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Complex Mag Cover Story: Kanye West
December 3, 2010 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Kanye and I had exchanged emails days after the Taylor Swift incident, but between him being inundated with criticism and my own personal distraction—a recently discovered brain tumor, of all things—this conversation, a month later, was our first real catch-up.

Kanye notices something off in the delivery, and he presses the intercom button to talk to RZA: "Um, fam, it's actually ‘thirty white bitches,' not ‘dirty white bitches.'" RZA laughs. "I'll do it again," he says, "but to be real, the way I be saying words, you ain't gon' be able to tell the difference." Ha! At Rap Camp, the shit is fuckin' ridiculous.
posted by daniel_ (55 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I need a sign reading "NO HIPSTER HATS".
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 4:33 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


DON'T TELL ANYONE ANYTHING ABOUT ANYTHING WE ARE DOING!
posted by daniel_ at 4:39 PM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


No racking focus? Because you can hear the motor? What a stickler.
posted by basicchannel at 4:54 PM on December 3, 2010


I wouldn't have thought 'Ye's a David Lynch fanboy.
posted by naju at 5:00 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't have thought 'Ye's a David Lynch fanboy.

Yup. FWWM is definite fanboy territory...
posted by mr_roboto at 5:07 PM on December 3, 2010


Kanye is the new Gaga.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:12 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kanye is the new Gaga.

I thought Gaga was the new Kanye? He was doing outrageous pop star shit when Gaga was still named Stefani.

...Remember when they almost went on tour together? That would've been epic.
posted by SoftRain at 5:18 PM on December 3, 2010


I thought Gaga was the new Kanye, I can't fucking keep up!

Madeleines are still the new cupcakes right?
posted by Ad hominem at 5:20 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't have thought 'Ye's a David Lynch fanboy.

'Ye's got taste.
posted by daniel_ at 5:26 PM on December 3, 2010


I only clicked on it because the first sentence mentioned Taylor Swift, who I now think may be an evil robot from outerspace.
posted by anniecat at 5:35 PM on December 3, 2010


Great story about one of the most interesting musicians of our time.

And yes haters the new album is probably his best. It's like Exile On Main Street, in reverse, in a Lambo on a central Florida Highway.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:36 PM on December 3, 2010


That is an exceedingly well written story. The interviews at the end were a good call; they made a profile piece into a portrait. And did you see the photos at the end? I thought Twin Peaks and Maya Angelou was an interesting combination. David Lynch was a surprise. But then so was Justin Vernon.

I love MeFi. I would never have read a piece on Kayne West otherwise.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:46 PM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Niki Minaj:

I remember a conversation I had with Kanye every time I sit down to write now. Every single time I sit down, I remember him asking, ‘What is it that you wanna say? It's not about rhyming words, it's about what you really wanna say.’ The fact that he wasn't even looking at me when he said it—he was on the computer looking at naked girls, I think—it was just a life-changing experience.

R.O.F.L.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:52 PM on December 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


He should have just lent the guy from the clipse some of his douchebag, he has plenty to spare.

Dude was putting out great beats, then decided he was a rapper without realizing that he can't rap. He has no flow. The best parts of all of his songs are the beats, and on 808 and heartbeats didn't Atrain do most of that? (don't consider that his best album). But you look at how things connect (or more accurately don't) in his rhymes. Look at "Golddigger" it's sloppy. There is no logic it's like he has a story to tell so he just throws out whatever words he thinks are going to connect it. He falls of the beat countless times and he uses the same words just to make connections that for me don't work.
posted by djduckie at 5:52 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, well that's not what Pete Rock says.
posted by chrchr at 5:57 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: “And yes haters the new album is probably his best. It's like Exile On Main Street, in reverse, in a Lambo on a central Florida Highway.”

Eh, okay. Still lyrically lame. Can somebody tell me if it's true that Michael Jackson's death traumatized him so deeply that he slapped a woman and went to jail for it?

Hip hop is about beats and rhymes. This album has beats; he's a fine producer. That's all anybody really cares about, so it'll be huge for a few weeks. The hipsters love a producer, and this has flashy production (though it's still not that perfect, really all over the place in fact, and there are songs that really lag) – and nowadays the kids just want pretty music that is fun. Lyrical depth in that scenario is actually a drawback, so this probably succeeds on that front.

