Saturday Links: Stevie and Christine’s Reunion Edition - Published on Rookie, 28 September, 2013.
I am unashamedly obsessed with Kanye West and everything he represents. So you can imagine my joy at this week’s slow-trickle release of the four-part video breakdown of BBC Radio 1′s recent interview with Yeezy. He sat down in the studio with Zane Lowe, and he got down to business! The full interview’s run time is an hour; part three, above, is my favorite. If you’ve ever had reservations about Kanye—like thought he was a jerk or a narcissist, or questioned his intent or talent or his relationship with Kim Kardashian—you need to watch the whole thing. He insists that people should say “thank you” to artists whose work they love, talks about what went down with Taylor Swift at the VMAs, and compares himself to Wreck-It Ralph. Kanye constantly flummoxes Lowe by disassembling the interview format; two minutes before the end, he tells him, “You can’t ever tell me what dream to have.” I just got goosebumps typing that.
Saturday Links: Midnight Memories Excitement Edition - Published on Rookie, 30 November, 2013.
I adore the “Bound 2” video Kanye West made for/with Kim Kardashian, and I ALSO love seeing two handsome buddies cuddling, but I got kind of annoyed that the internet hailed James Franco and Seth Rogen’s “Bound 3” as a “parody” when it was literally a replica of the original, only with straight guys acting like a loved-up couple. (LOLOLOL, meet u at your locker after class, brah. No homo.) So I was really into Vulture’s commentary on their remake: “As for the alleged ‘(unintentional) parody’ of Kanye West’s original video: Are you kidding me? We’ve known Kanye West for a decade now, and every single bit of evidence points to the fact that he’s a total control freak auteur, an artist as fully in command of his effects as any in popular culture.”
In short: Kanye understands more about himself, his relationship, his work, and his public persona than people are willing to give him credit for, and “Bound 2″ rules. OK, I’m going to calm myself down by re-watching this recent clip of Kanye talking about how “Lost in the World” was originally a private love letter/email to Kim before it was a song.
Visual Albums - Published on Rookie, 23 January, 2014.
2013, Def Jam
My first exposure to this album was watching Saturday Night Live last May. Kanye West stared down the camera with a look that practically dared viewers to turn away, and spit out every word of “New Slaves” with unbelievable passion and anger. From the opening line, “My mama was raised in an era when clean water was only served to the fairer-skinned,” I was hooked. I watched the clip of that performance at least 50 times in the month before Yeezus, a record filled with messages of politics, race, sex, and power, was released.
Yeezus is the album on which Kanye reclaims all the things people have been saying about him. You wanna call him an egomaniac? He’ll write a song called “I Am a God” (and put it on an album called YEEZUS). When he repeats “I am a god” in the chorus, for a second it almost sounds like he’s trying to convince himself—until he viciously growls it one last time, just so you know where he actually stands. (I am a god!!! You will listen to me!!!) There are a lot of journalists who like to present Kanye as an uncontrollable egomaniac, someone with zero self-awareness who can’t see past the end of his nose. He addressed this in his epic interview with the BBC’s Zane Lowe last year:
When someone comes up and says something like, “I am a god,” everybody says, “Who does he think he is?” I just told you who I thought I was: a god. Would it have been better if I had a song that said “I am a gangster’? Or if I had a song that said “I am a pimp”? All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right?
He’s so much bigger and smarter and stronger than those stereotypes allow him to be, and he knows it. He knows that people want him to sit down, be quiet, and be humble, to fit an idea of what we think a hip-hop artist should be. He knows that people don’t want him to break out of that box by talking about art, fashion, racial injustice, and pride. But, to paraphrase “New Slaves,” he’s about to turn shit up, he’s about to tear shit down, he’s about to air shit out—“now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”
Saturday Links: Tina and Rachel Back When Edition - Published on Rookie, 26 July, 2014.
What’s the best analogy in Kanye West’s new interview with GQ? Was it when ’Ye, talking about his tendency to defend himself and those he loves from attack, compared himself to a blowfish? Or was it his recognition of the seating arrangements at his and Kim’s wedding as a microcosm of the class divisions among the super-wealthy in general? Those were both great moments, but the best one was obviously when he compared his love and amazement for Kim to the part in Step Brothers when John C. Reilly’s dad tells him not to lose his dream of being a dinosaur. Duh.
