GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer leaked the other day and I finally got a chance to give it a spin. There’s no doubting it came from the mind of GOOD Music founder Kanye West. Sonically it has all the traits of what I call Haute Rap. Which is becoming Kanye’s signature style, you can hear it on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or on Watch The Throne‘s lead single H.A.M.
What is Haute Rap? You may have heard the term Haute Couture. Haute Courture translates to “High Fashion,” haute meaning high and couture meaning dressmaking or sewing. You can see Haute Courture on the runways of Paris, New York or Milan. It is high class fashion that is hyper stylized often pretentious and never accessible. The Haute Couture influence on Kanye cannot be overlooked. The summer before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out Kanye interned at Fendi and in Italy with designer Giuseppe Zanotti. He’s released his own shoe designs for Louis Vuitton and in 2011 he premiered his own women’s fashion line DW at Paris Fashion Week. Haute Rap therefore can be translated to “high rap.” It shifts the focus from lyrics to production. Production becomes overly complex and extravagant. Drums are secondary to instrumentals and vocal sampling is often disregarded. Gangster or socially conscious lyrics are substituted for what’s know as luxury rap (rapping about material good and indulgences). It all creates something that sounds slightly ominous and much more opulent than past rap music.
It’s more than just the sound. The effects of Haute Rap can be seen as well as heard. The cover art of Kanye’s recent albums are unprecedented. For My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye commissioned prominent New York artist George Condo for the cover art. The Watch The Throne cover was designed by Italian fashion designer Riccardo Tisci. And if you’ve seen Kanye’s 35 minute short film Runaway you know it’s unlike anything the hip hop world has produced before.
Kanye’s influence. In the last eleven years Kanye West has been the most influential man in hip hop, and it’s not even close. He produced Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and effectively brought back sampling as the predominant sound of hip hop. On The College Dropout and Late Registration he proved you didn’t need to have a gangster persona to be accepted by the streets, thus paving the way for new school of rappers like Wale, Big Sean and J Cole. On Graduation, Kanye experimented with house beats, synths and electro-pop, most notably sampling Daft Punk. Which have become staples for rap superstars like Nicki Minaj, Pitbull and Flo Rida. On 808s and Heartbreaks he proved rappers can sing and even border on emo, a technique Drake and Kid Cudi later cashed in on. It’s still unknown if the hip-hop world will embrace Haute Rap, while My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy received universal acclaim, outside of Kanye himself, no rapper has expounded on it.
Cruel Summer‘s effect on Haute Rap. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy introduced the world to Haute Rap. It was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. It was the best album of 2010 and that’s saying a lot considering 2010 was an extremely good year for music. H.A.M. fizzled and was eventually only released as a bonus track on Watch The Throne. If Cruel Summer succeeds it will probably pave the way for other rappers to embrace the Haute Rap movement, if it flounders it will probably spell the end for the Haute Rap era rendering it nothing more than an experimental phase in Kanye’s musical career.
In the end, music is the expression of self and nothing expresses Kanye like Haute Rap, hyper stylized often pretentious and never accessible.