Friends of 2016

What better than a good friendship? Well, what if your friends are distinguished and popular musicians like you, and you put out songs collaborating with each other, and sending nods to one another? Well, that’s the case with this group of American friends we’ll tell you about right now.

Back in February of last year, Kanye West finally launched his much anticipated record, which was supposed to be called SWISH first and Waves after that, but was eventually named The Life of Pablo (no relationship with this author). The first track, “UItralight beam,” features many collaborations, but perhaps most famously a verse by Kanye’s foremost mentee, Chance the Rapper, who raps about his daughter, his differences with the record industry and his relationship with Yeezy himself, among other things.

Here is the full, gospel-heavy song performed live on Saturday Night Live (Chance’s verse starts around 2:27):

Now, Kanye has had quite a success with The Life of Pablo, but ended the year on a worrying note as mental issues pulled him away from his music. However, it was a good 2016 throughout for Chance. He has five writing credits in Kanye’s album, plus his aforementioned performance there. But also, in May, he debuted his third mixtape, Coloring Book, which he released independently and shared for free in various online platforms. By its first week out, the mixtape had become the first release ever to make it to the Billboard 200 chart solely on streams.

The third track, “Summer Friends,” features rapper Jeremih, and a collaboration with Francis Farewell Starlite of Francis and the Lights, who provides a dreamy, Bon Iver-like synth-vocal background throughout the slow jam and a sample from his song “Friends.”

The song’s lyrics talk about growing up in Chicago’s rough south side neighborhood of West Chatham and losing friends to gang and police violence, which statistically increase during the summer in the Windy City. It’s a mellow, yet encompassing melody, with a catchy and nostalgic delivery, which makes you keep returning to listen to this track.

Ok. Since we’re talking about friends, do you remember that “Friends” song by Francis and the Lights I mentioned above? Well, it is a collaboration with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (which probably influenced the vibe of “Summer Friends”) and none other than Kanye West. Francis and the Lights came to prominence in 2010 when Drake invited him to feature on his song “Karaoke”.

Since then, he has kept making friends in the music industry. Francis turned his band (of which he is the only member) into a company, and runs it as the creative CEO, having been backed by Vimeo co-founder Jake Lodwick. And this year he released his debut studio album, Farewell, Starlite!, where “Friends” is featured.

Kanye actually has only one line in the song (though he features heavily in another song of the album, “My City’s Gone): one of the “we can be friends” lines in the chorus (the one at 1:30 in the video below), but it’s one that accentuates the emotional power of the track. The song is about a romantic relationship that has ended and how the former couple is trying to become friends. Kanye’s line, sandwiched between Justin Vernon’s falsetto and Francis’ echoed lyrics, slightly out of tune and distorted by vocoder, adds a layer of exasperation to the plea for friendship.

Justin Vernon, Francis and the Lights performed “Friends” back in August at Eaux Claires, the music festival organized by Vernon in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, while Chance the Rapper accompanied them dancing on stage:

So it is likely that we’ll see more collaborations and rap/R&B/technopop crossovers from this group of friends.

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