Image by Sara Wasserman and Sarah MacReading
Toward the end of the summer of 2010, Kanye West's comeback began in earnest. He'd disappeared the fall before in a cloud of post-Taylor-at-the-VMAs outrage, drawing critiques from just about everyone in America, including Saturday Night Live. He was one of rap's biggest pop stars suffering a fall from grace and coming off a divisive album. He might have faded away. But he's Kanye. That wasn't an option. And so he made a stomping return with a song called "Power" that sampled King Crimson and served as both a rebuke of his vocal critics and a statement of intent.
Anticipation for his album, at that point still tentatively titled Good Ass Job, was high: Kanye had been hiding out in Hawaii. Rumors of people who had been flown out there to help him work were trickling out. Kanye joined Twitter, instantly turning the service on its head. And then he started putting out more new music, starting with a legendary performance of "Runaway" at the VMAs and soon followed by the Beyoncé, Charlie Wilson, and Big Sean collaboration "See Me Now" and a promised "Power" remix.
Two days after releasing the last of these, he revealed that it was, in fact, just the first of many G.O.O.D. things to come. On Twitter he wrote, "I know y'all need the music so I'm dropping 1 new song every weekend until Xmas, he wrote. "It may be my song, it may be a new Jay song, etc." According to MTV (the tweets have been deleted), he added "y'all know every Friday y'all gone have a new joint from our family. We look at the game completely different now … It's about the fans. No more holding back. That's why I dropped 'See Me Now' … it wasn't about me, it was about the Summer the BBQs etc." and explained "Swizz looked at me the other night and said, 'Man are you getting sleep?' And I told him, 'I can't sleep … my people need this new music.'"
And sure enough, every Friday for the next three months he delivered a new song, often with a surprising list of new collaborators that ranged from Wu-Tang Clan members to new trusted confidantes like Swizz Beatz and Pusha T to just about anyone else you might have put on your Kanye collaboration wishlist. The art was instantly iconic: People still make memes with the red Impact letterblocks over dark images. And the sound? The sound was incredible. It was Kanye pulling together all the ideas he'd ever had as an artist and forging them into what felt in many ways like his truest vision yet. And we got to watch it happen in front of us. People had done the weekly track release thing before, but no one had done it as well as Kanye, and no one has done it as well since. G.O.O.D. Fridays is a gold standard for hip-hop in the internet era, the premier moment of unlocking the blog format to deliver a new kind of mixtape. It built anticipation for the album to a fever pitch. Yet when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy actually arrived, it was good enough to overshadow what came before. In the interest of not forgetting all the genius that was wrought, here is our tribute to those tracks:
August 20: "Power (Remix)" featuring Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz
"I seen people go crazy when the whole world in our lap / My socket was out the plug, now it's time to get the power back." Kanye West's choice to pepper his 2010 comeback single "Power" with grit from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" is, much like the prog geniuses' 1969 single itself: prescient beyond its years. A fever dream of a future in disarray, "Schizoid" predicted the truly fucked purview that informs "Power," which in turn invokes its predecessor in wondering how anyone could keep a level head in the mire. Suitable statement from an artist who did kind of lose the plot and has come back scarred by the moment but ready to get back to the business of changing the world.
Where the single is a macro view of mankind straining to shake an ominous case of turn-of-the-decade jitters, the "Power" remix, first in line for Kanye's G.O.O.D. Friday campaign, pulls the camera into the first person, examining more deeply what was meant by the chorus line of "I'm tripping off the power" in the verses where West and Jay Z plumb the pitfalls of clout and renown. But it's in the blackout closing verse, where Swizz Beatz tags in with a noisy flip of Snap!'s hokey house hit "The Power," that Kanye makes plain his intent to climb back to the throne he abdicated the year before with a stunning performance whose technical alchemy he's scarcely matched since. You'd have to be dead to not be excited for what he had in store for the remainder of the year. – Craig Jenkins
August 27: "Monster" featuring Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, and Bon Iver
There was something lurking out there in the summer of 2010. It was singing about Die Hard. It was out in Dublin now. It wasn't coming out for less than a hundred thou. Ask the IRS: It was paying for your healthcare. It ain't do a feature that wasn't on Billboard, honey. A monster named Nicki Minaj was rapping circles around everyone alive, and she hadn't even put out an album.
So anyway: Bon Iver and Kanye on a song. Legendary. Rick Ross, the hottest rapper of the summer, brought in for little more than a fat joke. Legendary. Kanye spitting lines that would become instantly definitive: "Put the pussy in a sarcophagus" and "My presence is a present, kiss my ass." Legendary. Jay Z listing monsters and complaining about fake fucks with no fangs. Legendary. And then, after the King of New York, a rapper from another little borough called Queens, spitting, oops, maybe the single best rap verse of the last decade, switching flows nearly ten times, growling with the kind of hunger that, well, a real monster should have.