But there aren't really any great rhymes here. He's coaxed a whole lot of maturity out of Nicki Minaj, which I totally didn't expect; but Kanye himself, well... I don't know, I think he's trying to do too much. I felt like his flow, the thought he put into it, was a lot better on the first record, honestly. There are spots where there are brilliant things, but those spots don't even hold through an entire song, I don't think. This isn't Illmatic, or even Return To the 36 Chambers. I mean, seriously, I've listened maybe three times, and I've pretty much gotten everything I can from the rhymes, I think. The hooks are catchy, I'll give him that. It works as pop music. As hip hop? I really don't know. I don't really think so.
posted by koeselitz at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


chrchr: “Yeah, well that's not what Pete Rock says.”

Well, shit, that's what Pete Rock is gonna say. Tell me this, though – what the fuck is "All Of The Lights" about, even? Sounds pretty and all, but the words don't work.
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on December 3, 2010


koeselitz, it's pretty clear to me that this album is absolutely intended to be hip hop that will also appeal to a pop audience. That's why it's so musical, melodic and textured, where 36 Chambers is so stark. If it's hip hop, it's some new kind of hip hop. I don't know if it deserves to be mentioned alongside those two albums.
posted by chrchr at 6:07 PM on December 3, 2010


Oh, "All Of The Lights" is about his turbulent relationship with his own celebrity.
posted by chrchr at 6:10 PM on December 3, 2010


Finally, I get to confess it - I've been listening to this album like constantly for a week! I've never listened to another Kanye album (and still, oddly, don't know if I want to) but damn- there are just some great songs on this. I'm not nearly as much of a hip-hop head as a lot of people on here, so I won't even try to say if this is a hip hop album or a pop one... although I will agree w/ everyone (except Pete Rock) that 'Ye's a fairly deficient rapper.

But damn! It just all sounds so good. And Runaway and Blame Game are both just gorgeous pieces of balladry.

And it's all so rock-ist... Bon Iver sample/vocals, yeah, and the famous King Crimson sample, but also "contains portions of Iron Man", and samples of Mike Oldfield, the Byrds, Manfred Mann... not that it sounds at all like any of those things, but the DNA's in there somehow.

I don't know, honestly, if I knew more about Kanye I might not be able to like this stuff. It's already kind of embarrassing - I'm usually going around recommending the Dirty Projectors, or, I don't know, Kool Keith - shit normal people have never heard of. And now I'm raving about this thing- and *everybody*'s heard of it, and mostly already think they hate it. But hey- if they enjoy it even half as much as I've been, they should just get over themselves and listen, because it's TOTALLY WORTH IT.

(warning- if you already don't like Kanye, well, the linked article is probably not going to move that needle much.)
posted by hap_hazard at 6:29 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kanye can't rap in the same way that Dylan can't sing.
posted by chaff at 6:34 PM on December 3, 2010 [17 favorites]


Koeselitz when I first took you challenge I tried to go in and do a textual analysis on the song and then I realized Hip Hop isn't about that anymore. Modern Hip Hop has eliminated as beats and rhymes as separate entities on a song. It is a holistic product. Deliberately crafting two halves to a solid whole. With that in mind All the lights is about being powerful and completely trapped. Notably all of the stories he tells are about being a father and having an estranged wife but being the breadwinner and beating up his girlfriend's lover. Having physical and monetary power over others but lacking power over ones self. Its about being King Kong knowing its about to end and going out with a bang. Notably, this is the track before monster.
posted by Rubbstone at 6:47 PM on December 3, 2010


I wouldn't have thought 'Ye's a David Lynch fanboy.

Uh, did you see the Flashing Lights video? If that's not "a woman in trouble," I don't know what is.
posted by hermitosis at 6:58 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eh, okay. Still lyrically lame.

I dunno, I don't really agree. His lyrics on this album seem to come from a desperate place, and I do think he gets his point across very cleverly on nearly every song, without necessarily overstating himself. And c'mon, how can you hate on this:

"I don’t really give a fuck about it at all / Cause the same people that tried to black-ball me / Forgot about two things: my black balls."

posted by hermitosis at 7:08 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really would have loved a Kanye / Gaga show.
posted by cavalier at 7:35 PM on December 3, 2010


Prediction: by next year, Das Racist will make (has already made?) Kanye irrelevant.
posted by iamck at 8:21 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, "All Of The Lights" is about his turbulent relationship with his own celebrity.

Everything since College Dropout is about his turbulent relationship with his own celebrity. Or his Mom.

I still love all of his stuff, though.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:26 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leave it to Kanye to teach us all the importance of just shutting the fuck up sometimes.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:47 PM on December 3, 2010


Clash of the titans
posted by Ad hominem at 8:52 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Madeleines are still the new cupcakes right?

