This song wasn’t even supposed to be on the album.
Kanye West’s first album in nearly three years, The Life of Pablo, was slated to come out February 11th. The tracklist was set, everything polished and edited precisely to West’s specifications, ready for release on streaming service TIDAL. But in stepped Chance the Rapper, up-and-coming Chicago musician and childhood fan of West, who helped produce, write, and even record a verse on the album. Chance insisted “Waves” be included on TLOP, forcing West to jump back in the studio and delay the album a couple days. West tweeted, “It’s Chance’s fault the album not out yet… he really wanted Waves on that *****… we in the lab now…”. The public even got so impatient that #BlameChance started trending on Twitter. Well worth the wait.
“Waves” starts with an unidentified voice yelling, “TURN ME UP!”. The beat kicks in, and let me tell you, you’ll want to turn it up. Echoing organs, looped on repeat, reverberate and chop their way through the track behind West’s proclamations of greatness and ability to take home any woman in the club, boyfriend or not. West adds in a few snapping snare drums to add to the song’s anthemic, larger-than-life feel until the chorus. Lo and behold, Chris Brown’s voice fills up the track pleading with his girl to “let me crash here for the moment/I don’t need to own it, no lie”. As controversial as he’s been, he still has the ability to seem genuine and charming on a hook. Brown’s voice is clear, emotional, well-pitched, and soulful; he’s as talented an R&B singer as they come, and West wisely allows him to shine here. The only surprise is why these two haven’t collaborated earlier in their careers.
West’s second verse, written by Chance the Rapper, takes a deeply philosophical turn. “Even when somebody go away”, West raps, “the feelings don’t ever go away, that’s just the wave”. In this light, “Waves” is representative of everything we see West struggling with on TLOP. While he’s trying to become a more mature, thoughtful, scaled-back father and husband, there’s still a part of him that wants to lose control, hit the club, and offend more than a few people. Brown comes back on the hook to bring the song full circle, this time marveling that his girl “sets the night on fire”. West lets the beat soar and fill up the track’s sound, until we hear a few hums from Kid Cudi and additional falsetto croons from Brown.
“Waves” represents all that Kanye West is capable of. We’ve seen him create larger than life stadium anthems, ranging from “Touch the Sky” to “Good Life” to “All of the Lights”. He’s always been skilled at bringing together talent, incorporating soulful influences, and melding unique sounds that demonstrate the creative genius he is. “Waves” is the closest thing on The Life of Pablo to one of these anthems, and a return to this genre is welcome from his dissonant, industrial Yeezus. #ThankYouChance.