November 28, 2010 3:23:54 am
Kanye West prefers his narratives linear,uninterrupted,undistressed. Thats why,when hes been in the news media lately,his interlocutors have largely stayed out of his way. On everything from radio shows to record-label-sanctioned conference calls simulcast on the Internet,the pattern has been pretty much the same: Kanye speaks until he is done,and only then does someone ask another question.
What all of these outlets have in common is that his words will be represented in full,without intrusion or interpretation. The Web site Jezebel recently compiled a five-minute video stitching together several of Kanyes televised outbursts and outlandish statements over the years. And while theyre mostly uncomfortable to watch,theyre motivated by a consistent,if peculiar,internal logic: that he isnt to be disturbed.
When hes comfortable,and not feeling cornered,he can be thoughtful,as he was during an extended visit this month to the D.J. Funkmaster Flex on the New York radio station Hot 97. As a celebrity,as soon as you become a star,as soon as it pops off for you,at that point you stop growing, he admitted.
It was a far cry from his experience on a recent episode of Today on NBC. Hed come to the program to respond to statements made by former President George W. Bush about him branding him a racist during the early days of Hurricane Katrina. (In my moment of frustration,I didnt have the grounds to call him a racist, Kanye said.)
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Even his consistent success14 Grammy Awards,four platinum albums and morehas done little to change his public image. Hes certainly the only rapper to be insulted by two president President Obama took a swipe at him after he bum-rushed Taylor Swift at last years MTV Video Music Awards.
Kanye recently released his fifth album,My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam),and its terrificof course its terrifica startlingly maximalist take on East Coast rap traditionalism. And yet that doesnt matter nearly as much as it should,at least partly because of his insistence on his own greatness. By not allowing for responses to his work other than awe,the value of the work itself is diminished; it becomes an object of admiration,not of study. Instead the focus is on Kanyes persona and character,which is more fractured,and subject to a far wider range of responses. The result is that he becomes a polarising public figure who happens to be the most artful pop musician of the day,not the other way around.
Nevertheless,he seems virtually incapable of making a bad record. Hes committed to pop,and savvy and talented enough to make it great,every time. Every Kanye West album,until the cancer of the world around him begins to encroach on the parts of his cerebral cortex that control his musical ear,will be excellent and huge. Hell never have an idiosyncratic period.
His Twitter feed is robust,an easy source of absurd quotables. (I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused.) But they reflect only how he wishes to be seen,even if his grasp on self-protection is weak.
His attempts to take back the narrative are often unsuccessful in the face of a media machine racing in the opposite direction,something Kanye. witnessed up close during the various stages of the Bush debacle,which culminated in Bush calling the rappers Katrina-related outburst one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.
Kanye West declined to be interviewed by The New York Times this month. And he has been scarce in print media; he appeared on a recent cover of XXL magazine,for which he wrote his own cover story and was the creative director of his own section of the magazine. Apart from Today hes mostly promoted this album via a string of interviews with radio stations. He hasnt been properly challenged.
In the future maybe hell become like Bono,giving one or two interviews per album cycle,never revealing too much,waiting around long past the point of appearing intriguing. Except that Kanye could never be like Bono. Kanye isnt content without feedback; his effort is valueless without response. Plenty of artists insist their work speaks for them,but as spectacular as his work is and likely will continue to be,Kanye will never be one of them. A blowhard with subpar records wouldnt merit the trouble. Kanye is someone worth interrogating,and thats the highest compliment of all.JON CARAMANICA
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