Every year there are often erroneous claims by music publications that a certain song captures the “essence” of summer itself. And, of course, this annual tradition continued this year. With the release of the trap song “This is America” by Donald Glover (under his soon-to-be-retired pseudonym “Childish Gambino”), it seemed that the “song of the summer” title was fulfilled. And, how could it not have been? “This is America” overed a wide array of topical sociopolitical subjects. From systematic racial discrimination to rampant gun violence, nearly everything in our politically divided zeitgeist was observed. However, I do not believe that “This is America” or even the two other songs by Gambino that actually had to do with summer captured the summer of 2018. I would instead bestow that honor on a song by the always loudmouthed, always influential and always controversial Kanye West.
It’s important to contextualize and explain everything that has led up to this particular song. 2018 has been an eventful year for West. There has been a great deal of uproar over his right-leaning comments over Twitter as well as his infamous statement “Slavery is a choice.” West claims he wished to open the discussion on what merits the classification of free speech. Many were unconvinced. He additionally released songs which were an absurdist parody of mumble rap and a harsh political rap featuring T.I.. His often erratic behavior is typically dismissed as being calculated publicity stunts to draw further attention to himself.
Whatever one believes, nothing can change the absolutely profound effect he has had on popular music. His influence has remained consistent since his debut album The College Dropout in 2004. Now, in the summer of 2018, Kanye West produced five albums sequentially in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. These five albums have become known as the “Wyoming Sessions.” All of these albums were released to positive reviews, with the first three in particular receiving widespread acclaim. All three records had brilliant lyricism, gorgeous mixing and somehow, all of them had Christian symbolism and theology.
But what stood out to me is the two-part song “Ghost Town.” The song of the summer. Featuring an opening sample of Shirley Ann Lee that draws attention to the ascension to heaven with the lyrics “Someday I’ll, I wanna wear a starry crown”, excellent verses about the inevitable love and rest one will achieve after their work is done with the lyrics “I wanna lay down, like God did, on Sunday.” Transforming three quarters of the way through into a gorgeous epilogue by 070 Shake, this cosmic delight of an outro is lyrically a celebration of existential freedom from pain and anguish. A theme which carries over into the second part of the song: “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2),” with every single exclamation of the word “free” feeling reminiscent of a psychedelic and spiritual awakening. Both of these songs are an exaltation of the human condition and the victory over suffering after a reached catharsis. Listening to them made me feel as though I was traveling forwards and backwards, to a simpler and more hopeful time. That’s what makes this the song of the summer. If you need an escape from your hardships, put the headphones in and close your eyes. You’ll be free.