Proust, right?
posted by ovvl at 8:54 PM on December 3, 2010


No knob shots yet?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:21 PM on December 3, 2010


the same way that Dylan can't sing [link has auto-playing audio and dumb joke]
posted by moonmilk at 9:50 PM on December 3, 2010


I was interested in reading this, but when I followed the link and saw "Marc Ecko's Complex.com" at the top of the page suddenly I just couldn't. I know, I know. But really--couldn't do it.
posted by millions at 9:53 PM on December 3, 2010


I have always admired Kanye's obsessive attention to detail and his production skills. This new album's no exception. But I still don't buy the hype. When Prince (just an example) was in his prime he used to have those exact same attributes, and he effortlessly showed it with every album and with almost every song. But he also had something on top of all of that. Prodigiousness, insanity, the blessing/curse of the muse, just don't give a fuckness, whatever you want to call it. Kanye has prowess, he has virtuosity, he has skills, but he doesn't have that added layer. Kanye's sort of like Stevie Wonder before Stevie Wonder broke away from the Motown mold. He's not at that Innervisions level yet.

And Prince didn't bring in a million guest stars to kick things up a notch either. He was his own cast of a million guest stars in one outlandishly freaky mind.
posted by blucevalo at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2010


blucevalo: "And Prince didn't bring in a million guest stars to kick things up a notch either. He was his own cast of a million guest stars in one outlandishly freaky mind."

No one respects producers.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:22 PM on December 3, 2010


And, uh, Prince and Stevie Wonder could be an entire band by themselves, playing each instrument. Prince is one of the greatest guitar players ever, Stevie Wonder one of the greatest musicians ever. Musician. As in, plays an instrument--in Stevie Wonder's case, playing keyboards, drums, and others blind of course. And they led bands, live. And also produced their own albums (at least Stevie did). And wrote and arranged music. Did most of it without computers. Could sing without tune-shifted vocals.

The personnel for Prince's first album, For You? Prince - vocals, guitars, Arp string ensemble, piano, Clavinet, synthesizer, bass, drums, percussion.

A sample track personnel for Stevie Wonder: "Jesus Children of America" – 4:04

Stevie Wonder - Lead Vocal, Background Vocal, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet, Handclaps, Drums, Moog Bass



I dunno. Sort of like comparing Mark Kostabi to Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg. Kanye West is a pygmy compared to those two.
posted by oneironaut at 10:54 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Prediction: by next year, Das Racist will make (has already made?) Kanye irrelevant.

Jesus, tell me this is either meant to be ironic or they've come up with something better than that combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell song.

Meanwhile, I come from a pretty rock-heavy background (hi! I have nothing insightful to add to the contributions of some of the people up there talking about hip hop, so I'll see my way out ofter this comment), but there are a handful of songs on this album that I've played probably a dozen times in a row because I can't bring myself to untoggle the repeat button.

Thanks for the post, daniel_
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 11:28 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, tell me this is either meant to be ironic or they've come up with something better than that combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell song.

They have. Grab yourself their kick-ass free mixtape, my friend. Although I doubt they're about to make mainstream rap any less relevant than it is now.

I dunno. Sort of like comparing Mark Kostabi to Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg. Kanye West is a pygmy compared to those two.

Hoo, boy. I'll admit. Kanye is no Picasso!

Even without deliberately misreading your comment, what does that have to do with anything? I like Stevie Wonder too, but Prince? He's not quite the musical titan towering over the modern soundscape that you make him out to be. Kanye actually sort of is -- both in terms of influence and ingenuity -- regardless of whether auto-tune is up to your lofty standards for someone who is not, per se, a singer.
posted by zvs at 11:59 PM on December 3, 2010


I don't know if it's Swizz or Kanye I should thank for the fade-out of So Appalled, but My... Fantasy won me over at, "One hand in the air if you don't really care, Two hands in the air if you don't really care." It's rap ennui and I love it.

I like Stevie Wonder too, but Prince? He's not quite the musical titan towering over the modern soundscape that you make him out to be.

Yes he is.
posted by incessant at 12:22 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The critics in these weekly Kanye West threads are setting the bar too high. I don't need this album to be regarded as as great as "Illmatic" or "The 36 Chambers", and he doesn't need to be Picasso or Stevie Wonder or Prince, or the greatest rapper ever or anything like that. Why are we even talking about whether or not Kanye West is as great as Prince? This album is barely a week old. I think it's a good album on it's own terms, but there's no way this early in the game to compare it to classic albums that have stood the test of 15 years.
posted by chrchr at 12:40 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because the hype is comparing the album to Exile on Main Street, that's why.
posted by blucevalo at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2010


what the fuck is "All Of The Lights" about, even?

