kanye west

Showing 31 posts tagged kanye west

Ladies And Gentlemen, Allow Myself To Introduce… Myself


    NARRATOR (Bernie Mac)
What in the fuck was that? I told you to get someone who 
knows something about Kanye West to write about Kanye West! 
You don’t know anything about rap music! You didn’t even
listen to Reasonable Doubt until like 2006. You’re a dilettante
with no sense of rap history. I don’t mean that in no nice

Hi. I sit in a my office/kitchen in Queens in a folding chair from the discount store up the street and listen to music on big headphones. I’ve provided some photographic evidence. See? There’s a broom to my right, and a window behind me. This is my sole qualification for writing (what I hope will be) quite a bit about one of the world’s foremost entertainer cum artists.

I think right now I’ll probably talk about the first time I listened to Kanye West, and then talk a bit more about subsequent listening experiences, and then offer a theory of criticism.

Over the summer of 2004 I was in between junior and senior years of college. I was staying on a friend’s couch during this interstitial chapter of my life, and one afternoon we were just shooting the shit talking when I remember he played “All Falls Down” for me and said, sort of sheepishly, “This song’s actually good.”

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The More Things Change

Here’s a bit from one of the few interviews I could find online, circa 2003. Again, I can barely believe this conversation didn’t happen three years ago, or last year, or yesterday. Kanye’s always saying that interviewers butcher his words, and that seems like ego or spirit talking, but then, it’s also probably also the truth.

HHS: Okay. The fact that you dropped out of college and pursued your dreams of music is well documented. But it seems like everyone wants to be a rapper or producer these days. What advice would you give to these aspiring artists regarding school because unfortunately not everyone can make it?

KW: Your putting your life in your own hands. You got certain niggas that was drug dealers. And certain niggas was drug dealers and was able to go off and start businesses and get houses from it. Other niggas got killed or locked up. You taking your life into your own hands. If you not conforming to what society wants you to do, your taking your on life in your own hands. Hold on… [Clicks over]

KW: Hello, what were we saying?

HHS: Yeah, you were just answering the question about school and saying ‘That’s your own choice.’

KW: Nah, that’s not what I said. Whenever I speak in interviews, I hate that. I did not say ‘It’s all your choice.’ I said ‘You’re taking your life into your own hands.’

HHS: Aright, I apologize.

KW: I’m real specific and they [media] always change my words. Your own choice and your life into your own hands are two different things. You know what I’m saying? That’s why I hate written and printed interviews because they don’t fuck with how I talk. They gotta cut the words down. Let’s go into that. Yo, I hate interviews, Source, XXL, whoever, they cut the words down. They try to cut your words down. They got something they want people to, whatever vibe they called it. They want to portray you to the listeners. Instead of having the listeners make their own decision about you.

I get that the interviewer doesn’t exactly seem like he’s trying to manipulate West’s words, but he is being imprecise. That’s kind of troubling, especially when interviews are generally presented as, you know, a supposedly objective record of someone’s words. (Or, if you’re Prince, the opposite of that.) It just occurs to me that Kanye’s griping about the media has become such a big part of his story, and he does himself so few favors when he gets to address his fans directly, that it all seems like a schtick now. But I think it’s safe to say he 1) has a hard time expressing himself clearly, and 2) the media does do a poor job representing his words. Which, you know, must drive him absolutely batty.


Yeezy taught you, well.

You guys. I think we can depict all the lines in “Blame Game.” I mean…. if that’s something you’d even, like, want to do. It’s stupid. Nevermind.

I can’t decide 1) how much of the crap on my blog to maybe reblog here because that seems tacky, and 2) how many image macros/memes/whatever I should post here versus essays and interviews. I will, I think, just dip my toe in with this one and see how it goes. There’s some more intellection to come, but this is my favorite silly Kanye image I’ve made. High-res


Yeezy taught you, well.

You guys. I think we can depict all the lines in “Blame Game.” I mean…. if that’s something you’d even, like, want to do. It’s stupid. Nevermind.

