“Pure Souls” by Kanye West (ft. Shenseea and Roddy Ricch)
The primary sentiment being expressed in “Pure Souls” is one in which the vocalist(s) is making a conscious effort not to ‘sell his souls’ after having come up. Yes, in the here and now the likes of Roddy Ricch and Kanye West are making like who knows how many dollars.
But they still identify with their humbler roots, i.e. not letting the success get to their heads. And this being a Yeezus track and all, the traditionally gangsta Roddy Ricch even closes out his own personal verse by expressing a desire for God to forgive him for his sins.
The chorus of the song revolves around Roddy asserting that “the truth is only what you get away with”. It’s not abundantly clear what that statement is supposed to mean. Well actually, he doesn’t present it as a statement but rather a question.
And apparently, said query is being levied against fellow rappers, i.e. the ones whose artistry is largely dependent on portraying a gangsta role – which would in fact be most of them. Or at least, that’s how it reads when you take the last couple of lines of the chorus into consideration also, where Roddy puts forth that even though “a lot of these n–gas be faking”, he is someone who has genuinely “made it through trials and tribulations”.
Or putting all of this together, what he appears to be saying is something like a lot of rappers – or maybe we can say tough guys in general – “get away” with depicting such an image because no one goes as far as to verify their touted street credentials.
Well rap music, as we have pointed out in past, is a genre that heavily idealizes machismo. So that may be why Kanye, in his verse, is also compelled to go about proving himself ‘hood. Or the way he presents it is like, well, we all know that Yeezus doesn’t tend to go around claiming, like most rappers, to be a gun-toter. But he’s from the same ‘hood as the gangsters anyway, so they’re all like kindred souls, as in sharing a common heritage.
In fact even though West himself may not be violent per se, he does note that he’s “always had mob ties”. So when he does allude to actually going at it with some unspecified enemy near the end of the verse, it’d probably be more along the lines of Kanye being a general than a frontline soldier.
But that said, the primary theme of his passage isn’t gangsterism. Instead reading in between the lines, it serves largely as a come-up piece. Yes, there may be a lot of, shall we say street-inspired boasting contained therein. But there is also the underlying tale of Kanye going from someone who used to ‘buy fake clothes at the flea market’ to now being so rich that he “can give a dollar to every person on Earth”.
And he perceives that economic rise, if you will, as “God’s plan”, i.e. his own personal destiny being fulfilled. So by implication, he’s not the kind of person to just turn around and do something as evil as callously shoot somebody.
Indeed in the bridge that follows, Yeezus seems to be doing his lyrical best to stave off the anger that highlights certain parts of the verse. The vocalist acknowledges having now become a “new” person which, within the context of the entire passage, reads as if he has been, as Christians would say, born again. Or at the very least, that is his ideology.
So combining this concept with those featured in the second verse, we can say that whereas Kanye may not be someone we traditionally define as a gangsta, if need be he can take it there nonetheless, which again is a testament to him ascending from the same mean streets.
Meanwhile, the outro of the song is held down by up-and-coming dancehall artist Shenseea, and it is basically an expanded reiteration in the chorus. However, this time around, the vocalist seems to be also alluding to the notion that only God knows a person’s heart. Or being more specific in terms of the overall nature of this piece, it’s like a fake gangsta can fool the whole world, but he can’t fool God.
And for the most part, let it be known that this uses ambiguous language throughout. So the above is basically our theory as to what’s going down here.
Donda is by and large a religious album, as evident in Pure Souls, title and all. But on some occasions, Kanye has dropped some ‘hood-based raps. Such incidents seem to depend on who he is collaborating with on respective tracks, such as on this one Roddy Ricch, a rapper known to regularly comply to the gangsta standard.
But at the end of the day, it’s obvious that West is more about keeping his eyes on God than, say getting into some street beef.
“Pure Souls” was primarily written by Kanye West. His other songwriting partners on this track include the writers mentioned below:
- Bastian Völkel
- Fya Man
- Mark Williams
- Mike Dean
- Raul Cubina
- Roddy Ricch
- Tim Friedrich
On the 29th of August 2021, Def Jam in collaboration with GOOD Music released “Pure Souls” as part of Kanye’s “Donda” album.
Sample used on “Pure Souls”
Roy Hargrove – “Strasbourg / St. Denis” (2008)