Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Kanye West ft. Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z & Nicki Minaj – Monster

The motion painting for this should be a treat when it shows up…


Anthony Easton: Kanye has always been self aware, and good at apologizing for his excesses, so he is a monster, but he is one of those very sad, emotionally raw ones in Where the Wild Things Are; even the braggadocio is a way of fronting, a way of avoiding the overwhelming loneliness and sadness that grounds all of this work. The Minaj verse has a surgical parody of the hyper capitalism of hip-hop, and the percussion is magisterial, and the whole thing… I don’t know if it’s genius or shit, late period Elvis excess or Liberace kitsch — both have their place, but both have a decadence that is away from West’s centralities.

Zach Lyon: 1: Bon Iver? Okay, whatever, I guess. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking his inclusion is anything more than political posturing. 2: Whoa, beat, there. 3: I guess Rick Ross is just here as a hype man or something. I just wrote more words than he has in this song. 4: Kanye should win a VMA for “Best at Being Outshone by Own Beats.” 5: Wow, now that’s the kind of verse that makes you forget that Jay-Z used to be Jay-Z. 6: WHAT. SINCE WHEN IS NICKI MINAJ CAPABLE OF SUCH THINGS. WHAT IS HAPPENING. HOW. I am a sold motherfucker.

Katie Lewis: Nicki Minaj raps circles around everyone on this track. Given that “everyone” includes Kanye West, (a little) Rick Ross, and Jay-Z, this is quite an impressive feat. And given that I completely identify with Nicki Minaj’s brand of bat-shit insanity, I adore her crazy energy here, but find the rest of the all-star hodgepodge to be rather disappointing and, in some parts, boring.

Jonathan Bogart: Docking points for unimaginative use of Bon Iver and a Rick Ross intro that at least has the virtue of brevity. But the rest of them kill it, Ye still sounding hungry after all these years, or maybe it’s the paranoia, Jay playing the capo di tutti role he was born for, and Nicki rolling out a sitcom cast’s worth of voices, postures, and lines easily worth the 50K she brags on. As always, she runs away with the song; at least here Kanye is smart enough to give her space.

Alex Macpherson: You could write an essay about Nicki Minaj’s still-incomplete crossover from hip-hop underground to ubiquitous mainstream presence, a journey that few are able to make these days. It’s seemed alternately carefully plotted and frantically ad-libbed: Minaj has unveiled different angles to her USP gradually and with strategically-positioned collaborators, but there’s been a fair amount of panicky throwing shit at the radio to see what sticks too. “Monster” is inarguably a milestone for her, though; it doesn’t reveal any new tricks, per se, but is a concise summation of what she’s shown so far – everything thrilling and novel about her in one incredible verse, delivered on her biggest stage yet. There’s almost something suspicious about how comprehensively she outshines the two most famous (if far from best, these days) rappers on the planet, as if that was the primary motivation behind the track existing at all – though any shock dissipates once you recall Minaj has been killing them both for the past two years. Here, West is adequate, in a pleasant surprise; but Jay-Z is abominable, sabotaging his verse from the off by reciting an unimaginative, unevocative list of monsters like he’s cramming for an exam, and somehow managing to get worse from there. (What’s his Achilles heel? INDIE ROCK.) It’s all set up perfectly for Nicki to seize the track by the scruff of its neck, bobbing and weaving through a dazzling selection of vocal costume changes and riding the beat harder into the ground than either of her collaborators were able to do (the physical energy she injects into the track on “hotter than a Middle Eastern climate” is something else). All the while, she discourses sharply on her own realness – is there a more perfect self-definition than “Forget Barbie, fuck Nicki, sh-she’s fake – she on a diet but my POCKETS EATING CHEESECAKE”? [10], once again, for Minaj – and it’s time for her to stop being dragged down by her collaborators now.

