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April 12, 2012 1:59 PM   Subscribe

"He is a jackass... but he's talented." - Barack Obama. The Atlantic profiles Kanye West.
posted by porn in the woods (74 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have some massive love for some Kanye tracks, and some of the things on My Dark Twisted Fantasy are amazing musical lacerations aimed straight at his own ego, which is just earth-shatteringly fantastic. He is, indeed, some kind of genius. But his lyrics are also sometimes so embarrassing that I look around in sympathy even when I'm wearing headphones.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


differently put than "he's talented... but he is a jackass"
posted by growabrain at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


once again, i agree with the president
posted by Flood at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


from article: “What did Kanye West do to deserve all this? I’ll tell you. Assuming, that is, you don’t follow the news or watch the talk shows, and don’t have kids, and have never heard about the Taylor Swift incident...”

Usually the Atlantic doesn't actually come right out and define their audience in the middle of the article like this.
posted by koeselitz at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm only about halfway through the article, but I have a feeling a guy like Kanye is not seeking redemption from anyone, especially not the fucking Atlantic Journal.
posted by Think_Long at 2:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have openly wondered if Kanye's some kind of savant. His music and style is infectious, he has an ear and a presence. But he's just so socially awkward, weird, I have trouble reconciling it to any typical musician/artist personality folly.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2012


He is, indeed, some kind of genius. But his lyrics are also sometimes so embarrassing that I look around in sympathy even when I'm wearing headphones.

No kidding. Ugh.
posted by dismas at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2012


Also there is no way that The Grey Album is Jay-Z's best album. It isn't even as good as The Black Album.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Apologist, ahoy!

Whatever you think of the many controversies he has ignited, you must admit that Kanye West is at least some kind of musical genius, ranking among the top five producers and the top five rappers of the past decade.

Well, no, I must not admit that. Top five? Top five by what order? Money? When did money accumulated have shit to do with musical genius?
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


There are lots of funny things in this piece so far, but one of them that pleases me is the part where the author refers to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as Kanye West's "solo album."
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


♫They say that I was the abomination of Obama's nation, well that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation♫
posted by obscurator at 2:14 PM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have openly wondered if Kanye's some kind of savant. His music and style is infectious, he has an ear and a presence. But he's just so socially awkward, weird, I have trouble reconciling it to any typical musician/artist personality folly.

"What if Kanye West is retarded?"
posted by leotrotsky at 2:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aziz Ansari's take.
posted by mullingitover at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


There are lots of funny things in this piece so far, but one of them that pleases me is the part where the author refers to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as Kanye West's "solo album."

My favorite is when it refers to Watch the Throne as 'immodestly titled.'
posted by shakespeherian at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Greatest hip hop artist of all time. Artist meaning makes beats, performs, rhymes. In terms of a total package, nobody else is even close. He is not the best emcee. He is not unquestionably the greatest producer in hip hop, although he's right there. He is not the greatest performer in hip hop. But if artist is some combination of those, to me he is the greatest ever.
posted by cashman at 2:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


He's equal parts genius producer and terrible lyricist. I wish he'd just stop talking and make ridiculously good electronic music.
posted by mullingitover at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


He is not unquestionably the greatest producer in hip hop, although he's right there.

The de facto title goes to RZA.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have openly wondered if Kanye's some kind of savant. His music and style is infectious, he has an ear and a presence. But he's just so socially awkward, weird, I have trouble reconciling it to any typical musician/artist personality folly.

I think the problem is the general failure to distinguish, when discussing Kanye, between Kanye the person on the one hand and Kanye the music producer/creator/entity, which is comprised of teams of musicians, writers, producers, engineers, publicists, marketers and others responsible for the artistic output that is superficially attributed to the public figure represented by Kanye the person, and which may, in some degree, include input by Kanye the person. Kanye the producer/creator/entity is a musical genius. Kanye the person? There's no way to know.
posted by The World Famous at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Barack Obama doesn't care about black people.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


RZA?! The de facto greatest producer in hip-hop?

