Friday, March 10, 2017
New York Times Magazine - "25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going"
18. Fade – Kanye West
What would black music sound like in an alternate universe?
By Thomas Chatterton Williams
"The genius of “Fade,” the penultimate track on Kanye West’s living work of art, “The Life of Pablo,” is evident from the opening lines, a sample from the white Motown group Rare Earth. But it was a half-minute in, at that first unmistakable rip of bass, that I lost my mind. Like many of West’s songs, “Fade” is built around several commingling samples. Its rhythmic backbone is the deceptively simple arrangement from the 1985 classic “Mystery of Love,” by Larry Heard, better known as Mr. Fingers. That track, along with a handful of others, marks a seminal moment in the history of deep house — a rich and criminally neglected chapter in the book of black music.
Today it’s easy to forget that in the early and mid-’80s there existed a window when New York rap, Chicago house and Detroit techno — as well as a slew of other fledgling genres and subcultures — functioned more or less as equals, each as likely as the next to flounder or thrive. New York won the contest handily, and now hip-hop has so thoroughly subsumed mainstream black culture that it often feels as if earlier artistic forms have either been eradicated or retrofitted to its preferences (see: funk, R.&B. and jazz). House music — much like West himself — is unabashedly black and Chicago-bred, but somewhere along the line, it grew cozy in Europe and came to be seen as catering to white people. And though it has only ever managed to find significant audiences overseas, this transfixing style of minimal electronic dance music was pioneered by Midwestern D.J.s spinning mainly for black and gay audiences looking to “jack” their bodies at Windy City nightclubs like the Muzic Box and the Warehouse (where, under the stewardship of Frankie Knuckles, the style was birthed and named). While trailblazers like Mr. Fingers — a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist — are worshiped in London, Paris and Berlin, they are barely remembered back at home.
“Fade” sets out to correct this. Onto the wide-open surface “Mystery of Love” provides, West spreads out his own sparse raps alongside what grows into an aural smorgasbord of samples, allusions and guest appearances spanning eras and ethnicities — ’90s Nuyorican house, the white rapper/singer Post Malone — a subtle reminder of the outsize influence of black aesthetics on all manner of American and global culture.
Which is why, as a radio-friendly hit (with an awe-inspiring video to boot), “Fade” feels not only generous but subversive: In the span of a little over three minutes, it gives the lie to simplistic conceptions of musical borders. West has always displayed a rare encyclopedic and intuitive grasp of both mainstream and regional black sounds, from traditional gospel and R.&B. to college-inflected spoken word and even black Greek stepping, not to mention dance, reggae, trap and drill music. He knows that, glimpsed from the proper vantage, these are but facets of the same, constantly shifting whole. I don’t think there is another pop star who could conceive of such a medley, let alone bring it to life in a way that coheres. Yet “Fade” doesn’t just cohere; it functions as a sly and infectious meditation on the variety of formal possibilities of black sound — as invented and interpreted by black people themselves as well as Latinos and white people. It also serves as a bittersweet thought experiment: Things could have been otherwise. Imagine, if you will, a world in which Mr. Fingers got his due."