Kanye West – Flashing Lights (Feat. Dwele) – 2007
I have always liked Kanye West, his first 3 albums featured a strong set of singles that impacted the Pop side of the charts enough for me to know them. That said I was still of the mindset that Rap had a time and place in music, as a 40 second middle 8 of an RnB song, see Beyonce and Rihanna, not a whole song. Kanye always had guest singers on his records, or he would sample one for the hook, and his singles usually stayed on the mainstream side of his albums.
These albums were obviously never on my radar, as at the time I was still a listener of singles rather than albums, I would skip through to listen to singles and that one up tempo album track. Flashing Lights and the album it came from, Graduation, changed everything. In 2008, in the build up to Kanye’s 4th record a song Love Lockdown caught my attention. I thought it was from his last album, and so I went to HMV to buy it. I bought it despite the lack of Love Lockdown, because it had some songs I recognised regardless, Stronger and Good Life.
I can still remember listening to the album in full for the first time, the opening verse of Good Morning making me double take in shock, I’d never listened to the lyrics of a rap so much before, something that continued across the tracks on the album. Can’t Tell Me Nothing caught me off guard too, a ‘hardcore’ hip hop song that I was enjoying? I had never really ‘got’ what the deal was with the rap genre and slowly I was finding something to take away from the album as a whole, rather than just as a set of singles with some bonus tracks thrown in.
The most important moment was 9 tracks in, when the strings of Flashing Lights swept in. I remember the feeling it gave me, something that had nothing to do with the lyrics or the hook of the song, both of which hold a special place in my heart now, it was the production. I had never listened to production like this, not in the sense of actually listening to a song, I mean ‘listening’ so closely that you lose yourself in the sound. I finally understood what music should be doing, not in a dismissive way of looking down on more generic and commercial songs, but allowing my ear to hear the music as a whole for the first time in my life.
I’d say that Flashing Lights is the most important of any of the songs on this list for this reason. It may not have represented a period of my life like Dip It Low, or been as vital to my existence as Steps felt at the time, but if I hadn’t heard Graduation and my favourite song from it, I doubt my musical tastes, or my openness to new genres, artists and experiences would have been anything like they are today. About 3 and half years ago I had never heard College Dropout, Late Registration or Graduation, 3 albums that would lead me to listen to my two favourite albums 808s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With no huge hit singles from Kanye’s latest, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard Dark Fantasy. I wouldn’t have enjoyed hip hop in the way I do, 2 years on from Flashing Lights there I was at a Jay-Z gig throwing my diamond sign up as Jigga explained how a bitch isn’t one of his 99 Problems.
The fact I have nearly 100 blog articles on this site dedicated to my passion for music is a testament to how important Flashing Lights was to the way I hear music. Kanye, I thank you for opening my ears to the truth, and allowing me to hear some amazing music I never would have experienced otherwise.