“Without Me” is a song by American rapper Eminem from his fourth studio album The Eminem Show (2002). “Without Me” was released as the lead single from the album, and re-released on his greatest hits compilation album Curtain Call: The Hits (2005). “Without Me” is one of Eminem’s most successful singles, reaching number two in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and number one in fifteen countries. It is one of his most well-known and most recognizable songs. The song is included in the soundtrack for the 2016 film Suicide Squad.
Future and the Weeknd went in very different, very well-documented directions in 2015. Eschewing pop fame, the Atlanta rapper immersed himself in codeine and the dense trap beats of his pre-Pluto ;days. The Toronto singer, on the other hand, largely shed the sparse sound of his famed ;Trilogy in favor of MJ-worshipping, ;Max Martin-heralded pop success.
But the Weeknd did maintain his trademark destructive behavior. In this regard, he and Future are kindred souls. They’re self-aware yet unapologetic, and operate best in the shadows. On “Low Life,” Future drags the Weeknd back into the depths from which he had hardly receded. “I just took some molly, what else?” Future confesses from the onset, as if there’s no alternative. The Weeknd simultaneously pulls some melody out of Future Hendrix, who never really starts or stops singing. Together, they find a middle ground of deadpan lyrics and palatable sonics. The Metro Boomin and Ben Billions-produced beat creates a similar contrast with echoey vocals or piano chords layered on top of drill snares. Nothing is surprising to Future and the Weeknd. No behavior is deplorable. They both sound natural and expressive on “Low Life,” free to act and emote however they’d like.
Celebrity is a funhouse mirror. It amplifies certain characteristics of those who live within its frame. Kanye West became world-famous several times over during the last decade, and certain parts of his public persona seemed to swell in response.
There was the ego, always there, but now ostensibly justified by success. There was the sensitivity, easily turned to bitterness and aggravated by those who didn’t like seeing a black man defend a black woman at the expense of a white woman. And there was his grief, for Donda West and perhaps for other relationships. These elements metastasized into a potent artistic combination that yielded three very different albums.
In retrospect, the first of those albums, 808s and Heartbreaks, marked a farewell tour. No more, it seemed, were listeners to be granted access to Kanye’s family business, at least not the business of those who weren’t fated to live (or actively living) beneath all of the lights. And his sound, once so warm, grew colder, culminating in the icy sweat of Yeezus.
But in 2016, the gates have cracked open. The release of “Real Friends” (and a snippet of “No More Parties in LA”) today has fans screaming that the old ‘Ye is back. In its subject matter, its sound, and most crucially its vulnerability, “Real Friends” does share many features with the music Kanye made before 808s. Pivoting off MF Doom’s “Deep Fried Frenz,” West airs his guilt over—what else?—his extended family and old friends, as well as his deep anger with certain relatives, an elaboration of the lament on the 808s track, “Welcome to Heartbreak.” One story he shares, about having to buy back a computer stolen by a cousin, is a miniature study in anguish, as emotionally exhausting as “Only One” and far less effortful.
But if this track evokes the artist that fans think of as old Kanye—an impression enhanced by its cover art—then it’s also one that makes enormous use of what he’s learned since Graduation. After six listens, the most memorable lines are those sung with Auto-Tune. (After a dozen, everything is of a piece.) And West’s attitude has little in common with the buoyant outlook of his youth. “Real Friends” is heavy, grizzled, and sad. The track may be warm, with Kanye’s own production enhanced by the beautiful looping influences of Madlib (who produced the snippet at the end) and Dilla, but it’s the opposite of joyous.
As it stands, the song is tagged on Soundcloud with its title, #realfriends. But when it first was posted, the “friends” was missing. The only word left to describe the song was the one that, fair or not, will feel the most fitting for those who are rejoicing to have this version of Kanye West back: Real.
Someone track down his cousin: Any fan of Kanye knows his muse works in fits and starts, and his output can be as erratic as a mood swing. Choosing to follow the dour “Real Friends” with “No More Parties in L.A.” is yet another exercise in extremes, which suits him just fine: a self-described “38-year-old 8-year old,” Ye chases after what’s motivating him no matter how eccentric the inspiration. Here he mentions “I was uninspired since Lauryn Hill retired” and “I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again” in the same way he delivers a hilarious anecdote about an assistant crashing his matted Maybach. He also references his memorable line from The College Dropout’s “Breathe in Breathe Out”—“first nigga with a Benz and a backpack”—with “a backpack nigga with luxury taste buds,” a great callback to how ably Ye can so easily identify with two different class of rappers.
Kanye still resonates after all these years by pulling you into his story, with vivid images about texting and driving and André 3000’s extended hiatus next to a line about “whole family getting money, thank god for E!” That ability to connect to listeners is what sells us on the problems and lifestyles of the very, very rich, to the extent where no matter how ridiculous some of his lines are (“any rumor you heard about me was true and legendary”) it feels like something we can relate to. Which is, of course, patently absurd.
And the fact that a six-minute song with a monster Kendrick verse and a painterly Madlib beat goes by in the blink of an eye reinforces how revitalized Kanye is after a spotty 2015, dropping these songs weekly (although this one was three days late) as if to prove he can still do it. Between “Real Friends” and this song is an air of the unfiltered rawness of “old Kanye” that makes you wonder if Swish will be as off-the-cuff, and, frankly, charming. We’re in for a doozy if it is.
The mattress is a canvas. For most of Future’s career, vacuum-sealed packages and hastily-stuffed fistfuls of money have played on a continuous loop, while sex, love, and heartbreak take the foreground. (He hasn’t merged the bed’s many uses the way Havoc did with “Blow you off the atlas as if I caught you fucking my wife on my thousand dollar mattress,” but really, who has?) On “Inside the Mattress,” from his surprise mixtape Purple Reign, Future starts to mesh the personal and the less-than-legal, before breaking fully into a confession.
The song is produced by Nard & B, the Atlanta duo who have crafted some of Future’s greatest bloodlettings: “You Deserve It,” “Throw Away,” “News or Somthn.” It’s anchored by a line in the second verse: “Hit another city, and another city, I was just grooving/ I was trying to tell you I was losing/ I was gon’ tell you I’m improving.” That was the subtext of the run that started with 2014’s Monster and peaked last summer with Dirty Sprite 2—a cry for help under a whole lot of vitriol.
Later in “Mattress,” Future peels that cover away. “I never told the world about you,” he raps, admitting he would rather hole up in hotels than hit award shows. And the qualifier on all the depressive talk is a curious one. At first pass, “I wake up and do it way better tomorrow” sounds like a self-improvement mantra, but there’s no “try” or “hope” in there, just a mechanical upward spiral that hasn’t stopped, no matter the things that keep him up at night.