Exploring Kanye Wests “Lights” Songs
Being one of the meticulous artists of all time, Kanye West has cranked out one of the most critically praised discographies of recent memories. With every album being unique and standing out on its own like a green hat with an orange bill. Being able to pinpoint a specific era of Kanye, as he changes aesthetically as well musically, from the Louis Vuitton rocking and chipmunk soul enthusiast “College Dropout” era to his “Yeezus” diamond mask and more aggressive (and polarizing) “Anarchy against the fashion industry” era. Now one thing that’s been certain, while his music changes every album, a motif that’s remained fairly consistent is his tracklist. Ever since his 2007 synth pop-inspired, stadium anthem filled, third LP “Graduation”, he’s made several songs revolving around the word “light”: 2007 “Flashing Lights”, 2008 “Street Lights from 808’s & Heartbreak, 2010 “All of the Lights (Interlude)” and “All of the Lights” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2016 “Ultralight Beam”, “Low Lights”, and “Highlights” from The Life of Pablo. With every song taking the light with a different context. In the vein of the White Stripes and the word “Little” or Bob Dylan and the word “Blues”, Kanye has made this word very common in his catalog.
Now, what is light (insert Kingdom Hearts reference)? Outside of the literal textbook definition, that we have to Google because we’re not sure how to define it, Light in a metaphorical sense has been used more than often that it’s an article within itself. To literature, to film, to the music we see it used for several purposes: “Light is one of the most universal and fundamental symbols. It is the spiritual and the divine, it is illumination and intelligence. Light is the source of goodness and the ultimate reality, It is the sun, and it is the avenger of evil forces and darkness. Light is knowledge. Purity and morality are connected terms as well. Cosmic energy, creative force, and optimism are all related to light.” From the “Great Gatsby” using it to symbolize idealism and dream or from William Shakespeares (whom Kanye tastefully refers to himself as) “Romeo and Juliet”, where light is used to showcase beauty and influence Juilet has on Romeo. It’s safe to say the light has been beaten into the atmosphere of usage in symbolism, but what is light to Kanye, how does he implement them into his music, how does he use it or reflect his emotions, his art, and his reality?
-One of the singles off of his Graduation album, and arguably one of Kanye’s signature songs. Flashing Lights sees Kanye rapping about an ex-girlfriend (possibly two exes) who he can’t stop thinking about or in his words “Aye, babe, lately, you’ve been all on my brain” and he feels like “Martin with no Gina”. However, she wasn’t necessarily a Mary Sue or Summer Finn, the ex was more melodramatic and sporadic and essentially someone that belongs in the 1995 film “Clueless, as she doesn’t “She don’t believe in shootin’ stars, But she believe in shoes and cars” and enjoys starting shit. However, the girl doesn’t necessarily have to be human just like his song ode to Chicago “Homecoming” (which is an homage to Commons 1994 song I Used to Love H.E.R.), the polarizing relationship could be between Kanye and the public eye, that Kanye has to deal with (particularly with the second verse). As we get to hook (sung by Dwele), we see Kanye trying to figure out his emotions about his ex, however, he’s bombarded by the paparazzi’s and their flashing lights from their cameras: “‘Til I got flashed by the paparazzi, Damn, these niggas got me, I hate these niggas more than the Nazis”. As we see Kanye, dealing with lights, usually a symbol of positive morality, coming from the “immoral and dark side” of fame (Tabloid media and Paparazzi). Fitting for Kanye, since he is just as infamous for his run-in with paparazzi’s as he is famous for his music. But even before those moments, he makes it clear he has never been fond of them as he states in the previous lyric. But this is all he knows at this point in his life; the flashing lights, whether he is out in public or to himself at home, flashing lights are there literally (in some instances) or metaphorically. The world is watching him, even when he feels he has a moment to himself.
Hands down one of the most melancholic tracks in his discography. As the intro starts with Kanye’s distorted voice asking the question” Do I still have time to grow”, following with the old saying “Things aren’t always set in stone”. Leading into his verse opening lines: “Seems like street lights, glowing, happen to be
Just like moments, passing, in front of me”. As it continues and the verse is repeated, we see Kanye paint the vision of him getting into a cab and as he is being driven, he notices the street lights are passing by fast just like moments in his life. The street lights are essentially his life as if it’s breezing by him; however, he knows he’s not at his place and he knows “his destination” where he needs to be. Life may be going fast, not being able to appreciate the moments he has had before they were gone, but leaving him to look forward to the moments in the future. He’s “paid his fare” and is gonna keep going as he knows his destination of greatness, happiness, and more moments.
