Let’s start at the end, because that’s where Kanye West really shines. We’re deep into it now, way past the four minute mark, and only now are we really going to get an entry worthy of a Grammy. “I’m-a head of my time/sometimes years out/so the powers that be won’t let me get my ideas out/And that make me wanna get my advance out/And move to Oklahoma and jus’ live in my Aunt’s house…’ As a statement of intent, it couldn’t be any clearer. As a testament to rap’s crossover appeal, it couldn’t come at a better time. Though he’s already one record and a whole lot of glorious, excess ideas down, Kanye crystallises his vision into this, a six minute opus where the truest lines he says are also some of the last. There’s that phrasing, the breathy stabs of ‘ah-ah-ah’ that punctuate the silence, like a boxer gearing himself up before a fight. There’s the way the lyrics roll over into the next bar like they were supposed to be there, emphases on certain syllables that are most definitely deliberate and completely the work of someone who obsesses over detail. It’s the second last year of school and someone has given me a pirated copy of this record two weeks before it’s supposed to come out. I slide it into the stereo and there’s eighteen tracks and somehow it lands on this one first. There’s piano, there’s Otis Redding, for the first of , and without all the chipmunk effects from The College Dropout, this is starting to sound like something a lot more exciting than much of the rock music I’ve clung to for so long. It’s happening, I’m crossing over. And it’s the orchestration of the words as much of the orchestration itself that’s doing it.
It’s no accident that the man who would be Jigga has become the focal point by which my brother and I have discovered our own writing styles on this blog. He’s a polarising character who probably embodies the dreams of both of us far more than we’d like to admit, but perhaps what keeps bringing us back to him is the way he thinks outside of any box and then waits for everyone else to get on board. Sometimes he drags them there kicking and screaming, as with the vocoder era but the brilliant execution and planning of tracks like ‘Gone’ make it patently clear that the tickets he has on himself are, for the most part, totally valid. Capping off Late Registration, this song not only has sizeable contributions from two rappers who’ve were already big propositions on their own but also some of the best use of strings in rap since Coolio plundered the Stevie Wonder songbook. It’s no secret that West is an aesthete in every sense of the word, so pulling in Jon Brion and a cavalry of something like four cellos, four violas, eight violinists and an extra arranger isn’t something he just did on a whim. The strings in this track actually work off the fuel being provided by the rappers. Those furious staccato accents and long legato movements, if you listen to them properly, don’t just sit around to make the recording sound better – even though they do. They’re there to augment the entire experience, like that incredibly ornate lead up after Cam’ron and before Kanye’s verse that goes for over a minute without anybody saying anything, only to descend into this deep aggressive syncopation just as Kanye enters. That ‘I’mma’ is the first of many ‘I’mma’s for Kanye, some of which will get him in a lot more trouble. And it damn well blows up.
While I’m enamoured with the references to Anakin and Jennifer Aniston, it should be noted that the two guests offer as much to this track as its creator. That’s primarily on a base aural level – they just sound different. Cam’Ron is all rolled vowels and swagger, while Consequence really shines with an elegy to his fallen friend over sliding high violins, engineered perfectly to fit his rhymes. Kanye, who bookends this monster, knows how to make an audience wait. And he also values that when you come out of the stable, if you don’t win, there’s really no point trying. He saves the best arrangements, lines and bravado for that one minute which completely sealed the deal for me back in 2004. His whole spectrum of ambition is wrapped up in there, past present and future. He would have rehearsed the enunciation of those words for hours. It’s admirable. The arrangements are moving upwards towards their final conclusion, and it’s hard not to go with him. What an absolute stunner of a song.
Kanye West – ‘Gone’ (ft. Consequence & Cam’ron)