marshall Mathers (hence the name, I guess).  Eminem refreshes his well-honed writing skills with a burst of fresh energy, reminding everyone why he was so successful in the first place and assuring us that even as he gets older he’s still got a reserve of that trademark enthusiasm to keep him going for another while yet. It’s perhaps a backlash to the criticism of his recent albums that they’ve been a little too “mainstream”.  This rap pioneer brought hip-hop to the mainstream, and he’s not going to let anyone say he’s abandoned it just yet.

My rating:  8.5/10