All of the Lights (Interlude)
….…It’s just an amazing (Pun intended) interlude that segues into the next track
All of the Lights
An iconic song off of his iconic Magnum Opus, that is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The creation of the song and the album as a whole is within itself an article and video on its own so I’m not gonna go to in-depth with that. However, All of the Lights (arguably Kanye’s magnum opus of a song), Kanye alongside all side guest features Rihanna and Kid Cudi and with backing vocal from Fergie (who sounds like M.I.A., whether intentionally or not), Drake, Alicia Keys, and Sir Elton John, we are dealing with lights throughout this sports stadium anthem. With several interpretations being able to be made, the opening choir sing “All of the lights”, which could be the light of stage/stadium/arena lights a performer would be accustomed to. Now this day-and-age, it could be the lights of cellphones as well as lights from the stage. Leading to Rihanna taking the first shot at being the first listed artist to start the song, as she starts the hook:
As she requests numerous times, wanting us to see everything, “the lights” can help us see the message of the lyrics, the iconic moment of this song, maybe she’s referring to the arena, or possibly their lives and seeing the fame and all of the aspects that come with it. Switching gears to Kanye as his verses deals with being a celebrity while having personal issues off-screen, including domestic abuse and a damaged family. Yet, once you get to the pre-chorus, he lists a few examples of the kinds of lights that fame makes you adapt to:
Cop lights, as celebs become more equipped to getting into more run-ins with laws. Spotlight and flashlights can be the lifestyle of being famous, you’ll deal with lights everywhere (e.g, paparazzi, the stage light, red carpet, and overall attention from anywhere and everywhere. While a couple of callbacks to his previous tracks were discussed earlier. Strobe-lights can be the representation of the lifestyle can be like a party in the best moment (but this light is more on the nose for interpretation).
We’ll short and sweet: this song is a “God’s dream”. A song about faith from Kanye’s life, since Kanye has had a much-complicated history with God and religion, which again is a whole different topic within itself. However we’re faced with the lyric: ”We on an ultralight beam”, now Ultralight Beam is a fascinating phase, and was a freestyled phrase. According to Fonzworth Bentley, speaking to Fader he stated: “In his freestyle, he said, “This is an ultralight beam.” He sings that and was singing the melody. Then Chance catches the vibe. A lot of what ended up in his verse was from this freestyle — as far as his patterns and some of the words.” Light throughout is referring to Gods’ will, faith, etc, as Kelly Price sings:
Adding to the exemplified gospel-inspired sound, the light feels used appropriately as the light is used to refer to the more traditional metaphor as purity, morality, and knowledge, everything God and religion are associated with.
A spoken word interlude that sets up the next track “Highlights”. While “lights” isn’t directly stated or referred to in the song. However, you get the continuation of God and faith themes throughout the song and as well as the album overall. As the woman, Sandy Rivera, speaks and explains even in the lowest points of life (low-lights) God is always good to her and that it’s an amazing feeling to feel loved and “free and accepted”. Kanye explained his inclusion of the song: “I put Low Lights on my album just thinking about all the moms driving their kids to school then going to work.”
The last track (for now at least) is once again off of his Life of Pablo album. Featuring Young Thug and El Debarge, we see Kanye celebrating his career which is something to be proud of without a doubt. Only wanting his career to be filled with more highlights and he will make more highlights more accomplishments, more monumental, moments for him and his fans:
For certain, Kanye has made numerous highlights throughout his career: 21 Grammys, critically acclaimed, made waves in fashion, the list goes on. On this song he wants more highlights in his career, such as” putting a go-pro on his d***, so he could play it back in slow-mo”, classy. Now, this was 2016, so in the next few years he’s had a few more highlights, some were good and others were not great, once again those are different topics for another article.
Now, as Kanye is done with secular music, it’s safe to say that he has put: emotion, confidence, and depth (well for most of them) in these light songs, just as he’s done with most of the music. If he continues his religious music, we may see another “light” song, until, we have to stay in the light and appreciate the series he has given.