I can’t decide 1) how much of the crap on my blog to maybe reblog here because that seems tacky, and 2) how many image macros/memes/whatever I should post here versus essays and interviews. I will, I think, just dip my toe in with this one and see how it goes. There’s some more intellection to come, but this is my favorite silly Kanye image I’ve made.






The Blueprint

Introduction + “Takeover”

I really dislike this song. But, well, I’ve been pouring over my Kanye Productions playlist looking for some interesting pre-College Dropout song to post for today, and this was really the only thing I could post.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many many pre-2004 Kanye productions I love. I think on Friday or maybe Saturday I’ll post a few mixes, and one of them will be Kanye productions. “The Truth” is fairly pedestrian, but it’s still pretty solid. “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” has the bass and drum contours of a College Dropout-era Kanye with some futuristic flourishes that recall OutKast. Lil Kim’s “Don’t Mess With Me” with the sped-up Pat Benatar sample very closely straddles the annoying-weird line Kanye’s always dangerously close to until about 2006. There are tons of classic soulful R.O.C. beats — “Nothing Like It”, “Heart Of The City”, “Brown Sugar” — and Yeezy’s work with Scarface is to me some of his best like Golden Age Kanye productions.

But “Takeover” is just, it sounds like shit to me, which is why it’s so interesting. You look at it on the album and it’s sandwiched between the flashy, fresh “Ruler’s Back” and the neon lights soul of “Izzo”. It is, of course, as the bit of audio I attached the beginning of the mp3 above, inherently a diss song, which makes it a pretty good form-follows-function production.

I went through a phase in high school where I loved The Doors. (Didn’t we all…) I had this Doors box set I just about wore out, and I even threw a cigarette on Jim Morrison’s shitty looking grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. By the time I heard The Blueprint, I had pretty squarely put The Doors behind me, though. They were in the same category, for me, as Grateful Dead and AC/DC: stuff you’d hear in people’s basements and on classic rock radio. This was, of course, before everything old became cool again, before Hall and Oates became a go-to touchstone for fey 20something songwriters to rip off.

Even though a lot of classic rock music’s been reformed, I can’t shake the feeling The Doors are very uncool. I’ve recently begun thinking that my overpowering aversion to The Doors means that they may also be very secretly very cool. Because that’s how coolness works. I mean, Das Racist went and sampled them, and Heems sounds like he’s having a blast. Having a blast is always cool.

Back to “Takeover”. There’s also the really terrible line: “Do not bark up that tree. That tree will fall on you. / I don’t know why your advisers they ain’t fall on you.” It’s a heavily clunky song. But it’s also sort of ahead of its time. That terrible harpsichord-sounding keyboard sample. The tight-yet-burpy bass. It’s all ugly, gritty but not scuffed up, with a very white very (I think) uncool sample. Yeezy would go on to sample a variety of sort of uncool white bands like Steely Dan, Can, King Crimson, and others. “Takeover” was the beginning of all that.

College Dropout On First Listen

“The first ni**a with a Benz and a backpack.”

That’s a line that launched a thousand reviews. Nowadays, it’s weird and heady to look back at the initial impressions of College Dropout. Kanye West seems like he’s been with us forever, like an Ozymandius who delightfully refuses to wear away. Just as contemplating the time before your birth makes you queasy, it’s somewhat uncanny to think about the world of music without Kanye West.

Rolling Stone’s Jon Caramanica was almost alone in not mentioning the line (though the magazine fixed that omission in its decade-capping write-up of the album). Along with virtually every other review, though, Caramanica noted the heterodox nature of Kanye’s debut: “‘Get Em High’ could be the only song ever to reference both Beck and Pastor Troy.” Many reviewers seized on the same sonic touchstones: sped-up soul samples were, of course, de rigueur critical mulch. But who noted which sample varied as much as, well, the album’s samples themselves: some cited Chaka Khan, others Gaye and Bolton. Pitchfork’s Rob Mitchum was the only one to mention Mandrill, I think.

