It was the song request heard around the world: “Let’s do Wolves.”
On April 21st of this year, Kanye West was invited to TIME’s 100 Gala months after revealing his first clothing line for Adidas. Back in February he had premiered “Wolves,” the intro to his upcoming album, featuring Vic Mensa and vocalist Sia. Days later, he performed the song for the second time on SNL. The song quickly caught buzz, but by April, with no sign of an official release for neither the song nor the album, at least one fan was visibly exasperated. All he wanted to hear was “Wolves.”
“I was just trying to grasp onto the opportunity, like, ‘We’re here, right now, let’s do it,’ the fan told Complex. “I feel like he didn’t move forward with it because of the energy of the crowd.”
Perhaps we’ve seen Kanye’s new album sputter along because of his own energy. Two days before the TIME gala, Paper Mag published an interview with West in which he said, “Right now, over 70 percent of my focus is on apparel.” It sent fans into a tizzy; while the world impatiently waited for a new Kanye album, he was barely focusing on it. At the gala that night he declared, “I see so many so-called artists, but I have to wonder where their heart is.” It doesn’t sound like Kanye’s heart was in “All Day.” The fiery live performance at the BRIT Awards overshadowed the disappointing CDQ, which felt dull and almost regressive after Yeezus.
But “Wolves” is something different altogether. Produced by electronic artists Cashmere Cat and Sinjin Hawke, the track blends the brooding minimalism of Yeezus with the emotional wallowing of 808s & Heartbreak – both of which happen to be his most groundbreaking albums. His grasp of melody and attention to detail have never been sharper; on the above version, Sia coos softly under the intro, her angelic voice paired with plodding bass notes reminiscent of what Mike Dean would play at Kanye’s Yeezus shows. You’re hooked in 13 seconds.
Then Kanye starts singing: “Lost and / beat up / dancin’ / down there / I found you / somewhere out / round, round there, right, right there.” It sounds so painful, so mournful. It reminds me of when I stood in Notre Dame, listening to kids sing hymns. It made my spirit stand still.
The track sounds like it’ll dip into darkness until Vic Mensa sings the hook. I didn’t like his part when I heard it on SNL, but after spending time with it, his singing is so much more enjoyable than his rapping. He brings the song up to a sunnier peak, and then leaves. In the rip above, the song almost seems to end, but Kanye emerges from the abyss before Sia adds a verse. What’s special about this live version of the song is how you can hear the crowd clapping while Sia sings. It’s almost like the song ends with redemption for Kanye, the audience embracing him even when he’s at his lowest. It leaves you with a much different feeling than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album Kanye admits he made so “perfect” because he wanted to “buy [his] affection of the public back.”
What little we can make of “I Feel Like That,” the song on the second half of the the video for “All Day,” sounds similar to the vibe on “Wolves” – sad, dejected, experimental, yet bold. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy disappointed by trying to be too much all at once. He tried too hard. The brutal, focused energy of Yeezus, on the other hand, sounds like unequivocal triumph, straight from the heart.
“Wolves” as we know it right now is an extension of that triumph, as West allows himself to be vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen since he changed the entire trajectory of hip-hop with 808s & Heartbreak. If his new album is anything like that one, the wait will be worth it.