Whenever we rode in the car, like heading to a skatepark, Đạo, Đán, Xuân, and I liked to jam to Kanye’s music. His beats drew them in even though his lyrics were inappropriate for their age. One of the albums we often tuned into was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
They enjoyed the orchestration for the interlude of “All of the Lights.” The keyboard-playing and the cello-bowing relaxed us. The production for the song was pretty dope and Rihanna’s vocal on the hook was just soulful until Kanye kicked off his first verse with these bars: “I slapped my girl, she called the feds / I did that time and spent that bread.” Like the title of the next song, “Monster” was such a monster of a track. Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj dropped their signature verse on it. I was shocked when Đán asked me, “What is a sarcophagus?” I didn’t know what it was then he told me what it was. They also like the opening of “Runaway,” in which a single piano key was pounded for 40 seconds.
The productions on Yeezus were solid from the beginning to end and the lyrics were filthy from the start to finish. Đạo’s favorite track was “Black Skinhead.” Although I warned him about the lyrics, he assured me that he had heard all the cuss words in school from high school students. I took his words for it. Đán’s favorite track is “New Slaves,” which had a killer production from Swizz Beatz. He asked me the meaning behind “New Slaves” and I explained to him based on what I observed from Kanye’s lyrics. He opened the track with:
My mama was raised in the era when
Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
Doin’ clothes, you woulda thought I had help
But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself
Old slaves were the ones that picked the cottons to make clothes, whereas new slaves were “spending everything on Alexander Wang.” When he asked me about the refrain, “But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower,” I didn’t know how to explain to him the word “swallower.” He also reassured me that he blocked out the lyrics and only focused on the beats. I doubted it.
The only Kanye album that we could enjoy together without having to worry about explicit content was his 808s & Heartbreak, which was his breakthrough-singing album. When the album was released in 2008, I thought Kanye was just riding the Auto-Tune train, but I am surprised it still holds up today. Đạo’s favorite track was “Heartless” and Đán’s favorite was “Amazing” simply for the “uh” sound at the end of each bar. Xuân’s and my favorite track was none other than “Coldest Winter,” which was a touching tribute to Kanye’s mother. When Xuân sang along with Kanye, “On lonely nights, I start to fade / Her love’s a thousand miles away,” he made me miss my mom so much. Next month will be her first death anniversary. Time had flown by so fast and not a single moment I hadn’t thought about her.