Tag Archives: kanye west
Kanye West’s ambitious Yeezus show hit Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night, hours after we watched him disregard basic motorcycle safety in “Bound 2.” West’s set naturally focused on his visceral and abrasive Yeezus; save for “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” he didn’t perform any cuts from his first three albums until 90+ minutes into the show. And that meant the biggest cheers came during the last half hour. But first, during “Runaway,” the rapper slowed things down to deliver one of his trademark rants. West hates when the media calls these rants — and he’s right that a clearly-not-impromptu and partially Auto-Tuned monologue is not necessarily a rant — but this one was a screamy, 10-minute indictment of “dreamkillers” and a former executive of a “multi-billion dollar company” (??) who tried to give him advice. A transcript:
Last night, ABC aired Real Or Magic, a new special from the magician David Blaine. Blaine doesn’t make entire jetliners disappear or whatever, the way Copperfield or whatever would do, and there’s not much inherently cinematic about the sort of stuff he does. So his solution: Celebrities! For at least part of last night’s special, Blaine hung out with various celebrities, pulling off the nasty trick of sticking an icepick into his own hand and then having the celebrity pull it out. One of those celebrities was Kanye West, who, it has to be said, does not give the overwhelmingly satisfying reaction that Aaron Paul and Jada Pinkett Smith give. Still, if you ever want to see the little kid come out of Kanye, behold the goofy, bemused smile at the end of the three-minute video below.
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In the Summer of 2011, I immediately started pushing Kendrick Lamar and Section 80 for album of the year, following a headlining showcase at S.O.B.’s. The venue is a tiny sweatbox in SoHo, one of the few small and affordable places left to catch emerging Hip Hop in New York. There were a ton of openers that night, a lot of weed smoke, and a wary-but-willing-to-be-won-over New York City crowd, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. It was the very sort of room a young rapper has to cut his teeth winning over, the exact size and type of show a rapper at Kendrick’s level should have been playing.
What I saw was a raw (in the best possible way), ferocious talent. There was little smiling, little between song banter, a DJ with a few standard cueing issues and a mic that needed adjusting. But what shone through was a serious, badass motherfucker. It’s a style I’m familiar with, having spent many nights watching Nas and Black Thought, and Rakim. These are no frills shows, beats and rhymes, often in mid-sized venues packed with adoring fans. The performances are deadly serious, the focus is on the wordplay, delivering the songs you came to hear, nodding with arms folded in place and going home. I imagine it’s the sort of experience Miles Davis fans had decades ago. I told you that to tell you this.
Please spend the requisite $50, (or whatever it may cost in your reasonably priced city) plus absurd processing charges and taxes, to see the Yeezus Tour. It’s well worth the money, for reasons anyone with a Facebook account, Twitter feed or Instagram addiction can attest. Kanye West has gone from the best live show in music, to an installation at MOMA. He can get away with spending his entire two hour set in a bedazzled Starman mask, playing an MPC on an alter, rapping sermons from a literal mountain top, accompanied by a Henson Company demon representing Kanye’s vices and fears, and a Greek Chorus of Harmony Korine stickup girls, performing choreography that lands somewhere between the self flagellating religious procession from The Seventh Seal and the poor unfortunate souls from The Little Mermaid. He can do this because he has the planet’s most diverse fan-base, that will follow him anywhere, he has the hits, and has transformed himself into the greatest non-“musical” live performer on Earth.
But Kendrick isn’t. Not on this evening, anyways. Tonight, he had a shaky set consisting of the majority of his fantastic Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, and a few guest verses that have received significant airplay. In theory, Kendrick should be a great ticket right now. I’d love to catch a TDE bill at B.B. King’s, or Highline Ballroom, or Best Buy Theater, or Roseland. The crew could open with, say, Nipsey Hustle or Earl Sweatshirt or a like-minded regional New York act, run through a few mini group sets, with Kendrick driving home a solo set rife with cuts off both his mixtape and album.
What I got tonight was Kendrick backed by a needlessly large, largely needless live band. A slick film of observed Compton minutiae, loosely revolving around the narrative his major label debut loosely told, played behind him. There was a shredding, Anthrax-y rendition of the title track and a set of high end looking smoke machines that carpeted the floor during “Sing About Me”, as I sat in a half-full basketball arena immersed in cigarette and eJoint smoke.
On this particular evening, a very different Kendrick Lamar was performing. He was eager, working the crowd like a good hype man, continually challenging one side of the stadium to be louder than the other and practically begging for crowd participation. He tried to sing the hooks on the songs that demanded it. He performed nothing off Section 80. I was sitting in a perch, high above Barclays in a pocket of the stadium that I chalked up to an acoustic nightmare during Kendrick’s set, the reason I could make out little of his vocals. However, the minute Kanye came on, having grown out of the full band from his Glow In The Dark tour, now content with a DJ, backup man and keyboardist, with his vocals and backing perfectly mixed, I knew I was mistaken.
