Friday, August 7th, 2020

Kanye West ft. Travis Scott – Wash Us in the Blood

Quite middle-of-the-road, really…


Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Is it possible to have an opinion about “Wash Us in the Blood” without endorsing any of the narratives surrounding Kanye’s celebrity? I’m not posing this question rhetorically — I’m really grappling with it. With the news cycle vacillating between Kanye’s problematic presidential run, his public mental health issues, and his marital struggles, it’s almost easy to treat this song as a Rorschach test diagnosing how one feels about Kanye as an abstraction. But even when trying to unpack “Wash Us in the Blood” from a purely musical standpoint, it’s impossible; the song’s content begs to be situated in the current moment. How do we reconcile this song’s very visceral and powerful commentary about slavery, genocide, and police brutality with Kanye’s support of Trump and his racist policies? How should we read “Calm-Ye” — in the context of Kanye’s historical mistreatment by the media as an angry Black man, in the context of the backlash that he’s received for running for President, or in the context of him being a complex autonomous individual potentially having a mental health episode? In the music video, how do we reconcile the powerful images of historical and current uprising with clips of trauma porn that seemingly commodify suffering? I don’t have any of the answers — and I almost feel unfair trying to debate them. And in that context, I am inclined to view the song as generously as possible. That is, as an abrasive return to the forms and sounds of Yeezus, I was destined to like “Wash Us in the Blood” from the beginning.

Oliver Maier: Tries for the kind of manic lawlessness that powered Yeezus but lacks the conviction to make it work. When Kanye pretends to have ejected his ego, he abandons a point of view and serves up judgement-flavoured word salad. When he digs it back up, it is to indulge more whingeing in the third-person. On a purely vocal level he’s simply rapping worse than he ever has, to the extent that a surprisingly locked-in Travis Scott absolutely rinses him, blending infinitely better with the galloping beat. Sad stuff.

Steacy Easton: For all of his rapacious ego, Kanye works better within a collaboration — this time with a dense Scott verse, and a concise, moving video from Jafa. It’s not nearly as good as “Ultralight Beam” — for which Jafa made his masterpiece, but it’s much better than Kanye alone. 

Leah Isobel: “Wash Us in the Blood” starts wide-focus, painting a portrait of American decay with a two-note siren and a lyrical set of repetitive mantras drilled into the brain. Kanye and Travis trade spots, circling around and around without ever reaching enlightenment, only encountering more cruelty. It’s really smart, compelling songcraft, which means that when Kanye breaks the meter in his last verse to talk about how we can’t trust the media and no one in the industry wants to engage with him, it feels like a cop-out, like he can’t look directly at the pain he’s conjured and has to duck into a smaller kind of anger. I do believe that the people around him only want to engage with “Calm-Ye,” and he has no reason to have faith in a media that has historically treated him as a circus act. But there’s no relationship between both sections of the song, and one compromises the other — even on record, in his own territory, he self-sabotages.

Alfred Soto: These breakbeats and woodwind samples, mixed to crowd and eventually smother listeners, deserve more than Travis Scott and its above-the-title star offer. Then the song breaks open in the last third, ending the star’s most compelling performance since 2013. The Kanye of 2010 could’ve used some of this track’s hortatory freedom. Maybe scraps from the Book of John recited enough times will make it rain after all.

Thomas Inskeep: I’m happy to hear a return to the weirdly clubby/industrial music of Yeezus, but I have less than no use for West’s religious/political bromides, and Scott has never done a single thing for me, musically. 

Katherine St Asaph: I am trying very hard, really, to apply the Azealia Banks standard of rating the music, not the person, because what Kanye’s lost in execution he hasn’t lost in imagination. Except that’s kind of hard when the track swerves into the world not letting Kanye Kanye, restarting the clock on his 90 minutes and a lot of unpopular opinions. While he doesn’t explicitly equate the right to Kanye to the genocide and slavery in the first verse, by proximity he kind of does, because that’s what he does. How do you even talk about biographical criticism here? One thing I suspect we’ll hear a lot is how “Wash Us in the Blood” sounds disturbed: troubled art from a troubled mind. That’s a real phenomenon, and the track certainly sounds less like redemption than bloodbath. It’s just hard to say which albums show it in the music industry, which compels artists to conceal their trauma and also their timelines. “Wash Us in the Blood” is the title of a song from Kanye’s Nebuchadnezzar opera, and they share the same two-note riff — in the opera, sung by choirs. It almost seems like this version came first; the opera rendition underpins a recitation from Daniel 1 featuring no blood. The opera also features Sheck Wes, over whom Travis Scott is an improvement.

Will Adams: The ever-increasing difficulty of engaging with Kanye West’s work separate from his troubling public outbursts (including the alleged spoiling of a certain upcoming election) comes to a head in “Wash Us in the Blood.” It starts off pretty good, the sturm und drang acting as a foundation for Kanye and Travis to ask God forgiveness of sins borne from systemic oppression. But then Kanye derails everything with a verse decrying critics who “don’t want Kanye to be Kanye.” And suddenly, what initially was a powerful statement shrinks to another tiresome exercise in navel-gazing.

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