What about Pete Rock or DJ Premier? :( (or Dilla...)

(And Kanye is probably top... 10, production-wise. Rapping, though? I know of at least a few DJs that have never played a Kanye verse because his raps just aren't that great.)
posted by raihan_ at 2:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bet some of Obama's plaques - they still say Kenya
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:37 PM on April 12, 2012


koeselitz: Usually the Atlantic doesn't actually come right out and define their audience in the middle of the article like this.

The middle? They framed their audience in it's first awkwardly long run-on sentence:
So here is the president of the United States, enjoying canapés and small talk at Daniel, chef Daniel Boulud’s gourmet restaurant just off Park Avenue, with the right touch of upscale-whorehouse decor and enough Alice Waters in the kitchen to make it the place where every Wall Street guy takes his wife on bonus night.
I'm clearly not in the selected readership, because I don't know 1) who Daniel Boulud is, 2) what "upscale-whorehouse decor" implies, 3) who Alice Waters is, or 4) what kind of place "every Wall Street guy takes his wife on bonus night" might look like.

Seriously, "upscale-whorehouse decor"? Is that really a thing? Are there shops for this style? Magazines? At least websites? Because I am really interested now. About the decor, not the residents.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that was a bit of snark, flt
posted by Think_Long at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what does Romney think of Kanye? That's what I wanna know.
posted by blucevalo at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2012


And I doubt the insight of a writer whose points of reference for a pop icon are firmly stuck in 2009, when they are writing in 2012. Fish Sticks: April 8, 2009. Kanye vs Taylor: September 13, 2009. Has he really done so little in the last 3 years that those are the highlights from his insanity?
posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what does Romney think of Kanye? That's what I wanna know.

"He is a scallywag, but he's swell."
posted by The World Famous at 2:50 PM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well, no, I must not admit that. Top five?

I don't even like Kanye but putting his production in the top 5 of the last 10 years isn't really that controversial of a claim. He's made some pretty excellent beats.
posted by Hoopo at 2:51 PM on April 12, 2012


Kanye's first album was great. He was one of the very few mainstream rappers who admitted insecurity and flaws (buying things he couldn't afford because looking poor was worse than being poor, etc.) and a lot of the record was very, very funny. His second album was pretty good, too. After that his ego blew up to exceed his sizable talent and I gave up on him for good the first time I heard him that abomination Stronger. I still cue up The College Dropout and Late Registration now and then, though.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dark Twisted Fantasy is brilliant and sort of drives home the same point Obama makes - "I am a genius, but I'm an asshole." He literally calls himself an asshole on several tracks.

Anyhow, the President has taken a pretty safe position on this one.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good god. He closes out this piece talking to Rakim of all people. Wow.
posted by koeselitz at 3:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish he'd just stop talking and make ridiculously good electronic music.

Nah, I'd disagree with that, because like I said, there's some quality to his best songs that has him exploring avenues of the self and psyche that very few others are willing to get at (here I'm thinking of 'Runaway' in particular). So I have some appreciation for his lyrics, but I also cringe a lot at his often pisspoor imagery and rhymes.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with Kanye other than him being your garden variety narcisist. Brilliant guy but savant he is not.
posted by photoslob at 3:12 PM on April 12, 2012


I wish he'd just stop talking and make ridiculously good electronic music.

But the electronic music over which he talks for a living is currently made by other people. I don't like his talking much, either. But it doesn't make much sense to wish that a professional talking guy who doesn't currently make ridiculously good electronic music switch jobs to one for which he currently hires others.
posted by The World Famous at 3:14 PM on April 12, 2012


But what does Romney think of Kanye? That's what I wanna know.

"I have some friends who own media companies."
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:19 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also there is no way that The Grey Album is Jay-Z's best album. It isn't even as good as The Black Album.