Another aspect of College Dropout that’s (maybe just to me) under the radar these days, but was notable in 2004, is the guest cast on the album. Jamie Foxx, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Ludacris, Jay-Z: these were not only some of the best artists of the day, but it’s also a motley crew. Back to that backpack angle, who would have thought Talib Kweli and Common would be on a song about getting chicks high to fuck them? And that Ludacris, just a few tracks later, would do therefore follow in their footsteps? Or that Kanye would be outgunning Jay on the mic almost from the start?

Paradox, self-contradiction, incoherence, chipmunk soul, a sleigh of sounds, guest verses out the ass — these all made up the main critical talking points on College Dropout. It was the rare album where the constituent parts corresponded perfectly with its overarching narrative: a super producer makes tracks for the industry’s finest, gets a record deal, and calls in some favors to get a great supporting cast. He uses his hot beats to make, well, a hot record.

I mean, in hindsight this seems obvious maybe, but College Dropout was extremely well received. Like, right off the bat. When My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy got a highly visible 10.0 on Pitchfork, it seemed like maybe people thought Kanye had finally arrived. But College Dropout was itself a wildly successful and well-received album. It got a (then) rare XXL rating from the titular mag. It was BNM’d by Pitchfork, and it was Stylus Magazine’s album of the week. For whatever its worth, the album was nominated for 10 Grammys. The album was also a springboard for a lot of heady discussion (don’t say ‘thinkpiece’).

In the Village Voice, Hua Hsu asked a prescient question:

 Is hip-hop—captor of hearts, minds, and the attention of presidential candidates—finally facing up to the awesome responsibility of its power?

Christgau, of course, said something very perceptive about West’s 2004 iteration:

His Alicia Keys and Talib Kweli hits are pretty bland, and neither his voice nor his flow could lead anyone into sin. So he’d better conceptualize, and he does.

In The New York Times, Kelefa Sanneh goes further and calls College Dropout a concept album (which it never really feels like, even though once you hear someone say it, it obviously is). Pop Matters’s Dave Heaton invited us to call the album “over-ambitious”, and the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin said the album “boasts enough conceptual ambition to make Mr. Lif jealous”. Outsized ambitions are no stranger to our conception of Kanye West, so it’s fun to see critics confronting these without a preexisting expectation of them. When Stylus’s Josh Love says, then, 

Most importantly, you find Kanye trying to reflect the entire spectrum of hip-hop and black experience

he doesn’t have to make any qualifying handwaving gestures that apologize in advance for enjoying West’s high artistic aim. 

College Dropout marks another key intersection in music: let’s pause for a moment and look at those names: I don’t think it’s meta-critical obsequiousness to say that Rob Mitchum, Kelefa Sanneh, Hua Hsu, Nathan Rabin, Jon Caramanica, and many other reviewers of the album are, you know, pretty successful too. Maybe none of them wrote a perfect piece on College Dropout, maybe their reviews were just one of many pieces they filed that week, but they all went on, like Kanye, to keep turning out good stuff. College Dropout marked the beginning of a golden age of writing about music on the internet, and especially rap. At this point, the outsized musical personalities musico-cultural trends became almost more interesting to talk about than the music itself. It’s not like Kanye started that, but let’s say that it’s similar to how Harold Bloom argued that Shakespeare invented the modern human. I’d argue that Kanye West helped invent the modern music critic.

I wrote in my first essay about being a basically pseudo-poptimist from the get-go, and that I might still be. Well, if anyone was going to appeal to someone like me, it’s Kanye West. There’s something essential to Kanye West and his aesthetic that breaks down (largely artificially discursive) walls between rock and pop.

