“I said oooooh, I’m blinded by the lights/now I can’t sleep until I feel your, touch.”
The Weeknd is the kind of artist who seems to always be involved in rap music without ever rapping. Even if you’re not a fan of his style (I am) he’s unavoidable, showing up at a moment’s notice on tracks by Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj to croon velvety hooks. It’s always names of that caliber too. The Weeknd isn’t going to show up to work with your favorite DIY underground indie rapper, although it would be incredibly interesting if he DID. It would be just about the biggest co-sign an unknown artist could get, particularly coming off a Halftime Show that was more interesting than the “Big Game” itself.
“The Highlights” is exactly what you’d expect from a multiple time Grammy Award winning artist coming off the biggest spotlight imaginable — a collection of his most well known hits. It’s actually the second time he’s had a “Greatest Hits” package, which should give some measure of how large his profile has become to the uninitiated. It’s also a reason for me to vent a small amount of frustration at the selections he made given the unlimited options at his disposal. If he asked for the Lil Uzi Vert remix of “Heartless” to be on the album, would anyone have told him no? It’s a good track either way thanks in large part to Metro Boomin, but with that giant pink diamond sticking out of Vert’s forehead, I’m sure collecting a few extra royalties to help pay for it wouldn’t hurt.
In fact aside from Kendrick Lamar there are no rappers featured on “The Highlights” at all, although The Weeknd certainly swears like one at times. With as many times as he uses the word “fucking” and “motherfucking” for emphasis on the song “Wicked Games,” you’d certainly be convinced he was a Toronto rapper if he wasn’t crooning. In fact if you spend a lot of time dwelling on it, it’s strange how much of a debt The Weeknd owes Drake for his early success in 2011, and how much Drake owes him right back for showing him how to croon while not losing his core fanbase. You can hear that flowing right back in The Weeknd’s direction on “The Hills,” a R&B song that’s about as dark and raw as the genre gets. “Always trying to send me off to rehab” he vows, also noting “when I’m fucked up that’s the real me” to make it clear how far the depravity goes. In hindsight I wonder if CBS and Pepsi actually understood what they were getting into with Abel Tesfaye. He obviously cleaned it up for network television, but he’s far from clean cut.
The reason I respect The Weeknd even when I feel like he could do more for hip-hop than provide a few hooks or co-write a few tracks is that he’s so much more RAW than most singers. It can be uncomfortable at times to hear someone with his vocal talents talking so bluntly on records about what could be called the “rock and roll lifestyle,” but pushing listeners out of their comfort zone injects interest into a genre that is made saccharin for urban contemporary playlists and drive time radio shows. “Can’t Feel My Face” is the kind of thing you’d expect Future to say after getting high, so is it any wonder this song’s video has been viewed over a BILLION times? “I can’t feel my face with you… but I love it.” So do I man. The Weeknd is the Michael Jackson for modern times, minus the unsavory allegations and plus a more fearless presentation in his choice of topics.
It probably goes without saying that “The Highlights” is worthwhile, but if you already own The Weeknd’s entire catalogue, then it’s just somebody at his record label doing the work of putting together the mixtape for you. If not this would be as good a primer for his output as any other possible, although it deserves to be said he’s a much darker and danker artist than the red suits and choreographed dancing may have led you to believe. That’s a GOOD thing.