Preach. My theory is that is that the Grey Album pushed Jay-Z into a broader part of american culture, and that's why people say that. I wish I could prove this somehow.
posted by scunning at 3:23 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article, we've hit Peak SWPL.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Greatest hip hop artist of all time. Artist meaning makes beats, performs, rhymes. In terms of a total package, nobody else is even close. He is not the best emcee. He is not unquestionably the greatest producer in hip hop, although he's right there. He is not the greatest performer in hip hop. But if artist is some combination of those, to me he is the greatest ever.

Huh--total-package hip-hop GOAT is an interesting metric.

Since you don't mention popularity: for beats, rhymes and performances (I'm going to interpret that to include live shows, freestyling and battling)? I might give it to Lord Finesse. Also, I might put DJing or dancing on the total-package list (if dancing is added, Big Daddy Kane is probably the biggest beneficiary).

Also, Jay-Z's best album is Reasonable Doubt.
posted by box at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"As a football coach, he's a genius, one of the elite minds. Personally, well...he's a great football coach."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


box: “Also, Jay-Z's best album is Reasonable Doubt.”

Truth.

Seriously, though, regarding this article in the Atlantic – as is obvious from my comments here, I was pretty scornful of it at first. But the last four paragraphs are excellent, and changed my mind completely. Well-written, thoughtful, interesting, and worth reading over even if you don't read the rest.
posted by koeselitz at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2012


Kanye's first album was great. He was one of the very few mainstream rappers who admitted insecurity and flaws (buying things he couldn't afford because looking poor was worse than being poor, etc.) and a lot of the record was very, very funny. His second album was pretty good, too. After that his ego blew up to exceed his sizable talent and I gave up on him for good the first time I heard him that abomination Stronger.

Have you listened to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or 808s and Heartbreak? He's still plenty into insecurity and flaws. It's a big theme on Fantasy and Heartbreak is basically an Emo album sung over drum machines.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2012


But the electronic music over which he talks for a living is currently made by other people.

When did he start doing that? He used to do his own sampling and beats.

I might give it to Lord Finesse


Or Q-Tip or Madlib or MF Doom or even Diamond D. Large Professor too, although he suffers a bit from the fact that pretty much every bad white rapper ever stole his flow. Personally I also prefer El-P over Kanye when it comes to production and rhymes, but both of them suffer from tooprolificitis.
posted by Hoopo at 3:34 PM on April 12, 2012


When did he start doing that? He used to do his own sampling and beats.

The College Dropout officially lists only Kanye as producer on nearly all the tracks. Whether that's true is another question altogether, and unanswerable.

Looking at the production and writing credits alone for the subsequent albums makes me suspect that The College Dropout was the end of that. Jon Brion really is a brilliant songwriter and producer, though, so it's hard to blame Kanye for that.
posted by The World Famous at 3:47 PM on April 12, 2012


Wait... I'm confused how we're talking about Kanye being a good rapper. I thought it was universally understood that every decent verse Kanye has spit was ghostwritten...most notably by Rhymefest.
posted by gnutron at 4:12 PM on April 12, 2012


Hoopo, you probably know this already but El-P has a new album ("Cancer for Cure") coming out in about a month. That's one I'm looking forward to.
posted by Blue Meanie at 4:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever you think of the many controversies he has ignited, you must admit that Kanye West is at least some kind of musical genius...

Must I?
posted by Splunge at 4:19 PM on April 12, 2012


gnutron - post some links. I've never heard that.
posted by scunning at 4:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my opinion he's obscenely overrated. I liked the beats he made for other people originally, and his first album, but he was never a great rapper, has always been a lackluster performer, and his lyrics, while often clever, are full of 'dead spots' that ruin the flow. Add to that that it's widely rumored that he uses ghostwriters and doesn't write/produce his own music, it's hard to understand why he's considered a towering genius. The worst part of his last two albums, which had some incredible tracks, was him.
posted by cell divide at 4:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Originally this thread was going to be about Taylor Swift but well....
posted by Fizz at 4:28 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was indifferent about the guy for the better part of a decade, but Monster is just so... monstrous, and POWER [sic.] is pretty excellent as well.
posted by blue t-shirt at 4:34 PM on April 12, 2012


