Now that Swish is dead, let the voices call—long live Swish.
It was quite possibly Kanye’s most inconsequential unrealized album title to date, killed perhaps because of his ever-complicated, uninteresting feelings toward The Swoosh. It was only with us from last spring to last week. It never really felt real. In May, he declared—
And in the same minute—
When, as prophesied, Ye did abandon the name in favor of Waves, a little hubbub erupted—over appropriation of the nomenclature of the beloved, imprisoned Max B, but also about respect towards one’s exes’ children and butt play.
As far as possibly unintentional, vaguely problematic promo goes, it was killer. It felt, as it should, big. Kanye has a new album coming out. The handwritten tracklist! Songs we’ve never even heard of before!! Three acts? Even if it may not even currently exist, in the palpable sense of the word existence—even if the Album of the Life is still stuck somewhere just north of this man's glorious hippocampus—Kanye has a new album coming out.
You know he's back, right? Clear the streets out. Tell—
Blessed with a transcendent government name, Kanye never had to worry about coming up with a stage name. He did pour his heart into his titles, though, early on promising a nonsensical but evocative tetraptych: The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, and Good Ass Job. And that Good Ass Job never arrived—will never arrive—tells us, basically, everything.
Instead, before his fourth release, Kanye got his heart crushed, spun out, and—intentionally or otherwise—preemptively invented the sound still carrying us boldly into the latter half of the ‘10s. And how about that title! The phrase 808s & Heartbreak is mall-emo ennui at its cooked-down best. It is a glorious throwing-off of the shackles of artistic propriety. And as such, it is but a slight amuse-bouche to the wobble-wheeled, engulfed-in-flames, streetcar-disaster of the phrase My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I don’t know much about poetry but I don’t think you’re, like, supposed to just say what the poem is about?
Yeezus is—will always be—his best album title. The sheer, epic gall of that. Behind it is the nightmarish sound, and behind that is the story: how, days before release, Ye brought in Rick Rubin and sliced the whole thing down by a third or more.
Finding success through brazenness has been a guiding principle for Ye way before Yeezus. Back in 2008, speaking to The FADER after the success of Graduation, he boasted, “You know I changed my tour. I completely redesigned the tour in like three weeks time for the European run. You know that would take the average person like six months to do it, because what people do is, they don’t do work. So many people do good in crunch time, so why not do everything on crunch time? … I’m like, push my release date up to the closest possible thing, and if you tell me we have to have this shit mastered by next week, I will get it done. Cause I have to get it done.”
Kanye is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, he’ll always be the kid yelling from the corner of the room; the straggly one who must hustle to get on, who must sweat. To me, his imperfection is his perfection. Which is why the aspirational purity of Swish was so beautiful. Forget a great album; was there an album then? Is there an album now? Who the hell knows. One thing is for sure, though: Kanye believed. Kanye believes. Don’t bother him with this first quarter bullshit. Down one, twelve seconds left, give him the damn ball. He’ll make it. Swish.