It’s both sort of funny and also myopic to think that having a “Benz and backpack” is some game-changing move in rap music. Right now we have a dude like Gucci Mane who raps about driving around in Ferraris; at the same time, he obviously suffers from some form of mental illness that stamps him as sad and vulnerable in ways backpack rap still barely touches. And right from the beginning, as Jay-Z says in Decoded, Ice-T, KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions, NWA — the forefathers of rap — made “songs [that] were exciting and violent, but they were also explicitly ‘conscious,’ and anti-hustling.” It’s sort of scary to me that people seem to forget that rap is intrinsically a social consciousness movement. There’s a strand of thought that seems to lead to condemning violent music, and then there’s another one that concludes with Cam’ron, Clipse, and trap rap being a real ethical stance against a whitewashed, conservative America.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but there’s a passel of charged assumptions about authenticity, race, and culture tied up with breaking down the Benz/backpack dichotomy. Just look again at Tom Breihan’s ‘defense’ of rap music in the Village Voice

Indie-rock supposedly prides itself on open-mindedness and liberalism and independent thought, not knee-jerk antipopulism and received wisdom and genre gatekeeping. So it’s deeply troubling to see people who love this stuff unwilling to look outside their shitty little ghetto and consider the merits of art made by people who don’t share their experiences. 

This is a smart observation that cuts to the core: I think Kanye probably exaggerated the importance of his backpack pedigree — it’s not like De La Soul and Black Star  were either 1) unknowns or 2) widely disliked circa-2004. I also think College Dropout’s rock music signifiers (guitar hooks, melodic bass lines, recognizable vocal samples) contributed more to his far-reaching cultural accession than his socially conscious lyrics. You shouldn’t forget that Ye follows up the Benz and a backpack line by saying, “Always said if I rapped I’d say something significant/ But here I am talking about money , hoes, and rims again.”

The thing about Kanye West that helped create contemporary music discourse is on the one hand obvious: 2004 to 2006, the early phase of his career, coincided with a boom in contemporary music blogging, and the new generation of rap-minded critics all mentioned above. The predominance of rock-minded criticism waned, probably, as the genre itself started showing its age: who wants to read another Lester Bangs-esque disquisition on the Velvet Underground’s influence on Pavement, The Strokes, or The Arcade Fire? Kanye was the perfect emblem for a change in musical taste — someone who might be a certified genius-level musical talent (a rockist trope) who happened to make ostensibly socially conscious music (so you can file it in between *3 Feet High And Rising* and *Under The Table And Dreaming*). It’s no wonder this was the angle publications mostly took.

If Kanye made four more albums that were sort of like *College Dropout*, he’d be, who, Common basically? It’s a good thing West really is a genius-level musical talent. The interesting thing to me, here, is that the Kanye West of today is both leagues ahead of 2004’s Louis Vuitton Don, but he’s not perceived that differently either. At some very recent point, his talent sort of overwhelmed his social image — but I wonder how much Kanye acclaim still comes from the slightly overblown idea that his was the main hand in popularizing socially conscious hip-hop.

The Real Passion Of Kanye West

This is hagiography.

I loved Illmatic. I still know just about every word of that album, including AZ’s neologistic ‘schweppervesent’. I first heard the album in about 2000 and listened to it for a full summer. This was before I was into being a music completist. I just listened to the album fifty or sixty times and referred to it privately as my favorite rap album and one of my favorite albums overall. I would not go on to listen to It Was Written for another, well what day is it? I still haven’t listened to it.

It’s not a knock on anyone (except on myself) that I just don’t care to hear any more Nas. Illmatic is such a classic, such a literally perfect album, that there’s virtually no upside to listening to much else of his. It occurs to me now that I’ve definitely heard more post-Illmatic Nas from his guest verse on “We Major” than anywhere else. His verse is actually all right, a little jarring to hear on this production. One thing that does crack me up a bit is that bit of echo on the line, “‘Nas, what the fans want is Illmatic, Stillmatic’”, which has the effect of making his body of great work sound longer than it is. It’s basically a capitulation to Jay’s diss on “Takeover”.1

My point is that with Late Registration, Kanye could have easily followed a Nas route, and he would still have done fine. He could have gone down the path of GangStarr and Ghostface: release a new album every few years to reasonably high critical acclaim. That would make him the Wes Anderson of rap. Late Registration really did neither of these.

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