Mostly, it's about being confused and desperate, making terrible choices that you regret and trying to put the pieces of your life together after you've broken it. Kanye's narrator character (Kanye's never been arrested or jailed as far as I know and I'm also pretty sure he doesn't have a kid) is trying to atone for the horrible things he's done by holding his mistakes high and making everyone in his life see them and accept them as his and no one else's. Kanye's also silently juxtaposing this story with his own grappling with being notorious enough for two sitting presidents to have publicly rebuked him, sort of like he juxtaposed his sadness over the loss of his mother with his sadness over the ending of a romantic relationship throughout 808s. I could keep talking, but trying to pedantically explain a song that's fairly expressionistic neglects a lot of the visceral impact the song has.

One of the major themes of the whole album is not just admitting your mistakes and flaws, but forcing the world to know them just as plainly as you do. It's also full of visual imagery, not in the sense of painting a picture with words, but in the sense of talking about seeing, images, and performances. All of the Lights is probably the point at which those two elements are combined most heavily. I sort of wish he'd kept See Me Now in, because it not only hits those themes but also pits the scrutiny of critics against more the favorable examinations of family and fans.

I should also mention that my feelings about MBDTF agree pretty strongly with Nitsuh Abebe's review in New York Magazine. The link got posted in the last Kanye thread, but if you haven't read it, it's worth it.
posted by Copronymus at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's not quite the musical titan towering over the modern soundscape that you make him out to be.

I didn't say that he towers over the "modern soundscape." I said in his prime. That was some 25-odd years ago.
posted by blucevalo at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2010


That Nitsuh Abebe piece is indeed great, Copronymus, thanks.
posted by blucevalo at 3:40 PM on December 4, 2010


he doesn't need to be Picasso or Stevie Wonder or Prince, or the greatest rapper ever or anything like that.

Because the hype is comparing the album to Exile on Main Street, that's why.


I gotta agree with both of you here--somehow Kanye's tremendous ego has infected people or something, because what should be seen as a pretty good pop album by all accounts is getting blown all out of proportion. His rapping is not like Bob Dylan's singing. He did not make the hip hop Exile on Main Street. He is not doing something bold and unique. He made a new album that doesn't totally blow when a lot of people wanted him to fail. This is a tabloid drama in the guise of an album.
posted by Hoopo at 8:12 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


a new album that doesn't totally blow

That's about the most uncharitable opinion of it I've run across so far, so I don't know why you're parading that statement out as an obvious fact.

That's what's great about Kanye IMO -- he actually puts in enough work to make sure that the inevitable knee-jerk "emperor has no clothes" cries seem literally incredible.
posted by hermitosis at 8:33 PM on December 4, 2010


That's about the most uncharitable opinion of it I've run across so far, so I don't know why you're parading that statement out as an obvious fact.

That is not uncharitable, it's just not really praise, and you took that out of context. I happen to think he's done much better in the past, and besides Kanye doesn't need my charity anyway--he gets praise from me for many, many great beats he's made including a couple on this album. I'm saying "doesn't blow" as a frustrated hip hop fan that was into Raising Hell at 9 years old in the suburbs of Canada. I can tell you that people like me have been the target audience for major label hip hop for a long time, and I can assure you that this is not the first pop hip hop album geared to a large audience. He's done nothing new here. We've seen a hundred overblown crap hip hop comeback albums. This one is also overblown due to the ludicrous level of hype, but it isn't crap. What more do you want, man? Do I have to download a picture of his dick? Honestly, it's like if you don't tweet all day about how great Kanye is you're not doing enough for his beautiful fantasy. Ferchrissakes I even said it was a pretty good album a couple sentences before the bit you quoted.
posted by Hoopo at 11:03 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, but truly transcendent consciousness-shifting albums are pretty rare, right? Within a genre, let alone within one artist's catalog. And while people seem to be really fascinated with this album, really enjoying it, I don't see a lot of comments in the vein of "Best Rap Album in Three Decades" or anything. It's just something sort of new and something really good and fairly personal made by an interesting individual, which automatically makes it a very bright spot on the landscape.

Hype is a constant factor in music appreciation now, but once you slice through all the effusive media praise for this album, there is still substance beneath it, something for people to actually chew on. Maybe he has done better, or maybe he will still yet do better, but hype is always completely obsessively rooted in the present tense. Hence, Kanye's album is king for a day, or even a month, and frankly I think that is as it should be. I don't think as many people are confusing it for the end-all rap/pop experience as you seem to think. I get it that you have hype fatigue, but it shouldn't stop you from being able to actively enjoy something that you claim to think is pretty good.
posted by hermitosis at 10:50 AM on December 5, 2010


The song him and his GOOD Music posse sang on the BET Music Awards was hype. (Although, everyone else in that group is a better than MC than him. Is that the worse thing ever? I don't think so. This last album is pretty good, and the guy has been involved in a lot of really good albums.)
posted by chunking express at 11:42 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


chaff - Kanye can't rap in the same way that Dylan can't sing -
Man, that's been rattling around in my head for the last couple of days, during which I *still* can't stop listening to this album...

