In continuing with what’s becoming an annual tradition, Kanye West celebrated New Year’s Eve with the unexpected release of a new song.
A drastic deviation from the inaugural drop from 2014 — the tender, thoughtful love song for his daughter, “Only One” — he rang in 2016 with “Facts,” a dis song aimed at a multi-billion dollar corporation.
While “Only One” was largely unlike the music we had heard to that point from Kanye — or, in classic Kanye fashion, from other rappers — “Facts” couldn’t veer any further from this, falling neatly in line sonically with the popular approach of the day.
Inspired, it seems, equally by his fizzled partnership with Nike, the one with adidas that has since replaced it, and the excitement stirred by Drake and Future’s Jordan Brand-referencing “Jumpman,” ’Ye decided to say goodbye to the year by counting the ways in which his new corporate ally surpasses its predecessor.
It’s at best a lackluster offering from someone who, from where I’m sitting, is the greatest artist of his generation.
At worst, it’s a deceitful attempt to make us — listeners, fans, sneaker-buyers — care about the outcome of the war he’s waged against Nike on behalf of adidas.
The production is strikingly similar to “Jumpman,” which, like “Facts,” was produced by Metro Boomin (Southside also produced “Facts”). The flow that Kanye uses often in the song is lifted from the Drake and Future track. It’s a venture down an already-paved path by a man who has prided himself on — and gained our adoration by — doing the opposite.
If this were purely parody, perhaps it would have found its footing on the landing. But all indications are that this is a serious — if haphazardly thrown together — effort from Mr. West.
What’s even more egregious than the sonic imitations are the lyrics. No, not the odd Bill Cosby and Steve Harvey references awkwardly included as if to prove he really, really wants us to know not only that he’s paying attention to the news, but that he recorded this in the last few days.
Let’s say this again — this is a dis song aimed at one multi-billion dollar corporation on behalf of another. Not for those who’ve gotten robbed, beaten or killed for sneakers. Not on behalf of a history of exploited workers, toiling away in foreign factories (there’s a brief, unexplored mention of Nike treating employees “just like slaves,” but adidas has faced similar accusations). And while there’s no expectation for him to rap from those points-of-view, if he’s going to dis Nike, these would hold more weight than this.
“If Nike ain’t have Drizzy, man they wouldn’t have nothin’,” he zings.
“Nike out here bad, they can’t give sh-t away,” he fires.
“I ain’t dropped the album but the shoes went platinum,” he boasts.
The truth behind these claims are up for debate, and multiple outlets have fact-checked his facts. But as a non-sneakerhead but an avid Kanye fan, the facts of “Facts” are far less important than the general lunacy of the song’s premise.
He wants you to pick sides.
You should not pick sides.
Nike vs. adidas is a battle that no one wins except both companies themselves. Any individual allegiance to a brand is not only fleeting with the passing of time (just look at, uh, Kanye) thanks to factors like an individual’s age and economic status, but also a winless proposition for that individual. We spend money. They make it. Repeat.
This feeds into a culture of consumerism that’s been too comfortably cultivated in America and too seldom rejected in popular culture. And here we are again.
It’s not that Kanye shouldn’t ever talk about all the nice things he has and makes (though I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t), or that he has to instead address, say, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of Chicago police — but an entire song like this just falls flat.
With “Facts,” Kanye follows a singular road towards product placement and rival belittlement, when it’s actually his multitude of approaches that has been essential in establishing his identity and legacy (He can be phenomenal when he’s laser-focused, too, like on “Only One” or “Jesus Walks” or “New Day”).
He often weaves otherwise disparate threads together not just within a song, but within a verse, taking ingredients that most wouldn’t mix and finding a way to bake an audible pie we’re all eager to eat.
Take “New God Flow,” whose first line served as a bit of a precursor to “Facts.”
“Hold up, I ain’t trying to stunt, man/ But the Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman,” he raps to open the 2012 Cruel Summer track. Two lines later, he’s name-dropping Martin Luther King Jr. and Rodney King, and just a few bars after that, he’s vocalizing injustice in his native Chicago: “What has the world come to? I’m from the 312/ Where cops don’t come through/ And dreams don’t come true,” before adding, “They ran up and shot him, right in front of his mom/ 40 killings in a weekend, 40 killings in a week/ Man, the summer too hot, you can feel it in the street.”
Then, just moments later, he’s pivoted again: “Did strippers not make an ark when I made it rain?/ Did Yeezy not get signed by Hov and Dame?/ And ran to Jacob and made the new Jesus chains?”
It’s a seemingly jumbled collection of topics and lines that ’Ye manages not just to make work, but to thrive.
“Facts” does not.
We’re approaching the three-year mark since Yeezus, and as anticipation continues to mount and questions about when it will drop and what we can expect persist, let’s hope that Kanye will leave this attempt at fashion and musical relevancy in 2015 and move forward with the creative, challenging and introspective music of which he’s consistently proven capable.