If there was any doubt that Nicki Minaj was one of the best rappers alive, it was settled with this one deranged verse, as she climbed her money stacks that were higher than the Himalayas, as she swerved in the Tonka the color of Willy Wonka, as she killed another career on a mild day of general career carnage, as she laid out the statement of intent that would predict the next half-decade: "first things first, I'll eat your brains." Kanye made countless great choices during this period of his career, but one of the best was just getting out of the way and letting Nicki do what the world needed. You could be the king. Or you could watch the queen conquer. Could the statement of intent about the reign of terror to come have been any clearer? – Kyle Kramer
August 30: "Runaway Love (Remix)" featuring Raekwon and Justin Bieber
To anyone just now trying to choke down the idea that Justin Bieber is maybe, in fact good: It was already settled, in 2010, by this song. At this point, Bieber was still firmly in his child star phase (although "Baby" was obviously already flames). It felt revolutionary for Yeezy—possibly even more of an arbiter of cool at the time than he is now, due to his presence as a blogger—to embrace the Biebz. This was the beginning of the Bieber reinvention: Kanye hopping on a track with a member of the Wu for the first time not over some dusty soul sample but rather the dulcet tones of a child pop star's voice. And Raekwon made an IHOP joke. Not just a classic but a runaway classic. – K.K.
September 3: "Devil in a New Dress"
Here comes Kanye West, sampling Smokey Robinson's "Footsteps in the Dark" and turning a few throwaway seconds of it into possibly the hottest flip of his career, stomping all over it this soft, delicate, beautiful pillow of track to rap that it's hard to be humble when you're stunting on a jumbotron. Hard. To. Be. Humble. When. You're. Stunting. On. A. Jumbotron. The Lebron of Rhyme. The Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme. This was, as Kanye recognized at the time, driving around with the windows down music par excellence. And then that guitar outro, like someone unrolling a red carpet for Kanye's forthcoming album. Almost as if maybe... soon... he might just throw Rick Ross's greatest verse, the one where he says he had cyphers with Yeezy before his mouth wired, the one where he had so many cars the DMV thought it was mail fraud, onto it as a garnish, a suite in the symphony, a curtain dropping in the grand theater of Kanye West. But first this, the opening notes, the moment that really set the scene for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy before we even knew it. – K.K.
September 10: "Good Friday" featuring Common, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Charlie Wilson
This was the moment that the G.O.O.D. Fridays project felt like it had really shifted from A Thing Kanye Was Doing to Genuine Event. It dropped at the beginning of New York Fashion Week—an event that a lot of music fans probably would not have ever given a shit about Kanye not told them to—and it came out later in the evening than any of the previous G.O.O.D. Friday songs had. People were sitting around waiting for this one, and its celebratory tone made the wait feel deserved: Is it possible to not feel like the greatest night of your life isn't ahead of you while listening to this? This is the core G.O.O.D. Music roster's one track all together, and it's the perfect crystallization of Kanye's vision for that lineup: The city will always be getting ready for it. – K.K.
September 17: "Lord, Lord, Lord" featuring Mos Def, Swizz Beatz, Raekwon, and Charlie Wilson
"Lord, Lord, Lord" is maybe the one time in the G.O.O.D. Friday run where all the disparate ingredients Kanye throws into the pot don't gel into something greater than the sum of its parts. But let's talk about these parts: a smooth flip of Brian Bennett's lavish "Solstice" (See also: Nas' "Find Ya Wealth." Yes, there's good songs on QB's Finest.) The legendary Charlie Wilson on vox. A curt, sharp Mos Def rap. A full minute Swizz Beatz based freestyle, during which zero identifiable sense is made. A Raekwon verse to chase it. "Lord, Lord, Lord" Is either pure genius or total nonsense depending on where you drop the needle. That's worth something, right? Right? – C.J.
September 24: "So Appalled" featuring Jay-Z, Pusha T, Cyhi The Prynce, Swizz Beatz, and RZA
Like many of the other songs in the G.O.O.D. Friday canon, "So Appalled" is a testament to Kanye's ability to not only manage but also pull out the best from a bloated guest roster. Swizz Beatz, who is thankfully only given intro duties, lifts the energy of the Manfred Man sample before Ye' goes on a righteous rant about housekeeping. Cyhi the Prynce speaks in earnest about a seasonal love gone wrong, and then there's RZA's last minute footnote. Still, it's the back-to-back verbal tirade that starts with Jay Z and ends Pusha T that pushes the song into overdrive. Where Jay Z effortly boasts with audible confidence "Show me where the boats is, Ferrari Testarossas / And the hammer went broke so you know I'm more focused / I lost 30 mil, so I spent another 30 / Cause unlike Hammer, 30 million can't hurt me." While Pusha muses on stories of the drug trade before letting go the infinitely quotable " Eye of the law, aspire for more / Them kilos came, we gave you Bobby Brown jaw." With both verses paired side by side, we're treated to a combative techincal display of two talents that only fans the flames of their reported silent rivalry. God Bless Ye' for this ridiculous masterpiece. – Jabbari Weekes
October 1: "Christian Dior Denim Flow" featuring Kid Cudi, Pusha T, John Legend, Lloyd Banks, and Ryan Leslie
Before the NFL roster-sized credit list on "All of the Lights," this song helped introduce us to Kanye's ability to take a bunch of names that don't look like they belong together and make it work. This song is all about fashion and models, and it clocks in at over seven minutes. By all measures, this song was too inaccessible to work, and the fact that it still succeeded is a testament to the genius of Kanye West. Your favorite artist could never take a violin-propelled beat and put Lloyd Banks on it.