It's right up my alley, since I been listening to Dylan since 'ye's 0th birthday. And... I don't know if the analogy is right, 'cos I'm not sure Kanye is a great lyricist. BUT-

It holds together anyway, 'cos Dylan's not a 'good' singer, like Kanye maybe isn't a 'good' rapper in a lot of ways - but that doesn't mean they're not great vocalists.

Listening to this repeatedly, and then reading the lyrics, is weird. Because it doesn't seem like the words on the page convey the sense of the album at all- it's the delivery, the backing track, the f'in gestalt. It works in ways that I can't explain, and which I understand won't ever work for some people, but maybe that's even *part* of why it's (maybe, who knows) great.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:46 PM on December 5, 2010


chrchr: “Oh, ‘All Of The Lights’ is about his turbulent relationship with his own celebrity.”

I'll buy that it's totally ridiculous to compare Dark Twisted Fantasy to the great hip hop albums; I did that because of the constant comparisons that this album is getting to that stuff, but it was a mistake to give in to that.

However: this isn't true. I know everybody says it, and I know Kanye himself probably says it, but it simply isn't true that "All Of The Lights" is about his relationship with his celebrity. Seriously, where does it even mention that? There's a reference to MJ, and he's talked about MJ a few times publicly. Okay. When did he get arrested for being abusive? When did he have his daughter taken away from him in a bad divorce? Seriously, none of the things that are described in the song have actually happened to him. And that would be okay if it were a metaphor for... something. But it's not. I guess it's a relatively interesting story, the stuff that happens in the song, though I don't find it all that compelling. (That's why I asked; that story doesn't seem to be focused in any way.) But it sure as hell isn't about him.

Yeah, I know he 'opens up' about himself elsewhere on the record, notably on "Blame Game" – which I really don't dig, John Legend chorus and all, even if it is "raw" it's not anything I'm particularly interested in, just another "tragedy of failed romance" song – but this is typical of a lot of it, honestly; unfocused, all over the place, not as poignant or as deeply complex as Kanye seems to think it is. Maybe that's the point, though.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2010


chaff: “Kanye can't rap in the same way that Dylan can't sing.”

Ha. No, the problem with that assessment is that Kanye raps just like everybody else.
posted by koeselitz at 7:27 PM on December 5, 2010


Oh shit, there's a subject matter expert (still) in the house... my unsubstantiated/intuitive opinions are lookin' pretty thin. You know what- here's where I'm gonna go:

This album doesn't make me think of the pioneers/masters of hip-hop, it makes me think of Abba. Stuff that - at the time- sounded like completely synthetic, absolutely artificial pop-smithing. Almost-offensively catchy. Ear-candy of the most empty-caloric kind. But hey - look where *that* got us- EVERYBODY likes it now, whether they feel it's expedient to admit it or not...

But of course- I had to listen to Abba then always, on my $5 transistor radio, like some people have to hear (about) Kanye constantly these days. I'm practically in a cultural vacuum- I know about Kanye's big-media gaffes, him getting dissed by the Prez, but I have zero interest/information re: his person. And so his persona on this album is just atmosphere to me- I'd be surprised if any of it (except the Versace sofas, I do want to believe in those) is real. It just all - the vocal attitude/auto-tuneage/melodies/beats - hangs together somehow, and addictively so.

I don't know... this all might embarrass me next week. But I just listened to most of this album for the 10th time in the last 10 days. Y'all's mileage may drastically vary.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:14 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


hey koeselitz, get ready cuz i'm about to blow your mind... Kanye is not the first rapper to rap about things that haven't actually happened to him. For reference, listen to any rap song ever recorded in the history of the world. Nobody in Wu-Tang has assassinated their enemies, verbally or physically. Young Jeezy does not sell 4 kilos of cocaine a day. Bun-B is not executing snitches and gangsters who are doing it wrong. TI has not been officially crowned the King of the South by any official king coronating organization. Waka Flocka may or may not go hard in the paint. Etc...
posted by youthenrage at 12:20 PM on December 8, 2010


I'm the Osiris of this shit.
posted by chunking express at 1:38 PM on December 8, 2010


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