Dealing with the change in focus of my favorite artist
THE SANTA CLARA
October 1, 2015
Kanye West is Earth’s resident genius. From stitching together soul samples in Chicago basements to orchestrating each detail of the worldwide Yeezus extravaganza, nobody currently living has devoted their life to more consistently dope purposes. But he’s nearing the age where many great musicians begin to slip. And in between preparing for a second baby with Kim K and designing a fashion line identical to his first collection, his focus on that which made him living room famous has waned.
Recently, he gave an interview with Vanity Fair characterized by the exuberant optimism that has become a staple of his public speaking appearances. He said things like, “Sweatshirts are f-cking important,” and “You know when you see people’s dogs look like them? I want people’s clothes to look like them,” which I guess sheds light on why his line looks like an artisanally tan version of yard work rags.
But then he went on to call doddering nutter Ben Carson, “the most brilliant guy,” and make a 2020 presidential campaign seem more imminent than the release of his seventh album, tentatively titled “Swish.” And all in all, it became difficult to continue defending Kanye as a man still at the top of his game.
Kanye, the artist, is untouchable. His style superceded gangsta rap. His least popular album is why Drake has a career. His music will be the first notes to enter my first-born’s ears. During his six-album run, Kanye went on the finest creative spree of any contemporary other than Steve Jobs. I believe that. I’ll be saying it above my drool cup in the old folk’s home.
Kanye, the person, has split opinion. But his bald sincerity only further enraptured if you fell prostrate at his music. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” is the homo habilus of “Black Lives Matter.” The T-Swift interruption is now a wistful memory. And his marriage to Kim Kardashian in a Medici palace garlanded with one million pearly roses is maybe the most ridiculously opulent moment in human history and only those two could have pulled it off with a straight face. Whether you like him or not, Kanye West makes the planet more interesting.
Lately, Kanye still throws a world class live show, but anywhere else, when we watch him bellow positive platitudes or coo high-brow fashionese, we titter and smirk and nudge each other. For the first time, Kanye just released something more boring than his past effort. And that’s fine for fashion if his music remains superb, but his album seems to be veering into a “Detox” purgatory where it may remain for its overbroad vision. How do you put “Only One” and “All Day” on the same record? And if “Swish” never emerges from his electronic vault, that might reframe how we think about “Yeezus,” which is innovative and important, but not necessarily a classic.
Just thinking about Kanye being washed up sucks. I don’t want him to get old, or boring or less great. It reminds me that time is relentless, and that one day, my favorite artist won’t produce anything else that will fill me with giggly awe.
Hip-hop isn’t gaping from Ye’s absence. Drake shamelessly delivers a steady flow of bangers that tickle something both primal and modern. Kendrick skies towards a level of experimentation and raised consciousness that we are all privileged to witness. And Migos/Future/Young Thug are vanguarding a new era of melty melodies and infectious robovibes.
Though the pinnacle of hip-hop remains strong, I pine for Ye’s distinct brew of outlandish self-confidence, attention to detail and unparalleled, emboldening results. While entranced by the sonic possibilities that only he was capable of, I could briefly enter his intoxicating headspace. And that stirred a cultish fervor within me that no other artist can awaken.
Transcendental brilliance is a rare, delicate thing that contorts and crushes. Einstein spent the second half of his career on a theory that didn’t work. Hemingway had his mental zest electrocuted out of him. Elvis died on the toilet. Kanye wants to parent, design, and campaign more than make music, and that’s fine, he’s done plenty. Still the change throws me off-balance, but that’s how you feel when a pillar shifts.
Contact John Flynn at jfflynn@scu.