Kanye West is a figure that we as a population tend to dismiss and shrug off until it comes time for his timely derailment of mainstream media to the point that it's just impossible to escape his influence any longer.
It also usually means an impending album is on the way.
Colloquially referred to as 'The Wyoming Five' due to the location West held his own album listening party at, these albums see the influential shift in West's strength towards a production role, for the most part, taking a backseat and letting some of his most favoured rappers flaunt their worth. Say what you will about Kanye - he's always championing other artists.
Now that the dust has settled and we've had time to let all these projects sink in, where do they land in terms of quality?
KANYE WEST - YE
It wouldn't be the most unpopular opinion to say that Kanye's strength in recent years has moved from rapper to producer which is likely something foreshadowed all the way back to his Graduation era. Reportedly scrapped and reworked just a week prior to release, Ye shows a side of Kanye that's been dormant for a while. A softer, more vulnerable Yeezy that contrasts wildly with the version we saw on The Life Of Pablo, in addition to a greatly culled tracklisting.
Cuts like 'Wouldn't Leave' in which a lovesick Kanye shows great admiration and loyalty for his wife as well as the hook to 'Ghost Town' talking about placing one's hand on a stove to see if they could still feel pain is the most human side of Kanye we've heard in years. Funnily enough, the production on Kanye's own album is probably the least boisterous of them all. The layers and textures of hip-hop drums with vocal samples and guitars pale in comparison to some of the more in-your-face production from Ye's peers.
Highlights: 'Yikes', 'Wouldn't Leave', 'Ghost Town'
TEYANA TAYLOR - K.T.S.E.
Granted Teyana Taylor is not an artist I'm overly familiar with, but K.T.S.E. shows her come out swinging with an exuberant voice dripping in class and charisma and thankfully Kanye's production fits Taylor like a glove, even down to the seemingly out of character laser noises throughout 'Issues/Hold On'.
That shouldn't take the spotlight away from Taylor, however. Her voice is rich and flexible, ranging from flirty and seductive, but it's hard not to feel like she's suited to more grandiose production in a similar vein to Janelle Monae. Still, K.T.S.E. is an album that shows the more tender side of Kanye's sampling, some even praising it as the return of "Old Kanye", and the only release of the Wyoming Five to feature eight total tracks instead of seven (for whatever reason).
Highlights: 'Issues/Hold On', 'Rose In Harlem', 'WTP'
NAS - NASIR
There are some hefty expectations surrounding what many consider one of the classic rappers of our generation to sound like, and with that in mind, it's hard to feel like Nas isn't necessarily bringing his A-game. Not to imply that his rapping is subpar, but by his standards, and especially on a joint project, it doesn't quite take shape as well as it could.
'Not For Radio' has a thunderous building momentum that coalesces with 070 Shake's "I think they're scared of us" and Kanye's own vocal additions to the tender 'Everything' elevates the track to its highest potential. Truthfully, there are some hard-hitting songs littered throughout the tracklist of Nasir, but you can't help shake the feeling that both artists are working on their own sides of the wall, undermining the whole collaboration idea.
Highlights: 'Not For Radio', 'Cops Shot The Kid', 'Everything'
KID CUDI & KANYE WEST - KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Kanye West and Kid Cudi have a disarming creative chemistry that it's impressive that something like Kids See Ghosts has taken this long to get off the ground. Flaunty, cinematic production lay across some of Cudi and West's dynamic flows as the record peaks and valleys seamlessly, transitioning from the aggressively deconstructed chorus of 'Feel The Love' to the soulfully poppy title-track, it's an album that works better than it has any right to on paper.
There's a lot going on here, that it can be hard to digest all at once. Despite that, perhaps the only criticism to attribute to Kids See Ghosts is that it's the only record that could have actually benefitted from a longer runtime. Not that its seven tracks feel underwhelming by any stretch, but it's a fresh concept by a shiny new creative duo that feels like it's only scratching the surface.
Highlights: 'Feel The Love', 'Freee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)', 'Reborn'
PUSHA T - DAYTONA
For whatever reason Pusha T hasn't really hit his stride in mainstream popularity until now. Seamlessly fitting into Kanye's beats that straddle the line between playful and powerful, Pusha cements himself as the real deal lyrical MC. Production littered all throughout Daytona is almost as infectious as Pusha's calm and composed flow and further proves that his words can bite and sting without flooding the track with an overabundance of emotion.
Brevity does some wonder for Daytona, not weighed down by lesser cuts and the album doesn't prattle on long enough to overstay its welcome encouraging some heavy replay value. Luxurious production and Pusha's poetic lyrics make for a synchronous record worth getting excited over.
Highlights: 'If You Know You Know', 'Hard Piano', 'Come Back Baby'