Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kanye West Is The Michael Jordan of Blowhard Interviews

Remember those Magic Eye posters that were all the rage in the '90s? They looked like an especially busy wallpaper pattern but when you unfocused your eyes, a picture of a spaceship or a puppy or whatever would supposedly emerge. I say supposedly because I was never able to make those images work for me -- while everybody else was oohing and aahing about how cool they were, all I ever got out of them was the wallpaper pattern and a headache.

I have felt much the same way the last several years as everyone has spoken in increasingly reverent tones of the musical genius of Kanye West.

Admittedly, I am a little underinformed. I never sat down and listened to any of his albums. I think the first time I ever heard of him was when he said "George Bush doesn't care about black people," a sentiment I found little fault with. After that I think the next I heard of him was when he stole Taylor Swift's MTV award.

As for his music, I am familiar with the big club hits, because I work in a bar that plays club hits: "Flashing Lights," "Stronger," "Gold Digger," and "All Of the Lights." Long before I knew who its author was, I found "Flashing Lights" totally annoying, because of the lazy, singsongy delivery of the verses. I also didn't know who recorded "Stronger" but I knew it was basically someone else's song (who I have since learned to be Daft Punk) with more stupid, lazily delivered verses grafted onto it; "Gold Digger" made me hate both "Gold Digger" and Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman," which I had liked enough to make my ringtone for when my wife called; and while I can admit that "All Of The Lights" has some redeeming qualities as an effective club tune, at least until the voice comes in to crap rap all over it.

Eventually I figured out all these tunes were by Kanye West, and that's when I started scratching my head. This is the guy everyone's calling a genius? This is the guy who's revolutionizing rap music? This is the best producer in the game?

People are saying all those things quite a bit at the moment, because the world is waiting on pins and needles for the release of Kanye's sixth album, Yeezus, titled after Kanye's self-applied nickname (Yeezy) and the name of our Lord and Savior.

By law, you can't write about Kanye without
including this photo
I guess Kanye doesn't do a lot of interviews, because the one he did with the New York Times this week lit up the entire Internet the moment it was posted. And, as it turns out, the 99% of music fans out there who are swinging from Kanye's nuts and calling him the greatest musician of this or any other generation? It seems that Kanye feels they are underrating him.

Here's a selection of choice quotes from the piece, which he begins by calling himself "the Michael Jordan of music":

I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.  
I’m going to be cliché for a minute and say that great art comes from pain. But also I’d say a bigger statement than that is: Great art comes from great artists. There’s a bunch of people that are hurt that still couldn’t have made the album that was super-polarizing and redefined the sound of radio.
I knew when I wrote the line “light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson” I was going to be a big star.  
The longer your ‘gevity is, the more confidence you build. The idea of Kanye and vanity are like, synonymous. But I’ve put myself in a lot of places where a vain person wouldn’t put themselves in. Like what’s vanity about wearing a kilt? 
I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z.
I think that’s a responsibility that I have, to push possibilities, to show people: “This is the level that things could be at.” So when you get something that has the name Kanye West on it, it’s supposed to be pushing the furthest possibilities. I will be the leader of a company that ends up being worth billions of dollars, because I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.

I'm sure their child will be
very well-adjusted
All of these quotes are laughably arrogant and unself-aware and show that there is a very real possibility that Kanye West might very well one day snap and murder someone if anything should ever pop the kevlar bubble that he is clearly living in. I was going to make fun of them one at a time, but it's like fish in a barrel, and I don't want to deny you the fun of picking them apart for yourself. (Although I have to point out that Steve Jobs is the Steve Jobs of the Internet, Mr. Relevant Nucleus.)

What I found most interesting was the comments section below the article; anyone who pointed out the obvious fact that this dude's head wouldn't fit in Yankee Stadium was shouted down by other commenters proclaiming him the greatest musician ever. Even people who found his comments distasteful said so with the disclaimer "I still love his music" or "he's so amazing, why does he have to be such a jerk?"

I wrote not long ago about the way we all bend over backwards to excuse Prince his generally awful behavior because his music is so good, and this would seem to be another case of that, but I was really and truly baffled. What are all these people hearing that I'm not hearing?

So I went on Spotify and cued up Kanye's 2008 record, 808s and Heartbreak, to give it a fair listen, and record my thoughts in real time on each track.

Here goes:

Say You Will -- It sounds like a game of Pong. What's with all the AutoTune? At 6:18, it's at least 4 minutes too long -- it's slow and boring and we are not off to a good start.
Welcome to Heartbreak -- I thought this guy was a rapper. This track is a lot of feeling sorry for himself for being busy with a massive career. And it has no beat to speak of.
Heartless -- Only three tracks in, I am already so sick of the AutoTune drenching everything and there is still no beat. What is hip-hop if you can't bounce to it?
Amazing -- Is there going to be AutoTune on every song here? Why is this album so boring? I thought it was supposed to blow my mind.
Love Lockdown -- I hate this album. It should be called "AutoTune and Whining"
Paranoid -- Still not my cup of tea, but at least it has a semi-bounceable beat.
RoboCop -- I can't listen to this anymore.

Nobody who wears those sunglasses
is not a douchebag. Check the rulebook
Sorry guys, I tried. I also sampled each of the tracks on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and several of the earlier ones with the teddy bears on the covers, but didn't bother to do a track-by-track. Suffice to say, I still don't get what all the fuss is about with this guy. As a rapper he sounds uncommitted to his own material, like a high-school kid who doesn't want to be caught trying. And these amazing beats that everyone is so gaga over... hasn't anyone ever heard Paul's Boutique or The Low End Theory or 3 Feet High And Rising or The Chronic or Doggystyle or Illadelph Halflife or It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back or Paid In Full or Ready To Die? Those are amazing beats. They make you want to dance, even before anyone starts rhyming on them. Kanye's beats make me want to leave the room.

If anything, all it sounds to me like Kanye's done is take the music I hated 20 years ago -- techno and house music -- and graft rap verses onto it. At the risk of sounding like a bitter old man (too late, I know), that is not that awesome.

If people like Kanye, I don't have any problem with that, and I'm not trying to talk you out of it, I'm just saying, maybe we can take it easy on the "Kanye is a genius" and "Kanye IS rap music" (actual quote from the Times' comment section) and "if you don't understand that Kanye is the most important cultural force of the 21st century you're just a hater" talk, because a) it's a bit of an exaggeration and b) Kanye himself is saying all those things loud enough for all of us.

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