He's a jackass but he's talented: Barack Obama.
posted by Pararrayos at 5:03 PM on April 12, 2012


it's hard to understand why he's considered a towering genius

I think it probably has something to do with the fact he says so, often.
posted by Hoopo at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2012


Doesn't Obama have more pressing concerns to adjudicate, like the construction of super weapons?
posted by oxford blue at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2012


Oh please this "He doesn't write his own beats" nonsense. Do you think Lady Gaga produces every single sample in all of her tracks? Like her, Kanye started out doing his own music, then when he got famous he hired people to help him put it together. People go on and on about how Steve Jobs was a genious, do you think he wrote every line of code on the iPhone or something?

If it was a situation where other people were just telling him what to say and managing everything, that would be one thing - but clearly here you have a guy who's responsible for the end product, and chooses people to work on it for him.
posted by delmoi at 5:37 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree, delmoi. That's what I was getting at in my first comment above.
posted by The World Famous at 5:45 PM on April 12, 2012


Sometimes an artist improves their craft by taking risks and not caring what other people think. The end result can be embarrassing, but that's the risk. So yeah, sometimes creative people are jerks, or socially awkward, and that's just because people like that are more likely to take those risks. There are tons of good artists that are normal, non-awkward, non-jerky people, of course, but sometimes you're going to get something closer to Wesley Willis or Daniel Johnston.
posted by davejay at 5:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I just found out he attended a Chicago Public School. As did I. Which doesn't really mean anything, but if Kanye is being used as an example to call CPS out as a terrible place to be educated...um, well, it actually is. Nevermind.
posted by davejay at 5:53 PM on April 12, 2012


This reminds me ofBilly Jimmy Carter's comment about Elton John.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2012


I found it weird that the author of this piece tried to make so much out of boilerplate stage banter. It's like he's never been to an arena rock concert before. Pandering to the hometown crowd is par for the course.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2012


people use 'genius' rather liberally these days.
posted by timsneezed at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was indifferent about the guy for the better part of a decade, but Monster is just so... monstrous, and POWER [sic.] is pretty excellent as well.

"Power" is the shit. Someone starts playing "Power" chez duvatney = time to dance like madwomen in the kitchen.
posted by duvatney at 6:48 PM on April 12, 2012


I think Kanye is kind of a dumbass but he's also crazy talented and one of my favorite rappers. I sound like Patrick Bateman when I talk about the sound design of one of his songs or the way he uses words. And I think Runaway is him tearing his guts out about what an asshole he is for us all to view. I have to respect a guy that puts out a fantastic song and long form video about what a dick he is and how bad he feels about it sometimes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I also just love that part in Monster when Nicki Minaj comes in - I had never heard her before, and it was a great introduction. It's an awesome song.

It is a true fact that if at any point I yell through the house, "Everybody knows I'm a!"

My wife will respond loud and true, "Motherfucking Monster!"

I mean, she's not saying I'm a monster. It's just a little call and response thing.

It's cute. Um.

Maybe you have to see it.
posted by kbanas at 6:58 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I also just love that part in Monster when Nicki Minaj comes in - I had never heard her before, and it was a great introduction.

'Monster' was the first time I'd heard NM too. I didn't like anything about the track, blah blah, listening trying to care, and then suddenly this madwoman was painting the walls with dudes' brains and not even pretending to pretend to pretend to give a fuck. Just nasty. Her scream at the end of that verse provided one of my favourite hipster cultural experiences. Rad.
posted by waxbanks at 7:32 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, I like that he's so flawed, that he makes so many missteps, and even that he's a jackass sometimes. He just keeps on dusting himself off to dive headfirst into the next maybe-crazy-but-almost-always-truly-original thing that he's impelled to do. I hated listening to 808s & Heartbreaks, for example, but I love and admire the fearlessness behind it.

