If there were an award for Understatement Of The Year, the first nominee and frontrunner to win would be “Kanye West had a roller coaster of a 2018.” He started the year riding high on the buzz from his much-hyped Wyoming sessions, reactivated his Twitter to share his philosophical thoughts with the world, promptly demonstrated why Kanye having social media is a bad idea in the first place, announced that he would be producing a slew of albums for his GOOD Music mates along with his own joint album with Kid Cudi, and generally wrought havoc with his insistence on trolling fans, family, and friends with pro-Trump antics. All that was before June, when the five GOOD Music albums (EPs?) dropped in quick succession.
Despite everything, those five EPs illuminated one truth about Kanye that seemingly no amount of MAGA trolling could ever upset: He still remains one of the preeminent producers within hip-hop and pop culture, capable of capturing the public’s attention with a gravitational pull rivaling Jupiter. As it turns out, there is an award that Kanye is up for, the Grammy for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, and if you can ignore his shenanigans, it’s clear that it’s an award he deserves to win. In fact, you could say he deserves to win because of all the pesky problematic behavior, considering the best aspect of any of the five EPs happened to be his soulful production, a more advanced version of the Louis Vuitton backpack Kanye that the world first fell in love with 15 years ago — and in some cases, like Ye, the production turned out to the be the only thing to recommend the music at all.
He’s up against some pretty stiff competition, but just the fact of his self-imposed challenge to produce so much music in such a short window causes his own catalog for the year to stand out. While Boi-1da is also nominated for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year for Drake’s song “God’s Plan” and for Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan,” Eminem’s “Lucky You” and Jay Rock’s “Win,” his overall production work for the year was confined mainly to just eight songs across four albums, many of which were co-produced and appeared on collections with around 20 songs. Kanye produced 35 songs himself across five projects — and while you could argue that those were EPs more than full-length albums, the fact that he made them on the fly with the artists involved within about a week each (with the probable exception of Pusha T’s Daytona, the second-most complete record of the batch after Teyana Taylor’s excellent KTSE) overshadows even 1da’s No. 1 accomplishment on “God’s Plan.”
Meanwhile, Pharrell Williams is up for his work with Migos, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, and The Carters, but when even the artists he worked with pulled back or moved on from their records, you can’t really recommend those projects, can you? Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods was just fine — at least, nowhere near deserving of the hand-wringing overreaction it sparked on its release — but came and went without much hoopla and very little staying power. Ariana Grande said “Thank U, Next” to Sweetener within a couple of months of its release, following the precedent set by Migos, whose cavalier, fully automatic approach to music releases she said she wants to emulate. Does anyone even remember “Stir Fry,” their Pharrell-produced single from Culture II, after the next 10 months of solo releases and features from the Atlanta three-man band?
Now, no disrespect to Larry Klein and Linda Perry either. They’re both well-established, well-respected producers who have been huge in the music industry for decades. Klein’s worked with Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and Joni Mitchell, while Perry has contributed to Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys, and Adele. They are some heavy hitters. But Klein’s mostly being acknowledged for helping give the world Jeff Goldblum’s jazz album — which is, admittedly, award-worthy in pretty much any other year — while Perry received the nod for working with Dolly Parton on the soundtrack to Dumplin. Let me reiterate here that Kanye made 35 songs for pop culture forces like himself, Kid Cudi, and Nas. Even if Nasir was mostly ignored in the wake of Everything Is Love, Nas’ last album came out six years before that and it took Kanye to motivate him to return, giving him one of his best-produced records since, well, It Was Written. Nas’ leaden ear for beats is pretty well renowned, but Kanye even overcame that in 2018.
Kanye’s most recent record before 2018 was The Life Of Pablo was controversial, with some listeners determining it a work of genius and others discarding it as incomplete and scattered. He disappeared for most of 2017 and when he returned, it was clear his heart was less in rapping — or even in clothing design — than it was in producing, and it shows. He gave us hip-hop’s most complete body of work in 2018, even if he did do it in typical, rebellious Kanye fashion. He got back to the old Kanye — at least, in one respect — giving us a collection of bangers that will live on long after his controversial tweets and (hopefully) the disastrous tenure of his bright orange buddy. He deserves his roses — both while he can still smell them, and while there’s still a shred of the Kanye we fell in love with left.