he year of the Roc was 2004. From that Black Album alternate ending to The College Dropout takeover, Mr. Carter's camp left a stamp on countless collections and playlists, podcasts, and broadcasts. Hate it or love it, listeners and critics across the board had an opinion about the Dynasty—especially its new poster-boy Kanye West. And it was the fellaters who spoke in droves. Come awards season Kanye raked in record-breaking nomination and award numbers; though, modest dude that he is, he still thought he came up short. Maybe it was the hunger speaking, because West continued to push his presence on the pop map in '05. He gave Common his highest profile album to date and even made Time's list of most important artists and entertainers.
So, as West preps his sophomore swing Late Registration, a shrewd no-name has arisen to capitalize on the fame of the chain. Producer and MC Lushlife initiated a website for West Sounds, a remix project that merges Kanye tracks from The College Dropout and Late Registration with the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Atop ten West acapellas and instrumentals, Lush adds BB beats and hooks, live instrumentation, and/or his own rhymes; each song is available for free download on his website. In addition to posting some Photoshop chop-shop that merges the color scheme of Sounds with the bear imagery of Dropout, Lush also provides a complete cover and tray sheet for DIY CD-making. The barebones yet direct one-pager has made the blog rounds, garnering responses ranging from overripe to just right. Although the name Lushlife has yet to become the next LL, the concept has netted new listeners.
The vexation and the genius of West Sounds' success lays not in its own virtues, but in its audience's perception. While hardly a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, the project banks much of its success on its inherited image. By keeping the remix within Roc la Famila, West Sounds assures being billed as a descendant of the Grey, Purple, Silver, Red, Brown, Black is Black, Double-Black phenomenon. However, the project neither riffs on the Jay remix gangbang, nor specifically on The Grey Album. It is not meant to be College Sounds/Pet Dropout because it could never be that complete. Black Album acapellas were made commercially available in a complete package, thereby setting a standard for all subsequent remixes; producers and bedroom jockeys only had to mull over whether to include the intro or not. In the case of The College Dropout, only about half of its acapellas were released. Hence, West Sounds is like a highlights package of remixed singles and b-sides, as opposed to a concept album. Which actually works to its advantage, because it earns notable press without actually playing the album-versus-songs game.
The Grey Album comparison admittedly hurts West Sounds, as Lushlife does not rework every cut consistently. Two tracks are merely Kanye's beats augmented by a brief (and out-of-tune) Beach Boy vocal ("School Spirit," "Breathe In Breathe Out"), while the third finds Lush spitting over the original instrumental ("Through the Wire"). The producer's mic presence is somewhat welcome, a throwback flow with an AZ pacing. However, considering it only takes a moderate sense of rhythm to rap better than Kanye, this is hardly an accolade. It's like saying my two arms make me a better weightlifter than Bethany Hamilton. Lush's presence appears to be a bid at self-promotion, but clever lines ("D-Y, D-X / I pitch a left while approachin' infinity / I'm the function of 4th & Broadway / Plus mad ability") come off as wasteful in a project surrounded by grandiosity; why flip mixtape lyrics over Oprah proportioned car accident beats?
Removed from these image issues, West Sounds does contain a handful of amusing mixes of the moment. Lush's "All Falls Down" synthesizes the idea by melting the doughy "Don't Talk" strings in warm harmony with Syleena's throaty Laurynisms. Kanye's aggressive tone is the only mismatch, but the backing track is surprisingly breezy and comfortable; no Siik summer reinvention, but lurvely enough for the season. "The New Workout Plan" receives an appropriately cheeky makeover, transformed from aerobic steppin' to drunken hoedown. Over a new set of bustling cymbals and the jangling intro to "Wouldn't It Be Nice," the new "New Workout Plan" waltzes and whines. What makes this cut a success is that key instrumental passages from Wilson are fully integrated within West's framework: the pounding tympanis are used as a brief break, the banjos work as a counterpoint to the vocoder, and the stuttering pianos form a poly-rhythm with the new break. With less complexity but no less hilarity, the Collipark remix of "Slow Jamz" (all Twista, no K. Weezy) is flipped to the beat of Pet Sounds' slow jam, "Caroline No." Giving those smooth operator harpsichords the Kanye treatment, Lush speeds them up to recreate that double-time rhythm.
Unfortunately, Lush's production loses steam on the remaining cuts. "Two Words" chops the xylophones of "Sloop John B," but drags through the extended cameos; somehow, the image of Mike Love drinking sizzurp all night just ain't right. "Get 'Em High" tries to recapture "All"'s summer vibe by using the vibes from "Let's Go Away for Awhile," but again shuffles to a too modest beat; not to mention the fact that it’s also completely off-beat by two counts. Worse is the pairing of subdued Beach Boy beats with melodramatic Kanye hysteria, as on "Jesus Walks" and "Diamonds (From Sierra Leone)"; reflective "That's Not Me" organs are hardly a worthy complement to images of "Vegas on acid." Combined with the aforementioned missteps, West Sounds is an underwhelming affair.
West Sounds's greatest disappointment is that it feels like a missed opportunity. Is it the new Grey Album? Is it the Beatles versus the Beach Boys? Is it dope? West Sounds opens wide, but can't quite find the words. Instead, it fidgets uncomfortably under the light. A few pearls roll off, unfurling some genuinely glistening sounds for the waning summer days. And certain gems seem to inadvertently ask the discerning listener to reevaluate their KanyE-pinions. However, West Sounds is a tongue-twisted response to its progenitor's challenge: "I think we are at the lowest of point... in the history of [music]... like in rap music." So, if Lush can't step, step, step, step, step, step up, who can? Tune back in August 30th.
Reviewed by: Dan Nishimoto
Reviewed on: 2005-08-22