As it turns out, Kanye West’s new album has entered my psyche in a way I was not anticipating. As a pop culture icon, Kanye is not someone I find myself identifying with or sympathizing with. Also, I am not a hip-hop fan*. It’s taken a lot for me to both admit this in my adulthood and work through it. And I think I have figured out why; hip-hop is mainstream music. I think I was afraid that by admitting I wasn’t really a follower of the genre that that said something about me as a white person, but then I remembered why I rejected hip-hop in the first place: it was what the popular assholes were listening to in high school. There was nothing attractive about it for me. For me, it was all about punk (which I mistakenly believed was more politically conscious (which it is in some cases and isn’t in other cases)). And then there is Kanye. He has produced an album that has caught my attention in a huge way that few albums have this year.
Once I found out that there was hype about his new record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy my curiosity was piqued and I had to have it. I had heard his music before but am not closely intimate with his previous work, so I don’t really have that to work with. But the first listen through I was not impressed and was disappointed that something undeserving was getting such hype (10 out of 10 on Pitchfork, #1 Billboard). So I kept listening. And listened again. And made other people listen. And soon (within days, actually) the imagery and the ideas and the hooks were sinking in.
Now I am able to pick apart things I genuinely enjoy about the album. Basically I like it when people are able to take all the ugly things about themselves, the things they don’t like, the character flaws, and work through them as a form of catharsis to make something positive, to make art. The best books, the best music, the best movies, are always from some dark personal place you don’t so much like talking about in public.
In particular, the song “Runaway,” he acknowledges he is terrible with women and cites specific reasons why, up to and including infidelity and an inability to see past his partner’s superficial problems. He calls himself a douchebag, an asshole, a scumbag, a jerkoff. Kanye West, the performing artist that our president publicly wrote off as a jackass, is working through some very heavy burdens on this record. And rarely on it is he the hero.
Another song that has been haunting my nightmares the past couple days is “Blame Game,” where he characterizes a romantic disaster / doomed relationship with possibly the same girl featured in the other songs. At the end of the song he is trying to call her and her phone accidentally calls him back and he can hear her with another man. The voice of the other man is Chris Rock in an oddly hilarious but horrifying monologue where he reveals all the things they’ve done together.
I find myself quoting it out of context to my friends and then have to explain what it is.
Below find “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I guess the song is one he performed at the VMA’s or something, but I hope you will be able to listen to the song in its own context.
*It should also be noted that since getting involved with CHIRP hip-hop has been winning me over more and more, as we have conversations about its history and what role it plays in American culture. Word.