Editor’s Note: Man, I love it when procrastination works out in my favor. I’ve had this post in my drafts folder for months–all with the gnawing knowledge that the Kanye West Oeuvre is well over a year old, and I’m still a few chapters away from being finished. But then, a few things happened in the interim. First, Kanye’s seventh solo album,
So Help Me God SWISH WAVES The Life of Pablo, turned into some kind of constantly-shifting, streaming-only “living art project” thing, which means it’s just as well that I give it some extra time to marinate before I formally write it up. Second, in one of his now-habitual sprees of stream-of-consciousness tweets, Kanye announced that he’ll be releasing yet another record as early as this summer, provisionally (but hopefully permanently) named after the semi-obscure 16-bit video game console Turbo-Grafx 16; so basically, I got an extension of deadline, whether I wanted it or not. Third, and finally, last month Kanye announced yet another project, a second G.O.O.D. Music album called Cruel Winter; so, suddenly, talking about his early-2010s collaborative albums in mid-2016 starts to feel less like a meaningless exercise and more like something that actually approaches relevancy.
But I still need to get this shit over with, so allow me to announce yet another rejiggering of chapters: Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer, originally planned for a single massive post, will now be presented separately, as if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Prince blog, it’s that this kind of thing is a lot easier to accomplish when you break it up into smaller pieces. Hopefully giving myself a more manageable space in which to discuss these albums will help ensure that it doesn’t take, oh I don’t know, five goddamn months to finish the next entry. But in any case, here’s the series so far: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. Later posts pick up here: 11 12 13. And if you’re chomping at the bit to know what Callie and I thought of The Life of Pablo, we recorded a podcast about it in February. – Z.H.
As we noted at the conclusion of our last installment, Kanye West ended his 2010 vindicated–at least, to a point. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had returned him to the good graces of the listening public and the critical establishment; hell, he even performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that year, arguably as mainstream a venue as a pop artist can get. He was still gracing his fair share of “Most Hated Celebrity” polls, of course, but he was no longer topping the rankings–if only because the American public had already moved on to fresh villains, like Spencer Pratt of MTV’s The Hills. In 2011, Kanye wouldn’t even make the Top 10 of E-Poll’s authoritative “Most Hated” list, which included Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson–proof that, while an undeniably severe transgression, ruining Taylor Swift’s Video Music Awards moment still wasn’t as socially unacceptable as actually murdering someone.
But for Kanye, this level of rehabilitation still wasn’t enough. Not as many people might have actively hated him at the end of 2010, but they still didn’t really get him–which, in his view, seems to be just as bad. You can see the frustration written all over his face in his November 2010 interview with Matt Lauer of the Today Show (see Video 1 in the playlist below). Kanye was there to speak on the topic of his infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” speech from the 2005 Concert for Hurricane Relief: an early Kan-troversy that had recently reemerged in the public consciousness due to its inclusion in Bush’s memoir Decision Points, where the former president described it as an “all-time low” of his two terms in office. West had prepared an apology, but Lauer pressed him on the subject, playing an interview clip of Bush responding to the remarks and asking Kanye to look at the emotion in his face. Later in the interview, the show rolled video of the VMAs incident during one of Kanye’s responses, causing him to bring the interview to a halt altogether: “Yo, how’m I supposed to talk if you’re gonna run this thing in the middle while I’m talking?”
In the aftermath of the disastrous Today Show appearance, Kanye fired off a series of emotional tweets: “I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused,” he wrote. “I don’t trust anyone but myself! Everyone has an agenda. I don’t do press anymore. I can’t be everything to everybody anymore.” “I can’t be everybody’s hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ!” By the end of the rant, he was just howling cathartically into the Twitter-abyss: “Everything sounds like noise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE NOISE!!!!!!! I don’t trust anyone!” Within 14 hours, Buzzfeed had posted a flippant listicle entitled “The 8 Craziest Tweets From Kanye West’s Meltdown Over His Interview With Matt Lauer.” Susie Arons, the professional “media advisor” he’d hired in preparation for the interview, quit just three days later.
In retrospect, Kanye’s new level of outrage over his treatment by the media feels like another turning point for his body of work: one that would obviously reach its fullest expression with his bilious official follow-up to Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2013’s Yeezus. First, however, he would release two full-length collaborative albums, both of which took a slightly different tack in grappling with his ever-besieged public image: spiteful, ostentatious, deliberately gauche boasting. The self-described “luxury rap” of 2011’s Watch the Throne in particular served as an ornately gilded shield for Kanye against the public’s slings and arrows; it was his most explicit example yet of the strategy he’d outlined back on 2004’s “Last Call,” using his “arrogance as the steam to power [his] dreams.” It should come as little surprise, then, that the album is also among his most underrated and misunderstood.
Continue reading “Je Suis Kanye: The Kanye West Oeuvre – Part 10: Luxury Rap (2010-2011)”