Grading the Leaks: New songs from Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Nas and Big Sean

Here’s an understatement: the rap blogs were busy yesterday. It seemed like every hour, there was another leak from a big-name artist. Kanye West, Nas, Big Sean and Lil Wayne were all victims of Hulkshare liberation. But now for the important part: are the songs any good? Let’s grade them.

Kanye West, “Mama’s Boyfriend”
This comes from the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy cutting room floor, where it probably belongs. “Mama’s Boyfriend” would sound out-of-place on the final tracklisting, as the album sticks to a very specific emotional arc (defiance slowly builds to arrogance and then dissolves into lonely melancholia). Still, this is one of Kanye’s greatest lyrical triumphs. His ability to tap into that visceral anger of a mother moving on from divorce is disarmingly raw. “Trying to get to know me, homie? / Just kill the charm / You ain’t interested in me / You just tryin’ to f--- my mom.” It should surprise no one Kanye has an Oedipus complex, but to hear it articulated so thoroughly in a song is a rap moment. And then there’s the classic Kanye caveat: “Who knew one day I’d be just like you n----s?” As selfish as West can act at times, he’s always been able to turn the mirror on himself in his music. The problem? Q-Tip’s beat that comes up short in turning a spirited a capella into the transcendent track it deserves. It’s obvious the vocals were laid first and Tip tried to construct around it, giving the song a copy-and-paste-and-hope-it-works feel. It almost does, but I was even more moved by the shaky YouTube videos of Kanye performing it, sans music, at Facebook HQ.
Grade: B

Nas, “Nasty”
To put it simply, Nas got off on this one. Over Salaam Remi’s trash-can boom-bap, it’s three verses of straight spitting, with lines that’ll have your face scrunched up before the DJ starts scratching. It’s tempting to call “Nasty” a throwback simply because it’s been years since an East Coast rapper attacked a mic with such fervor: “I come from the Wheel of Ezekiel / To pop thousand-dollar bottles of scotch, smoke pot and heal the people / Any rebuttal to what I utter get box-cuttered / Count how many bad honeys I slut, it’s a high number / Name a n---- under the same sky that I’m under.” There’s so many lines I want to highlight, but Nas’ take on car-talk is particularly illuminating: “I’m skinny, but still I’m too big for a Bentley / You are your car, what could represent me? / Too godly to be a Bugatti, you honestly / Must design me somethin’ Tommy Mottonic from Queens had before the ’90s.” The most frustrating aspect of Nas’ storied career is his inconsistenty. When he’s off, he sounds beyond blunted, a rapper delivering muddled ghetto snapshots in a haze. But when he’s on, he’s poetic, putting words together in beautiful ways. “Nasty” is the latter.
Grade: A-

Big Sean, “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay (feat. Kanye West and Roscoe Dash)”
Insanely obnoxious. Not nearly as addictive as the artists think it is. Piss-poor lyrics (Kanye: “This is the f---ing anthem / Get it? The f---ing anthem”). I’m sorry, Marvin.
Grade: D

Lil Wayne, "Dear Anne"
The concept of taking the Eminem classic (perhaps career-defining) "Stan" and flipping it for a "sequel" is problematic for a couple reasons. One, there's hardly any chance of it topping the original. Two, the "Stan" narrative has a clear ending so to work off it would require a creative stretch. Still, Wayne and Swizz Beatz have cooked up something not nearly as strong as "Stan," but it's interesting nonetheless. Swizz's beat matches the somber, creepy tone of the original (thanks, t.A.T.u. for the sample!), and Weezy constructs a slow-developing, three-verse build-up to a climax that flips "Stan's" gotcha!-moment. Rather than dealing with a psychotic fan, Wayne pours his heart out to his admirer, proving to be the one who needs Anne more than she needs him. This taps into Wayne's "I Ain't S--- Without You" speech he gives at every concert. He's lonely at the top, almost jealous of Anne's normal life ("But it's like you make me feel like I'm a part of the fam"). It's a decently clever track that lacks shelf-life. Where "Stan" provided a story so vivid it was practically a ready-to-greenlight screenplay, "Dear Anne" is a less-detailed, less emotionally invested song that fell in love with its concept and saw it through, for better or worse. Luckily, it's a freebie that won't be on Wayne's forthcoming Tha Carter IV.
Grade: C+