Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Song of the Day #280 - Kanye West - Ultralight Beam

I'm just havin' fun with it!

So I've been on "vacation" or whatever so Song of the Day was on break too. Unfortunately, very early on in said "vacation", I lost my earbuds, which just sorta generally sucks, but manifested most noticeably in an acute omnipresent desire to listen to The Life of Pablo. Yes, beyond the endless twitter beefs, "final mix" rumours, release shitshows, and... new album announcements? (TurboGrafx-16 gonna be the AOTY), the most enduring part of TLOP is the fiendishly addictive music itself. And although I'm starting to build a constellation memory of favorite moments, the brightest shining star is still this opening track.

You think about that cliched image of someone ascending to heaven on a beam of light... you've probably seen it hundreds of times... but it seems like the real experiential aspect of it is never really approached, right? Because... how could anyone attempt to capture what that would feel like? It's sorta like when C.S. Lewis refused to write a "heavenly" counterpart to The Screwtape Letters - he said it would be impossible for him to capture the perfection that correspondence from angels. But here Kanye really attempts it! He really does! He captures the sound of that ultralight beam! Big Ghost, coming out of semiretirement to review the album, says that people might be disappointed if they go in with this level of expectation. He is wrong.

I mean come on now, isn't this beautiful? From the sample of the kid's prayer, the way those chords come in, Tha-Dream's glistening falsetto... When Kanye finally comes in with the "we on a ultralight beam" and "this is a God dream", it feels absolutely unnecessary. "This is everything" speaks to the sort of frantic "definition" I saw in the run-up to the first launch, but in a peaceful, complete, finished, sense. His prayer is so simple and heartfelt, letting his voice rumble into his lower registers... it really feels like salvation, like the relief at the feeling of salvation.

And then Kelly Price, oml what a voice, what a power. I mean here we have a complete Lewisian argument in three four-line segments... the suffering, the revelation, the peace. "And I know that you'll take good care of your child" gets me every time... it feels like she speaking both to God and each and every one of the parents Kanye requests we pray for. And "Cause I, I look to the light" is full of an emotion that could only be born of its truth.

But the real proof is in Chance's verse which is just hands down one of the most beautiful and inspirational things I've ever heard. The way he comes in, so hushed and humbly appreciative, but slowly builds momentum and confidence... like, for a rapper from Chicago, a big Kanye fanboy, this moment doesn't just represent perhaps the biggest leap forward in success of his career thus far (it's between this and the reception to Acid Rap, I guess), but the realization of his biggest dream. The verse is littered with references to Chicago, Kanye, and the Bible, creating a motivating conflation in this pantheon. When he says "I met Kanye West I'm never going to fail", you know right there that he believes it. You can hear it in his voice! He's just having fun with it! Is this the best verse of 2016? I can't imagine anything topping it. It is the sound of dreams becoming reality...

What else? The choir, Kirk Franklin, those drums... There's a lot. You can tell they were really feeling it on this one. And like... beyond any sort of ontological or scientific or philosophical arguments or whatever, I think you have to agree that the conception of God can be very motivating and wonderful at times like this. The moment of realization of all their mortal dreams coincides with a brilliant vision of what comes after. Beautiful...

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