On Wednesday, February 25 at the BRIT Awards in London, Kanye West took to the stage with a massive entourage dressed completely in black, and two men in the middle holdingflamethrowers. It had been announced the day before that Kanye has going to perform at the event, but nobody knew what he was going to perform. Would it be another performance of “Only One”, the first single from his upcoming album, So Help Me God? Would it be another performance of “Wolves”, which had been debuted two weeks earlier at the premiere of his new shoe line? Or would it be a brand new song?
The answer: none of the above. Kanye premiered his song “All Day”, a brand new version of a song that had its preliminary draft leaked back in August. Angered and dissatisfied with the unfinished song getting out without his permission (just as he had been with the leak of “Power” in 2010), Kanye went back to working on the track.
Finally, after months of eager anticipation by fans and wondering if the song was actually going to come out, or had been scrapped entirely, Kanye has not disappointed.
The song opens with chorus vocals that almost sound like an electric guitar, similar to those featured in the opening of Kanye’s 2010 song “Monster”, and R&B artist Theophilus London beginning to sing. Then Kanye begins rapping, somewhat of an exciting development in a year that as of yet had seen four songs with Kanye doing vocals, but only one actually featuring Kanye rapping (Big Sean’s “All Your Fault”). This song’s verses deal mainly with the type of braggadocio common in trap music (which the songs deep bass and vicious snare rolls firmly categorize it as), but with a decidedly Kanye-esque twist, containing various clever puns and allusions, as well as references to fashion.
After Kanye raps the hook and first verse, Saint Paul-based rapper Allan Kingdom comes in with dancehall-styled vocals on a refrain that at first appears to be a bit esoteric and unrelated to the preceding verse: I took a young sweet breath, and I reached into my head / Gave him what I had left / At that moment I dispersed / At that moment I dispersed. However, closer analysis reveals that the meaning of the verse is more than likely just about Kanye, continuing the braggadocio: the lines are referring to Kanye taking all the ideas out of his head and dispersing them to his fans.
After another verse, a bridge, and Allan Kingdom’s refrain, there is a break in the song and the beat switches, with Kanye yelling to “get low” and “stay low.” In the version performed at the BRIT Awards, the song ends here and Kanye gives a shoutout to British rapper Skepta, who along with much of the rest of his grime collective Boy Better Know was with Kanye on stage. On the single, released on iTunes on March 2, the song abruptly switches to a sample of Paul McCartney whistling and performing a piece called “Two-Finger Chord & Whistle” inspired by Pablo Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist. This then abruptly shifts to a severely electronically altered McCartney singing with wild, harsh synths blasting away in the background, and the song ends. This is Kanye’s third collaboration with McCartney, with Paul playing piano on Kanye’s song “Only One” and guitar on Rihanna’s song “FourFiveSeconds”, which featured Kanye on vocals.
On March 3, Kanye performed at KOKO, a theatre in London. In addition to performing a number of his own songs, he brought out a veritable medley of rappers, including Big Sean, performing his smash hit single “IDFWU”; Skepta, performing a number of songs including “That’s Not Me” with fellow Boy Better Know member JME, “Shutdown”, and “It Ain’t Safe”; Meridian Dan, another grime artist, performing his 2014 hit “German Whip”; and other rappers such as Vic Mensa and Allan Kingdom to do vocals on Kanye’s songs. This show doesn’t have a massive amount of significance to those who aren’t fans of grime (an English music genre that developed in the early 2000s, similar on many levels to hip-hop but with key differences), but those who are fans realize that this year could be the beginning of a crossover between that has been long-awaited by some, and feared by others: American hip-hop and grime. With Drake shouting out Skepta on Instagram just a few days ago, Kanye bringing BBK up on stage at the BRIT Awards, rumors of Kanye and Skepta working together in the studio, the show at KOKO, and the increasing influence of trap music on popular grime artists’ songs (seen clearly in tracks like Dizzee Rascal’s “Pagans” and Meridian Dan’s “German Whip”), this could be a genre-changing year for both grime and hip-hop alike.