Now I've gotten all nostalgic about Kanye, so here's a clip of him performing "Jesus Walks" at Dave Chappelle's Block Party in 2004, the same year The College Dropout came out.
posted by argonauta at 7:36 PM on April 12, 2012


@scunning Some links about Kanye ghostwriting. Nothing particularly convincing, but where there is smoke there's fire:

http://hiphop-n-more.com/2011/05/consequence-talks-ghost-writing-for-kanye-leaving-g-o-o-d-music-new-album-title/

http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.15886/title.consequence-on-ghostwriting-says-hes-one-of-the-premier-songwriters-of-last-decade

http://www.byroncrawford.com/2004/12/kanye_hating_an.html

Random anecdote. I saw Kanye perform in like 02/03, just as he was starting to launch his solo career. He was opening for John Legend at S.O.B.'s. (as he was helping launch John's career.) He was flat-out awful. No stage presence, awful songs, terrible enunciation, getting angry at the tiny crowd b/c no one was into his show. Obviously, he got his act together.
posted by gnutron at 7:50 PM on April 12, 2012


The impulse to turn a rap song with a good beat into something that actually feels like art is both abstract and liberating for Kanye, for Jay-Z, and for the audience.

I don't know how to parse this.
posted by postcommunism at 8:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The writer got a lot of respect from me by bringing Rakim in. To be sure, the entire article could have been about him instead: "just FYI, Rakim is very much alive and living like Miyamoto Musashi in the wilderness..."
posted by koucha at 8:54 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would read the crap out of that article, koucha. Too bad this wasn't it. Still, four paragraphs - and four good ones, too.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on April 12, 2012


I really don't understand the claims of genius for either Jay-Z or Kanye. I'll admit that I'm not exposed to these artists in the way that someone living in America is and that perhaps that diminishes the value of my opinion. However, I like hip hop and have made an effort to appreciate these two artists without success. Jay-Z has written a few great pop hooks, but has had way more chart success than the songs warrant. Kanye has written some great beats, but to me his music contains too many contrasting sounds to present a cohesive vision. I would point to both of these artists lack of penetration in overseas markets as evidence that genius is significantly lacking.

I also wouldn't put either of these two anywhere near the top of a list of the best rappers active in hip hop at present. To my ear, Jay-Z raps not unlike Dr Dre - whose rapping doesn't garner much respect in hip hop circles, as far as I'm aware. Jay-Z may actually write his own rhymes, but that he's talking about his life experiences (frequently sighted by those claiming rap genius, as if this is relevant to style) isn't apparent to me by his diction. Jay-Z attracts praise for his "flow", but to my ear, the delivery is frequently monotone and unexceptional. I don't even think I need to present a case against Kanye's rapping/talking.

When it comes to hip hop producers It's strange to me that there's been no mention of Dre. Sure, he hit his peak a decade ago, but he's had group and solo success, and his productions have made worldwide stars out of many other artists too. Maybe its because I prefer the pared back West Coast sound and dislike R&B influences in hip hop. Still, I would appreciate a coherent argument with evidence for the skills of these two artists compared to others, because for mine, neither Kanye nor Jay-Z warrant the attention, adulation and preposterous claims to genius afforded them. As far as I'm aware, their music remains unexceptional to all but the most ardent fans outside of the United States.
posted by bigZLiLk at 2:02 AM on April 13, 2012


@bigZLiLk

You said it best, "I really don't understand the claims of genius for either Jay-Z or Kanye. I'll admit that I'm not exposed to these artists in the way that someone living in America is and that perhaps that diminishes the value of my opinion."
posted by RedShrek at 7:12 AM on April 13, 2012


I couldn't make it past "iPhone era."
posted by duomo at 7:27 AM on April 13, 2012


"I slayed emcees back in the rec room era."
posted by box at 7:54 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also wouldn't put either of these two anywhere near the top of a list of the best rappers active in hip hop at present.

Out of curiosity, who would you put near the top?
posted by inigo2 at 7:59 AM on April 14, 2012


Inigo2: In no particular order, but some obvious considerations for better rappers than JZ and KW - Snoop, Method, Busta, Kurupt, Eminem..
posted by bigZLiLk at 10:13 PM on April 20, 2012


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