Having Kendrick Lamar on the Yeezus tour makes a lot of sense for the tour, and Kanye’s brand. At the moment, Kendrick is a golden child, the thinking man’s future of rap, beloved by urban radio programming directors, Pitchfork writers and teenagers alike. Kanye brought out no guests this evening, and when you’re Kanye West, that’s a conscious decision. Kendrick has been curated as the one hour opening act to Yeezy’s full-length experience. But how much sense does it make for Kendrick Lamar, and how potentially corrosive to his growth, could the experience be?
I’ve seen Kanye live five times, at spaced out, appropriate junctures in his career. What I respect most looking back, was the very conscious progression in size and scale. He wasn’t born a black Bowie with delusions of Jagger, he worked towards it. The first show of his I ever attended was at the University of Maryland Student Union. It was Kanye, a DJ and some kid on the keys named John Legend, and it was free. He played his hits, he ranted, he was irritating and compelling, and tonight after the bejeweled mask came off and he pulled the old hits out, it wasn’t hard to see that eager to please, wildly talented artist is still alive in there. Kendrick’s show was a slick, overproduced mess. The product of a good kid trying to punch above his weight, coupled with a high-end stage designer and a backing band of session musicians who aren’t comfortable with the material.
You can argue in 2013, none of this matters. That the kids Kendrick is trying to draw with his participation on this tour have already been won, simply by having his name printed under Kanye West on the ticket. And maybe that is so, but I wonder what kind of an education this process is making for a young artist who should be finding his true audience, developing his voice and honing his craft. Is pandering to the LCD, working with stage designers and playing arenas the ideal he should be striving towards at this juncture in his career? Could this prematurely bloated ambition play out in his music?
It brings to mind another young artist I saw opening for Kanye West five years ago, on his similarly astonishing Glow In The Dark tour. He was a bright young talent, coming off a second consecutive promising effort. He had crossover potential, a brain as well as an ear, appealing to critics and kids alike. He got a coveted placement on the tour, nestled securely under Kanye’s wing, and the sky was the limit. His name was Lupe Fiasco.
We all have an escape fantasy.
Every so often — when our lives are particularly crummy — we imagine getting away. Moving to some remote location, finding a guy or a girl there, and living simply. Getting away from all the bullshit.
The video for Kanye West‘s “Bound 2,” which is a totally insane video showing West riding around with a topless Kim Kardashian on a motorcycle through a Lisa Frank desert, is his escape fantasy.
We know this is Kanye’s escape fantasy because he already told us it was. Remember, if you can, back to Late Registration, on the standout track “Gone” when Kanye told us his desire to “get my advance out / and move to Oklahoma and just live at my aunt’s house.” Oklahoma, the desert, isolation…this has been Kanye’s escape fantasy since he first blew up. When he imagined running away from it all, the desert was always his ideal. It’s where he would finally find peace.
What makes Kanye West different than you or I is that he is willing to try and recreate the exact image of his escape fantasy and share it with the world.
Now, this is totally crazy. I, because I am a somewhat normal person, might tell you about my escape fantasy in broad strokes — I’m living in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine — but I would never tell you all the intimate, weird, fetishistic details of the fantasy. I’m not letting you in on the fact that in my fantasy I’m wearing a Hemingway sweater and writing on a typewriter and my buxom, well-read wife is busy making us a hearty stew, because that would be so totally crazy and cartoonish that you’d laugh at me.
It’s so embarrassing to delve into our inner fantasies and share them that we would never do that, except maybe with a psychologist.
BUT KANYE SHARES IT WITH US. In his escape fantasy, he’s riding on a highway in Oklahoma and he’s banging his wife on a freaking Harley while shooting stars flash behind him and wild horses run alongside him on a mesa. It’s the type of thing that could only exist in some vivid, embarrassing daydream, but Kanye doesn’t care. He saw it in his head. Now we will see it in ours. That is why he is Kanye and we are us.
This is just a fantasy, though. Kanye will never move to Oklahoma, just like I will never get a fishing hut on the coast of Maine.
Kanye could though. He has all the money he’ll ever need. If he really wanted to, he and Kim could buy half the Oklahoma desert and live in solitude.
But he’ll never stop making music. Because the only thing greater than Kanye’s desire to be left alone is his desire for every last person on earth to realize how much of a genius he is.
The great transgressive author Bret Easton Ellis has a new podcast, and he scored a major coup for his first guest: Kanye West. In the hour-long episode, which includes the first part of a two-page conversation, West and Ellis talk about movies, which means we get to hear West expounding on 12 Years A Slave and Menace II Society and Flight, as well as “the skill set to dress nice” and his own maturity issues. West and his DONDA company made a trailer for the Ellis-written movie The Canyons, and West directed a promo video for Yeezus based on Ellis’s American Psycho, but it’s still a weird thrill to hear them in a room together. Listen to it here.