Asher Steinberg: I’ll let others comment on what a thrill Nicki’s “verse” — really, a collection of about twenty separately recorded snippets, which rather detracts from the virtuosic flow-switching mastery of the thing — is. My complaint is simply that none of these verses have anything to do with each other; certainly the minimal beat doesn’t impose any unity on the song. So it ends up being nothing more than a series of disconnected attempts at displays of technical superiority (one of which really succeeds, one of which is unusually solid for Kanye but nothing to write home about otherwise, and one of which is a not very curious curiosity and nothing more), followed by a lame indie singer coda about leaving an unspecified something up to God’s discretion that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. If this is an attempt at reviving that long-lost art, the posse track, Kanye needs to realize that a posse track isn’t the musical equivalent of a dunk contest; rather it’s largely about signifying community in what’s generally an individualist genre. The only saving grace of “Monster” as a song — Nicki’s verse is fine enough and belongs as a freestanding track on her own mixtapes — is Rick Ross’s humble and far too brief intro, which both recognizes the existence of the beat and of his fellow participants.

Al Shipley: Rick Ross’s 4 bars do the least work for a feature credit in the history of rap, while Nicki’s 32 bars are a little extra, but extra is what she does, so it works. Everybody in rap wants to “make a movie,” but somebody tell Kanye that doesn’t mean every song has to be 2 hours long. This might actually feel as bold as it wants to be if Kanye wasn’t recycling the same clunky funk he’s been peddling since 2003, and the same vocal distortion he’s been overusing since 2008.

Michaelangelo Matos: The muffled basement beat is a good idea musically (‘Ye sounds less self-conscious than usual, and so do his guests) and strategically: if you’re sick of the pomp that accompanies just about everything Kanye-related, well, so’s he! The most becoming Minaj verse I’ve caught in an age, too, not that I’ve been paying super-close attention.

Martin Skidmore: Kanye struggles to keep up with the beats, Jay-Z sounds as if nothing could be easier, Nicki is brilliantly wild as ever, Rick and Bon may as well not have shown up.

Alfred Soto: The swampy mix and a couple of swampy voices are the stars here, all of which inspire the ringleader to deliver one of his nastier performances: Tom Waits at the Apollo.

Edward Okulicz: Kanye is an abusive, alcoholic, power-mad husband, and rock critics are all his battered wives. Would be a 2 without Minaj’s star-turn.

Renato Pagnani: By all logic this shouldn’t work at all, but to Kanye’s credit somehow it does. Like most of the G.O.O.D. Friday tracks ‘Ye’s put out over the last two months, “Monster” is kind of a giant mess — too long and stuffed with too many ideas, many of which don’t quite fit together (see: Bon Iver’s many hooks here) — but like those songs, there’s also some gems strewn about debris. “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? Acgh I put that pussy in a sarcophagus” makes no sense, but it’s the kind of vintage Kanye hilariousness that the Louis Vuitton Don brings to tracks when he’s on top of his game. These days it’s a coin toss whether Jay-Z wrecks tracks or just wrecks tracks, and here he embarrasses himself by rattling off names of monsters (‘cause the song’s called “Monster,” get it?) before half-redeeming himself with a twist-turn verse that casts aside the Old Man Flow he’s been polishing lately. All the talk about “Monster” has -— and rightfully, might I add -— centered around Nicki’s star-cementing verse, in which she tries on about a dozen outfits, not only taking the song’s conceit somewhere interesting, but simply rapping her ass off. It’s that beat, though, that impresses almost as much as Minaj — it’s the filthiest thing Kanye’s put together in a long time, all sticky and humid, tumbling forward like a drunk Gigan. This isn’t a song — it’s about five different songs sewn together in Frankensteinian fashion. You can see the loose threads and where the seams are splitting, but that’s most of the charm.

Mallory O’Donnell: Cookie Monster: also a monster. The Vermonster: a monster too. If this monster had been shorter, my thoughts might not have drifted towards dessert. Everybody knows dessert is a motherfuckin’ monster.

35 Responses to “Kanye West ft. Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z & Nicki Minaj – Monster”

  1. I agree entirely with the Lex here. Nicki is my favourite thing in pop this year.

  2. Like Mallory, I was also befuddled by the beginning of Jay’s verse. First, are goblins really monsters? Ghouls? Second, how can it be that the answer to “Question: what do all of these things have in common” is Jay-Z’s being a monster? That’s like saying, “Freud, Einstein, Moses, what do all these things have in common? Everybody knows I am Jewish!”

