It seems like 2015 is the year we’ll finally get to hear that long-awaited followup to Kanye West’s genre-shredding Yeezus. In the very first seconds of the year, ‘Ye graced the world with his first full brand new song in over a year, “Only One,” featuring organ from Paul McCartney and backing vocals from Ty Dolla $ign. The track is a personal, gut-wrenching ballad framed as his mother speaking to him about his daughter, North from Heaven. Yeezy’s always been most revealing when rapping about his mother, but the added wrinkle of North West seems like it could herald a sharp change in his lyrical direction for his seventh album.
Of course, much is still up in the air, but this weekend Kanye blessed us again with another track from the McCartney/Dolla $ign sessions, this one featuring a front-and-center vocal performance from Rihanna. “FourFiveSeconds” was, if anything, an even further diversion from the often grating, hyper-aggressiveness of Yeezus; it wouldn’t sound that far out of place on country radio, with acoustic guitars and multi-layered harmonies. Again, with the sounds of children behind his voice, Kanye seems to be in full-fledged father mode, giving further credence to the theory that this LP will be softer in tone and texture than his previous efforts.
It seems like Kanye is again at a place in his career where his musical direction is completely wide open. So what can we expect from the project? Here’s everything we know about Kanye West’s upcoming seventh album. —Dan Rys
The Release Date
If you like complete guesses, then you’ve come to the right place. With the release of these two songs—and the fact they haven’t been scrubbed from the Internet like “All Day” last summer—coupled with the photo three weeks ago of Kanye leaving the Def Jam office, it seems like the album could be on its way sooner rather than later. Remember, ‘Ye gave a cryptic six week heads up that Yeezus was on its way, and that was before the recent wave of surprise releases from Beyonce and J. Cole that have become a trend of sorts within the industry.
Kanye has ruminated in the past about which season he’d like the album to come, telling GQ last year that he was thinking about September or October for a fall release, then wavering and rhetorically suggesting the summer. The Sunspeculated ‘Ye might try to mimic Beyonce, but that doesn’t seem to be his style; the guerilla marketing of his Yeezusprojections before that LP came are more Kanye’s thing. But having said that, it’s all just speculation at this point.
Kanye has completely switched the style up on every album since Late Registration, mining electronic elements for Graduation, going full autotune on 808s And Heartbreak, favoring an over-the-top hip-hop lushness for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and pushing the limits of punk-meets-raw-aggression on Yeezus. But if these two McCartney-laced tracks are any indication, ‘Ye might completely pull back on this album, drawing from acoustic and live instrumentation rather than seeing how far his electronics can take him.
There was speculation that his last LP might show a softer side—he had found out he was going to be a father during the making of the album—but that proved to be way wide of the mark. That idea seems like it’s more of a reality this time around, however; since June 2013, his daughter North was born (she actually arrived June 15, three days before Yeezuswent on sale) and he married Kim Kardashian, two gigantic life events. ‘Ye has never tried to separate his life and music—808s And Heartbreak, anyone?—and it stands to reason that we could see another completely different side of him emerge after the ups and downs of the past year and a half, tallying with what a source told Billboard in December 2013. It’s not like he’ll submit a bluegrass album that could slide into the canon of the Appalachian tradition, but it seems like he’s heading in a direction he’s never explored before.
Obviously, when Paul McCartney is involved, the songwriting will be top quality. So far, McCartney hasn’t contributed any vocals to “Only One” or “FourFiveSeconds,” but he’s lent his organ skills and fleshed out the sound from the background. Rihanna is more heavily involved, vocally at least, on “FourFiveSeconds” than Kanye is, suggesting he may be happy to take a backseat to whatever vibe he’s feeling at the moment. And Ty Dolla $ign, heard faintly in supporting vocals on both cuts; for all of Ty’s associations with the West Coast ratchet sound, his musicality is top notch throughout his output, from Beach House to Sign Language.
French Montana has mentioned being in the studio with Yeezy working on both his own upcoming LP and ‘Ye’s, but so far there’s no corroboration there. Outside of that, it’s really anyone’s guess; Jay Z, Big Sean, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T or any number of other MCs could be involved. Theophilus London has mentioned previously that he co-wrote two songs on the Yeezy album. There’s the possibility that he goes back out into left field and pulls in someone like Bon Iver, like he did for both of his previous two LPs, as well. Or maybe he goes it alone and leaves both new tracks off the project.
‘Ye isn’t one to leave any of his songs untouched by his own production tastes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t call in outside help. Rick Rubin was the one who eventually was able to wrangle Yeezus into shape, and he’s reportedly involved again this time around, as is Q-Tip. McCartney is listed as a producer for both new cuts, but his camp said earlier today that he hadn’t executive produced the entire thing, as was previously reported.
Outside of that, Yeezus contributors Young Chop and Evian Christ have both stated in the past that they’re working on the project, with the latter saying ‘Ye was looking for “Otis Redding or Mobb Deep”-type production, but there’s no way of really knowing what tracks will make the cut. Outside of that, Kanye had been working with DJ Mustard on Rick Ross’ Mastermind, and co-production is always a viable scenario when ‘Ye is involved. Either way, expect Kanye to be involved behind the boards of every cut that makes it.