The Odd Couple: Paul McCartney and Kanye West

Paul McCartney and Kanye West

News broke about two weeks ago claiming musical artists Sir Paul McCartney and Kanye West may be collaborating on a few tracks. Some sources indicate it could even be a complete McCartney/Kanye album.

If these rumors are real, the partnership is likely nothing but a ploy to make money for the artists and their producers. In his recent album, “New,” McCartney sacrifices much of his light classic rock style for a more electronica feel. I am under the opinion that this is a strategy to draw in younger listeners who may not want to take the time to listen to his old work. The Beatle indicated that he had toyed with the idea of including a guest rapper on one song in particular, Appreciate. This collaboration with West seems like another ploy in that game.

As a longtime Beatles fan, my first reaction to news that Paul could be writing with Kanye was discomfort. This is not to say I believe West is a bad musician. He is a creative genius, but his top-dog attitude and musical themes of self-empowerment do not seem like a healthy mix with McCartney’s overall message of love and living the simple life. West is definitely not, as he claims, the “number one impactful artist of our generation.”

On the other hand, this strange pairing is not all that out of the ordinary. Sir Paul already has a history of collaborating with other artists, notably “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder and “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson. Working with these artists produced great hits, but when Jackson outbid McCartney in a bid for the rights for between 160 and 260 Lennon/McCartney songs, a shadow was cast on their working and personal relationship for years.

To this day, McCartney still does not own the rights to a great deal of his Beatles songs, including Hey Jude and Yesterday, because of Jackson’s bid. It is possible that West could pull something similarly hurtful, but it is very unlikely. Stealing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the Grammys is one thing. Sabotaging the career of a Beatle does not seem like something Kanye would include in his playbook.

But what would a song written by Paul McCartney and Kanye West sound like? My opinion of Paul’s recent shift in style aside, his recent work would probably mesh very well combined with a modern rapper. Imagine West’s direct and powerful voice mixed in with McCartney’s light melodic tone. Their voices are wildly different, but that difference has the potential to create a hard-hitting yet gentle harmony.

One artist pairing comparable to this would be Jay Z bringing on Justin Timberlake for Holy Grail. Granted, Timberlake’s young, slick style is hard to compare to McCartney’s more classic feel, but the combination of in-your-face rap lyrics and a higher melody would probably be featured in the Paul/Kanye combo, too.

The theme behind the music is what stumps me. Of course, in today’s Top 40 music culture the catchy sound bite is more important than the emotional content. Songs don’t need to have any real depth or message. They only need to resonate with some shallow niche of party culture, turning something as basic as getting drunk on a plane or going out last Friday night into something that people want to believe is speaking to them.

My worry is that the seemingly unnatural pairing of Sir Paul and Kanye will follow this trend of hollow songwriting, but the previous work of these two suggests otherwise. The only piece of inside info on their creative process is one potential song title: Piss On My Grave. McCartney usually uses mild language and is very difficult to find offensive. Maybe working with West will give these songs the rough edges they need to reach that younger audience of potential listeners.

For Kanye, this is an opportunity to add a serene, old school touch to his work. He is not the one dimensional thug that society and the entertainment media paints him as. This album could be his chance to rub that fact in their collective face. I do not have any high expectations for this album, but at the very least it could be a chance to introduce Paul’s fans to Kanye’s work and vice-versa.

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  • Steve

    As a Beatle and Paul admirer, though altogether not a super-fanatic, I can understand your dilemma with this partnership. However, there must be some recognition of the fact that Paul and all of the Beatles always searched for the next influence to bring their music to a new place.

    The Beatles always longed for a new bit of technology or musical influence to broaden their sound and musical imagination.This is seen obviously by the progression from Pleas Please Me all the way to Sgt. Pepper’s and beyond.

    Sure, this pairing seems a bit strange, mixing two genres and styles that have no historical business being together. But what about Wynton Marsalis (arguably the greatest classical and jazz trumpeter of all time) and the country legend Willie Nelson? Or recent number one on the charts Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga?

    So there are definitely some bad collabs in our past as Elton John/Eminem wasn’t earth shattering and the Kiss/Michael Bolton duo was a bit less than rock. That being said, Kanye is notorious for finding new ways to stretch his boundaries and command lyrical an emotional control of his listeners. His sounds have proved to be no less than ground-breaking for those that have spent more time than just his singles on the radio.

    I have positive outlook on this team up and think we can expect something new. We may not change the way we hear music or all go buy t-shirts, but if they can provide something that we’ve never heard before then we owe a great deal to both for their service to the art of music and pursuit of new, beautiful bodies of work.