  3. and whyyyy would Nicki start wearing fangs AFTER eating your brains? wouldn’t they be more helpful beforehand? /rapseinfeld

  4. gold teeth AND fangs, like they’re two different things

  5. a point i would’ve made if i coulda thought of anything else to say about this song: at least Jay-Z stays on topic. he’s rapping about monsters. it’s an approximate narrative. Nicki is still rap’s rhyming dictionary lyricist: “Pull up in a monster/automobile gangsta/with a bad bitch that came from sri lanka/yeah i’m in the tonka/color of willy wonka”… when she plays street fighter ii does she play blanka? is she a fan of paul anka? is she going bonkers? are any of these any less or more reasonable than the pulled out of a hat lines she’s using here?

  6. Those are good lines though. I mean, Willy Wonka doesn’t have a color, unless it’s Gene Wilder’s, so I’m a little lost there, but other than that, I don’t see what’s pulled out of a hat here. She’s talking about her monstrous large SUV and monstrous wealth and Sri Lankan female accompaniment befitting of a monster. It all relates to the “topic.” There’s nothing random about it at all, it’s the very stuff that any rapper who’s remotely commercial raps about all the time, unless he’s, you know, someone like Drake who gets off on wistfully reminiscing over girls with really big nails. Can’t wait to review that song.

  7. Yeah, I didn’t mean to rep for Jay’s opening lines, which are almost a parody of shitty flow they’re so bad, but taking a whole half a measure to sniff the air is something I’ll always dig.

  8. “Sri Lankan female accompaniment befitting of a monster”?

  9. That said, “pink wig/thick ass/give em whiplash/i think big/get cash/make em blink fast” is as good as she’s ever been.

  10. Yeah, befitting of a monstrously important person. Retarded turn of phrase, admittedly.

  11. When did everybody become so literalist?

  12. Rodney OTM, is John allergic to anything even vaguely surrealist or nonsensical? I mean that’s pretty obviously what Nicki’s deliberately going for a lot of the time. And also something that’s really fundamental to rap’s appeal!

  13. Yeah, I think it works better as an actual Tonka toy truck.

  14. That would be interesting but I am pretty sure that’s not what was meant. See Malice on ‘Hot Damn’ (back when the Neptunes could still produce) – “Monster truck remind him of Tonka.”

  15. c’mon lex, it’s silly to act shocked that anyone could see the world in any other colors than the ones in your paint set
    i like my dada rap raw and nicki’s approach is still hella clumsy and predicated more on a A B A B scheme than playing in doom’s sandbox

  16. “Shocked”? I’m not the one acting like it’s SO OBVIOUS that Nicki has nothing of merit to offer.

  17. i wish Nicki was faithful to ABAB rhyme schemes, the “rookie/pay/out/climb it” section always gets on my nerves so much because there’s like 4 straight bars with no end rhyme. but yes, super clumsy.

  18. lot of songs with monster in the title at the moment: viv stanshall told it like it was!

  19. make that an A A A A rhyme scheme. or A Z Q A T

    lex, i don’t think Nicki has nothing of merit to offer. I think there’s likely gonna be three or more songs on Pink Friday that I’m gonna love. I just think she’s still finding her way and the fast rush to fame is skipping her past an important seasoning stage where she figures out how to actually use and refine her considerable tools. I honestly think she aspires to ODB but some of us have greatness thrust on us and some have to work towards it. Nicki’s trying really hard right now with meaningless inner consumerist mythologies (“my money’s so tall that my barbie’s got to climb it”?) and strained gibberish that only flies at all because she’s got a really really solid flow. She’s got work to do yet.

  20. I don’t think she’s insufficiently experienced or “seasoned,” she’s been rapping a pretty long time and her style has been steadily evolving, I just don’t particularly like the direction it’s evolving in. Your persistent fantasy about her suddenly become Lauryn Hill and saying important serious things with her music is pretty weird and unreasonable, though — best case scenario is she just gets tighter with her rhymes and more imaginative with her wordplay and her lyrics actually become as outlandish and unpredictable as her flow.