This song brings out the best in every person involved, whether it's Kid Cudi delivering a hook that lingers over the song like a specter, or Lloyd Banks rapping furiously about putting champagne in his cereal. Kanye West is the greatest producer of our time because he's able to bring out the best in people who are not traditionally regarded as being "the best" in their field, and this release proved that more than any other Kanye song. – Slava Pastuk
October 8: "Don't Stop!" as Child Rebel Soldier with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell Williams
Fuck any supergroup that isn't Child Rebel Soldier. If they formed right now and released an album, it would be the most amazing piece of music to come out that year. Every time Kanye works with Lupe his best rhymes are squeezed out of him, and Pharrell does things with music that shouldn't make sense. On "Don't Stop!" a sample that sounds like video game menu music gets twisted until it becomes an uplifting caribbean-flavored symphony, and every involved party is clearly trying to out-rap each other throughout.
Any time an artist puts out a collaboration the number one complaint by critics is that the chemistry isn't there, or that it sounds manufactured. To lay those claims against CRS would be bizarre, since the group is almost prototypically formed to be the best rap group ever. It's hard not to listen to this and feel upset at the wasted potential—the idea of this trio was first conceived and heavily touted a couple years prior, but this was essentially their only release. On the scale of one to "Exhibit C," CRS never properly forming will forever be near the top of the chart. – S.P.
October 15: "Take One For The Team" featuring Keri Hilson, Pusha T, and Cyhi The Prynce
At the risk of selling Pusha T short (which no one should ever do—matter of fact go overwrite The Bible in your Kindle with the lyrics sheet of Hell Hath No Fury), there's a very possible alternate reality in which Push fades into obscurity as another criminally overlooked regional rap talent. And not to give Kanye all the credit for plucking Pusha T out of that fate, but if there has been one moment in the entire post-Clipse era that has captured how much Kanye reinvigorated the Pusha T story, it's this song, and specifically Pusha's lyric "'Ye have fun / if the cops ask / that's my gun / that's my weed." Kind of an imbalanced power relationship! Also a good friendship! I think about that line a lot when I am in the position to maybe get caught with weed alongside friends of mine. Anyway, that was the moment that, to me, sealed the Kanye/Pusha relationship for good so they could ride off into the sunset as one of the best on-track pairings in modern hip-hop. So, in a nutshell: Good.
That's not to take away from the rest of this song, though, which also features some of the most iconic Kanye lines ("You know what? I figured out I'm not a nice guy / I shook hands, kissed babies, gave it a nice try / You know what? I hate pictures of other people's kids") and what should be some of the most iconic Kanye lines ("I hate plastic couches in other people's cribs"; "I hate when other people's cribs smell like shit"). This is also a great moment in the establishment of Kanye's image as obsessive aesthete (i.e. the same guy who tweets about fur pillows and spends interviews talking about Le Corbusier lamps), since there's a diatribe about cucumber Bath and Body Works. That's lyrical specificity folks! Where would we be today without this song? Nowhere, that's where. – K.K.
October 22: "Don't Look Down" featuring Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Big Sean
One of the lingering misfortunes of G.O.O.D. Music is how little use it made of Mos Def in his tenure there. His sporadic appearances in the G.O.O.D. Friday run represent the most fertile period of Mos and Kanye collaboration shy of early-00s mind melds and his turn as ghost in the machine of 2007's Graduation. Looking back, "Don't Look Down" is probably best absorbed as an explainer for the Runaway film that accompanied My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's release and recounted the improbable story of a man who meets and summarily falls in love with a phoenix.
The curse of the phoenix, and by extension anyone haughty enough to lay claim to one, is that the bird is fated to die and be reborn in a bath of flames and smoke. It's foolhardy to ever believe you could keep one for long. Where Runaway views this tragedy from Kanye's perspective, "Don't Look Down" finds West, Mos, Lupe Fiasco, and Big Sean ruefully urging the phoenix on in flight to her next life. While the music of the Dark Twisted Fantasy figures heavily into its video component, "Don't Look Down" is notable as the rare occasion that the music directly addresses its quixotic, mythological film counterpart. – C.J.
