Kanye West Presents...Malik Yusef
G.O.O.D. Morning, G.O.O.D. Night
First it is important to address the way in which Malik Yusef presents himself on this album. He is better known as a spoken work artist but ironically it is the tracks where Yusef abandons his "spoken word delivery" that are most enjoyable. This is not often though. Yusef seems to think delivering his lyrics in a slowed down spoken word style makes them more impactful. But it is quite the opposite, his lyrics actually seem to get simplified and overly cliché when he uses the more traditionally poetic intonation. Also, a the poetic delivery may work wonderfully when unaccompanied but in the context of a Hip Hop record the delivery rarely suits the beat and the resulting pairing is awkward. And a Hip Hop record is what this is, despite the fact that the artist is better known as a poet. When Yusef chooses to fully commit to rapping he has a serviceable flow. He would be well served to stick with it when he makes records, and save the spoken word flow for the stage.
With an album this long it would be impossible to touch on every song or even most songs in the space of one review. So taking a cue from the album it is probably easiest to address all this material in two halves: what works and what doesn't. Starting with what works we have track such as "V.E.R.S.E.", co-produced by Yusef and Devo Springsteen. The track is light and energetic. Its production feels organic; it comes across like a real rap song and not just a backing track behind a poet. In this same mold is "By Your Side", a bright, poppy song. The chorus is a little corny but it's sung with a charming enthusiasm by Michelle Williams and Yusef sounds engaged, his lyrics are purposeful and not generic, as they occasionally have the tendency to be. When Yusef sounds committed the album really comes together. This happens on "Yugo" and "My, My". The former features a propulsive beat and wheezing synths courtesy of Jes Tone and Yusef sounds angry and menacing. The latter is a great shit talking cut with a faux- Curtis Mayfield falsetto chorus. At other points on the album guest rappers show up to steal the track from under the headliner. "U-N-I Verses Mine" is dominated by Twista who provides a sharp verse and catchy chorus, his nimble flow sharply contrasting with Yusef's more deliberate style. And Bun B delivers a typically confident verse with his guest spot on "Da Slumz". That track as well as "Chicago" and "Not Love" feature some of Yusef's best writing because on these tracks he is dealing with specifics and not generalities. "Not Love" is a particularly strong track produced by AVO with a soulful hook with a chipmunk soul sample and nostalgic lyrics about "The little cut-off shorts that I was dressed in/All the friendship and candy that I would invest in/I didn't have to wear a vest then/Didn't have to worry about my best friend/Stabbing me in the back or caving my chest in." When Yusef deals in concrete details he really shines, unfortunately so much of the album is taken up by tired, lover-man clichés.
But before getting to that there is the matter of the man who has the co-headlining honors with Yusef. Really Kanye is only on two tracks and his name on the cover is there to draw in his fans in order to get them to check out Yusef's music. The two tracks that 'Ye does grace with his production and vocals are ok, but not worthy of his previous heights. "Promised Land" is set firmly in 808's territory; its icy, spare production is a good respite from many of the album's cluttered, busy tracks. "Magic Man", a G.O.O.D. music meeting of the all stars featuring West, Common, and John Legend, is okay but definitely minor Kanye, a simple beat with nice flourishes like layered vocals from Legend on the chorus. But Yusef does bring some of his best lyrics: "She wanted work but wouldn't put in any actual hours/Her and dude has the keys to supernatural powers/So she still with this new guy/Who could supple that white tiger like Siegfried and Roy."
Unfortunately Yusef doesn't show that creativity and playfulness on the albums slower tracks, of which there are (too) many. It would take too long to address each track but that isn't really necessary as what is wrong with one is also wrong with the rest. Whether it be "Breathtaking", "Just Like Forever", "Too Knight", "Hit It Again", "G.E.M.", or one of the other each track features a sleepy beat, one that is uninteresting but somehow manages to still sound cluttered. And Yusef's lyrics are cliché and at times nonsensical and silly. The tracks are filled with nondescript lover-man talk, the type of smooth talk that is more likely to elicit a laugh rather than a blush. For example, "Jesse was wrong for her there is no fucking hope/Because I am so fucking dope/And she is addicted to the liquid that I inject her with" or "Ya'll have her behaving with the head of a chicken/But I can get her to spread eagle/Now she's my fly girl and I curl her toes/Only heaven knows since we so close to it." The record really starts to drag over the course of it's already long running time as the listener gets hit again and again with the same basic track, all too slow, all filled with banal, ABAB rhymes. Take out 90% of these tracks and the album would be a better listen. But those aren't the worst tracks on the record, those would be "The Return", a childish exercise in running the "come" innuendo into the ground (then dig it up, shoot it, and bury it again), and "Pop U Layer" a rap-pop-rock hybrid that sounds like it could be used as the theme song to some awful CW teen show.
Malik Yusef is not a boring artist, but his over reliance on love songs can at time give him the appearance of one. At times he shows bursts of creativity. A track like "Sexuality", a hip-house throw back, proves that he can be spontaneous and fun. Next time out if Yusef can be more strict when it comes to editing down his material he could potentially release an album that leaves the listener wanting more and not less.