Kanye also admits, in this incredible interview, that some of the creative ideas he puts into the world are a little too ahead of their time (“history’s gonna be harder to make than I thought”) and talks about how his dream that some day, young designers might aspire to work at his company, DONDA, instead of at one of the elite Paris fashion houses that haven’t exactly welcomed ’Ye in with open arms. Grab some tissues if you haven’t read this yet, because when you get to the final line of this interview, you’re gonna need ‘em.
Distinctive Voices - Published on Rookie, 4 December, 2014.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
2010, Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy celebrated its fourth anniversary just a couple weeks ago. Earlier this week, filmmaker, actor, and comedian Chris Rock told the New York Times that the album is “probably the best piece of music made in the last 25, 30 years.” While lots of outlets ran with Rock’s contentious quote that the record is “better than [Michael Jackson’s] Thriller,” I was more interested in his observation that Kanye is “the only guy that ever did party records that make you think.”
MBDTF is the distillation of everything Kanye is about. It is 68 minutes and 36 seconds of what it means to be a creative, challenging, artistic, sexual, tortured, funny black man in America. In the opening track, “Dark Fantasy,” he talks about the difficult realities of success: “I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago/ Mercy, mercy me, that Murciélago [...] Me drown sorrow in that Diablo/ Me found bravery in my bravado.” The final track, “See Me Now,” is a joyous celebration of his life as a self-fulfilled prophecy: “Rap god, Greek mythology/ And this life too crazy to think logically/ Here’s something that you could use an analogy: My life is like a child’s illusions become reality.” And it may be a 2010 remix of a 1970 spoken-word poem by Gil Scott-Heron, but now, following the failures to indict the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, MBDTF’s “Who Will Survive in America” takes on new meaning.
Pitchfork awarded MBDTF the number-one spot on their list of the 100 best albums of the decade so far, with writer Ian Cohen justifying its position with the line (that brings shivers down my spine every time I read it, which is often): “West broke the ground upon which the new decade’s most brilliant architects built their masterworks; Bon Iver, Take Care, Channel Orange, and good kid, m.A.A.d city don’t exist without the blueprint of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The list ends here because it’s where the decade truly begins.”
Saturday Links: Remembering Leelah Alcorn Edition - Published on Rookie, 3 January, 2015.
At a show on his Yeezus tour in 2014, Kanye West told the crowd, “There’s only one thing I regret. There’s only one thing I wish I could change out of everything that’s ever happened. I wish that my mother could’ve met my daughter.”
Kanye’s mom Donda West passed away in 2007. On his following album, 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye shared his pain in soulful, auto-tuned ballads. Eight years after her death, as the world celebrated the start of 2015, Kanye dropped “Only One,” an incredibly heartfelt new track that pays tribute to his beloved mother. The song is a return to the tenderness of 808s and gives obsessive Kanye fans insight into where his mind and heart are at.
“Hello, Omari [Kanye's middle name], how you doing?…I know you’re happy / ’Cause I can see it / So tell the voice inside your head to believe it,” Kanye sings on the opening of the track, assuming his mom’s voice. He continues: “I talked to God about you / He said he sent you an angel / Look at all that he gave you / You asked for one and you got two.”
The track totally rips apart my heart in the best ways, especially when I read what Kim Kardashian—one of Kanye’s two angels—wrote about “Only One” on Instagram:
Everyone asks me what my favorite Kanye song is. It’s “Only One.” Kanye felt like his mom was singing thru him to our daughter. This song makes me cry every time I hear it.
At the end, when he sings, “Tell Nori about me,” over and over, I like to imagine he’s delighted at the idea of his daughter knowing about his beloved mama, rather than focusing on the thought that they never had the chance to meet.
P.S. Paul McCartney lends his vocals to the songs in the chorus, but that’s the footnote on a track that dropped at the start of a new year and contains the galvanizing line: “You’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.” Happy New Yeezy, to one and all!