October 29: "The Joy" featuring Pete Rock, Jay-Z, Charlie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, and Kid Cudi
Back when Jay Z was the certified Best Rapper Alive it was a great pleasure to hear him vibe with hip-hop's preeminent producers, winding through their eccentricities and braiding his struggle into their constructs. As he glided from the plush swing of Diddy's Hitmen through the pinball synths of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland on to the refixed soul of Kanye West and Just Blaze and back, one major stop he missed was Soul Brother Number One Pete Rock. So while G.O.O.D. Fridays were Kanye West's own Rock and Roll Circus, "The Joy," where Ye and Jay two step over Pete's smooth-but-not-too-smooth chop of Curtis Mayfield's "The Makings of You," is really all about Jigga.
Kanye is nearly unflappable in the first two verses, deftly juggling sobering relationship observations and fratty bedroom humor until he snaps into gutting focus around each closing couplet ("I still hear the ghost of the kids I never had," "Your's cursed? Well mine's an obscenity"), but Jay steps up like he's been waiting for this moment for his entire career. The Reasonable Doubt flow comes out. The Blueprint heartbreak shows face. The party line among rap stans is that Jay's been washed since BP3, but real ones know he murdered "The Joy" (and most of Watch the Throne, to keep it funky, but hit me up on Twitter to fight that fight.) – C.J.
November 5: "Looking For Trouble" featuring Pusha T, Cyhi The Prynce, Big Sean, and J. Cole
G.O.O.D. Friday tracks operated on a spectrum between "polos-and-backpacks soul Kanye" and "industrial-orchestral czar Kanye." This one falls well under the former, with a head-nodding sample of Steel Pulse's "Blues Dance Raid" that doubles as a great, subtle "fuck you" to Dipset (they were sort-of beefing at the time) since Cam'ron had rapped over the exact same sample flip in his classic era. Maybe due to Killa's spiritual presence, everyone decided to bring their most rappity-rapping bars to the party. Most of the attendees quail under the shadows of Pusha T ("Couldn't cleanse my soul with them civil rights hoses") and 'Ye himself, who naturally manages to find a way to weave in both Satan and Balmains. J. Cole aka J. coli gets an eager verse to close things out and, like a grade-school student proud of his first A+ assignment, tacked this song at the end of his Friday Night Lights tape later that month. "Looking for Trouble" feels like not much more than a fun cypher, a bunch of dudes talking shit on a hard beat, which also makes it a good diss response. Nothing like the sound of you enjoying yourself to get your rivals mad. – Phil Witmer
November 12: "Chain Heavy" featuring Talib Kweli and Consequence
"Chain Heavy" was the final G.O.O.D. Friday before Kanye officially released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In a lot of ways, it encapsulated the mood of the entire series—everything Kanye had produced is so motherfuckin' heavy he needed a week break between each to let us recover. The marketing campaign and build-up to Dark Fantasy is something that, without question, will be looked at as beyond iconic. And even though the album had already leaked by the time we got "Chain Heavy," there was still a certain anticipation for this track. Because what made the build up to this record—and what makes Kanye such a brilliantly gripping entertainer—was that his excitement feels so genuine. Kanye was just super stoked to share new music with the world every week. "Chain Heavy" worked because, despite its energy, it felt calm as he prepared to unleash his fantasy upon the world. He knew what he was producing was going to sound out of this world. I mean, the beat sounds like a goddamn UFO. – Eric Sundermann
December 17: "Christmas in Harlem" featuring Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Vado, Cyhi The Prynce, Pusha T, Musiq Soulchild, Teyana Taylor, and Big Sean
Any day now the white holiday lights will go up across all the stoplights arched over 125th Street, Harlem's central shopping thoroughfare, punctuating the hectic foot traffic in and out of Two Fifth's strip of small franchise shops, mom-and-pop retailers, and unlicensed street vendors with a goofy warmth. In a couple weeks the old soul holiday classics will fill the air; the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Give Love on Christmas Day," Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas"... Christmas in Harlem is about making the most of what you have when you might not have too much.
Kanye's holiday G.O.O.D. Friday entry, a reunion with Diplomats Cam'ron and Jim Jones, captures this spirit, as Jim remembers growing up lacking money but not love, and Cam passes by hustlers on the block on the way to Jimbo's up on 135th. "Christmas in Harlem" is one of G.O.O.D. Fridays' most jampacked, winding through contributions from Ye, Cam, Jim, Vado, Sean, Cyhi, Teyana Taylor, and Musiq Soulchild somewhere, but the twin tendrils of Hit-Boy's sly soul sampling production and Teyana's buttery hook keeps it warm and on message. – C.J.
Follow Noisey on Twitter.