  21. Doom isn’t really playing in Doom’s sandbox anymore. He turned into this packaged alt-weekly paper shit around the time he did that Cartoon Network album. And I don’t know what a meaningless consumerist mythology is – like maybe it’s not your mythology of choice, but an awful lot of people ascribe meaning to the accumulation of wealth and consumer goods. Ultimately though, isn’t the reason that materialist rap or crack-rap work not because we subscribe to the mythologies, but because being rich or selling a lot of crack is just a meaningless vessel in which to pour chest-thumping bravado, and it’s that that we listen for, the bravado, not the specifics from whence it flows? And not just that, but to hear how cleverly they make their substantively inane points.

  22. “Your persistent fantasy about her suddenly become Lauryn Hill and saying important serious things with her music is pretty weird and unreasonable, though — best case scenario is she just gets tighter with her rhymes and more imaginative with her wordplay and her lyrics actually become as outlandish and unpredictable as her flow.”

    uh. the latter outcome is what i’m hoping for; i’m pleased when she’s coherent. don’t think i’ve ever posited her as being the next level in conscious hip hop

  23. as per mythologies: i find nicki’s barbie slang ( as unflattering as gwen’s harajuku fetishry.

  24. I dunno man, when you complain about the consumerism it makes me wonder what you think she’d ever talk about besides money.

  25. Bwahahahaha that slang page is the best thing ever.

    “Strawberry Shortcake : \?stro-?ber-?-short-?k?k\ : noun

    1: a broke bitch ;

    2: one who loses sight of her goals and her CAKE by focusing on BEEF and negativity.”

  26. I think she shows a lot of talent. The crazy flow and wicked rhymes are a choice, always been for her. One because it’s appealing and two because no one is doing it, possibly because most artists are afraid of facing that one reaction tellin’ then they’re incoherent.

    To each his own, tho.

  27. Gwen’s however-you-spell-that fetishry is very queasy for racial reasons, whereas I’m always a little reluctant to attack someone for being sexist about their own gender when you could read what they’re doing as a feminist appropriation of misogynist symbols. Anyway, Nikki is nothing more, nothing less, than the latest and probably least gifted incarnation of Everybody’s Favorite Weird Commercial Rapper, a title previously held by Cam and Wayne. Such rappers are, if anything, even more single-mindedly obsessed with consumerism, violence, sex; their interest is almost solely stylistic and that’s just the extent of their much-vaunted weirdness, for better or worse. I think it’s possible to launch a substantive critique of Nikki, but it has to be a lot more internal than just bashing consumerism and wishing she were more like Doom. For example, you could say that Nikki (like Katy Perry) wraps herself in layers of irony and knowingness and distance and weird wigs, but how is she actually any different from, or more the author of her own identity than, Lil’ Kim? I don’t know that I agree with that; my feeling is that Nikki really is different from Lil’ Kim, whereas Perry is no different from any of the people she’s trying to distinguish herself from by wearing weird wigs and whipped-cream cannons. But that’s a critique that responds to what she’s saying rather than faulting her for choosing to work in the genre she’s chosen.

  28. Nicki is only as monstrous rahr rahr as a dungeon dragon, in the long form her technique is motherfuckin’ saggin.

  29. One comment. Putting the pussy in a sarcophagus makes perfect sense, because the Egyptians mummified their cats. Kanye will mummify your vagina and take it with him to the afterlife.

  30. Thanks for that, Candace. I now love that line even more!

  31. So wait, does that mean it’s dead or buried alive? Which is worse auuuggh

  32. I don’t know if that’s what he was trying to say; either way it’s his best line on the song. He makes it sound (“sarCOPHagus”) like it means something cool.

  33. Nicki is only as monstrous rahr rahr as a dungeon dragon, in the long form her technique is motherfuckin’ saggin.

    Hang on what, Mallory posted this like a week before “Roman’s Revenge” came out – was that track around sooner or was it a freakily coincidental ref to A Tribe Called Quest?

    Rick Ross’s 4 bars do the least work for a feature credit in the history of rap

    How soon we forget “can I have it like that? You got it like that.”

  34. by “in the history of rap” i meant guest verses by rappers, not just hook singers. 16 bars is pretty standard and even on an overstuffed DJ Khaled remix everyone gets at least 8 bars.

  35. No, the track wasn’t around sooner. And I avoided her so hard I didn’t hear it until the the track came up for review.

    But believe me I am laughing about it now.