Kanye West feat. Syleena Johnson — “All Falls Down”

Released: 4.6.04

Peak: #7

In 2004, a rapper working a new twist on hip-hop anti-materialism seemed less likely even than a rapper working a new twist on hip-hop materialism itself. There are always new products to accumulate, after all, but only so many words that rhyme with “incense.” Kanye West came up with both on the same track, and seemed like an honest broker in the process, expressing more sympathy for the “single black female/ addicted to retail” than most of the liars who make bank off her, and more insight into her weaknesses than the assholes who bait her as a bitch.

Kanye’s rhymes about commercialism cut deeper than the norm because he implicated himself, rather than following the long left-bohemian tradition of blaming the existence of capitalism on women who wont fuck them. And if his weird bias against higher education may derive from his own insecurrity as a middle-class nerd, he convincingly locates the self-hatred at the roots of consumerism in the specifics of black history. What’s even more disappointing than Ye’s subsequent descent into jerkoffery, then, is that he diagnosed the causes of that egomania from the start. Chalk that up to the limitations of self-knowledge. Or maybe the ineluctable lure of capital. Or maybe just the guy’s inherent jerkoffery.

Kanye’s disjointed flow is at its most ingenious and charming here, as he mispronounces “Versace” and mis-rhymes “herrre” and “hair” with “career.” And the song and video resuscitated two of the ’90s’ premier examples of black female beauty–Lauryn Hill’s voice and Stacey Dash’s ass. Anyone can dig in the crates, but it takes smarts to salvage a snippet of L-Boogie from her disastrous Unplugged disc (a little something-something called “Mystery of Iniquity” unworthy of your acquaintance), and props to Syleena Johnson for mimicking that adrift icon so expertly. But that truncated vocal sample does leave the question open: What exactly happens when it all does fall down?

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