And just like that, Kanye West's long, strange art-rap journey of a year winds down with a Christmas posse cut, of all things - a Christmas posse cut that leaks, then is hoisted for sale on iTunes, then is issued as the final, long-delayed piece of the canny/self-aggrandizing G.O.O.D. Fridays puzzle.
Baffling and fitting, somehow. Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration, we give you "Christmas In Harlem."
[jump] Let's face it: even before hearing note one of this song, it's difficult to care much, because the last thing on Earth any non-deaf person wants to hear right now is anything having to do with Kanye Fucking West. If you need me to explain why, then you're better off not knowing why - and I'm saying this as someone who voted for the dude's latest album in Pazz & Jop.
But as it turns out, "Christmas In Harlem" isn't half bad, even if it doesn't re-invent the Christmas standard or anything. There's a delirious, fairy-tale mink-stole swirl to the production here - a essential Christmas classic quality - all flurries and sugar-plums and vague Nutcracker Suite inferences; newcomer beatsmith Hit-Boy knows his Andy Williams schmaltz, all right, and Teyana Taylor humps the titular hook with enough sassy, fake-Beyonce sumptuousness to leave me wondering, at first, whether Beyonce performed uncredited here.
Unimaginatively horn-ball, West half-asses the introductory verses and makes what I guess are some Bad Santa references - I never saw more than a few minutes of that movie, though I know what the gist was - before melting into the ether so that the waiting horde of rap up-and-comers, has-beens, and wanna-bees can casually steal his own song out from under Louie Vuitton loafers.
(Which was the idea, right, Ye? You didn't intentionally wipe out on your own shit, did you?)
Things improve. The suddenly ubiquitous Vado - U.N./NYC knucklehead rap toast of the moment - gallomps onstage in showy imitation Juelz Santana style, ad-libs popping in the background like bang-caps, rendering his host irrelevant.
Jim Jones predictably barks without any bite; the promising Cyhi Da Prynce uses this platform to salute the folks back home, rhymes "stay" with "Macy's Day Parade."
Next? Some pleasant surprises.
See coke-rap earl Pusha T inject drug metaphors into frosty Christmas imagery without using "white" even once, instead leaning on unexpected hybrid metaphors ("Santa's on a diet, gonna get the pounds gone") and even sneaking in a reference to a clothing line I'd forgot he co-created.
See quick study Big Sean offhandedly invent a new holiday; how do you say "Christmahannakwanakah" in Farsi?
See Harlem native Cam'ron - who's really feeling his oats, here, among a bunch of dudes from all over the country - sleepwalks though a brilliant daisy-chain of zingers you'll actually remember after the Christmas tree's out front with the trash: "Never seen Saint Nick, just niggas selling the same nicks, the same bricks/The same hustlers running up to Broadway." Then he tenders a triple-entendre gross-out that trumps West's opening ewww gambit using fewer words - "That's where the snow's at, taste it, foreplay" - then he's thoughtful enough to take a moment to thank his Jewish lawyers, which, given the context, is like how Adam Lambert made a habit of thanking the house band after his American Idol performances. (Stay classy, Harlem!)
Then Hit-Boy and Taylor interpolate The Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Number 23" into the mix for a cozy, extended coda that leads us gently to the door, and out onto the street.