On Tuesday, Kanye dropped a seventeen-minute cover of The-Dream and J. Holiday’s 2007 R&B hit “Bed.” Available on SoundCloud, it was written to accompany the Yeezy Season Five fashion show. Kanye’s version, which samples the original, is a long, repetitive, legato croon. It features heavy synth backing, without a word of Kanye’s usual punctuated, rapped diction. The vocalist repeats over and over, “Imma put you to bed, to bed,” and its chords rarely shift from their hopeful, lullabying, bed of sound.
As a supporting track for a fashion show, “Bed” is not meant as a stand alone single — a good thing, since the tailored ambience of the vocals, the constant pulsation, and echoing orchestration make it difficult to listen to on its own.
But “Bed” is important if you care about Kanye, and people care about Kanye because he forces them to. He is provocative and polarizing; he flings around his persona and demands attention. He knows people listen when someone of his celebrity slaps them with socio-political truths, like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” or “Hillary Clinton…everybody in middle America felt a way and they showed you how they felt.” Kanye “robs people of the ability to practice basic music criticism,” notes New York Times writer Wesley Morris. This is because “you are buying into the Kanye West experience” when you listen to him. The music is part of the entire package, including his commentary, his brand, his thoughts: it’s never just the music. Classic Kanye is unafraid to make his presence and his music too big to handle.
But Kanye has certainly had a hard year. In October, during the Saint Pablo tour, he walked out of a show after the distressing news that his wife Kim Kardashian had been tied up and robbed in France. Following this, in post-election November, he delivered an extensive political rant at his San Jose show shocking the crowd by saying that he did not vote, and that if he did, he would have voted for Donald Trump. At his next concert in San Diego, he performed two songs, gave yet another political, thirty-minute rant, and ended the show with an angry crowd. He cancelled the rest of his tour and ended 2016 in a psychiatric center, hospitalized for sleep deprivation and extreme exhaustion. Correlation or causation aside, his emotional upheaval was in line with the tension and uncertainty that still pervade our nation.
Which is why, following all of this and starting off 2017 with sullen, rare, public appearances and a noted absence at the Grammys, “Bed” is unexpected. It is loving, positive, and sans any commentary. The lyrics are languid, vowels are milked, and time is stretched. With his decision to sample this particular track, Kanye is taking a break from his grandiose exterior and delving into the personal. He’s done this before with “Only One,” the track released in 2014 after his mother’s death. This release stunned followers in its revealing of the intimate Kanye: the son, the father, and the husband. What makes “Bed” different is that it’s not as obviously intimate as “Only One”: it’s not an original and it assists his self-promotion for his fashion show. Yet, he still weaves the personal into his persona in choosing it. The relaxed complexion exhibited in this release should be seen as a reflection of his current self and that after months of tumult, he is at least for now, content.
Image from here.