Forgive Kanye West: Hes been terribly distracted. Theres the immersion in the fashion world: Dinner with Anna Wintour/Racing with Anja Rubik. Theres his sneaker line with Nike: Hold up,I aint trying to stunt,man/But the Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman. Theres the still unrealised creative aspirations: I just meditate, he raps,about how I could build a new Rome in one day. And of course,theres the new girlfriend,Kim Kardashian: My girl a superstar all from a home movie.
These are more than hobbies; theyre preoccupations. On Cruel Summer (G.O.O.D./Def Jam),the spotty new compilation from his music label from which all of the lyrics above are drawn,West is characteristically loose,veering from rapping about depression after the death of his mother to making it plain exactly whats at the forefront of his thinking lately.
This being a crew album,with a lot of voices to acknowledge,West is often nowhere to be found. Parts of this album Sin City,The One,Creepersfeature whats easily the laziest music on any Kanye-related project.
They stick out especially because through the spring and summer West has been releasing singles,all of which are on this album,that show him at or near his best. Cold,with its nervy synths,Mercy,is a slow-and-low thumper with idiosyncratic twists: Talking bout Mary,she gone off that molly/Now the whole party is melting like Dali, West raps.
West still has a complex about being underappreciated,but hes also not one to mind the house when hes distracted. Some of the best moments on this album belong to the snarling drug-dealer-obsessed Pusha T. Big Sean stands out on Mercy. The crews most unlikely member,the smooth Nigerian pop star DBanj,is reduced to some formless singing on The Morning.
Operating at full intensity,West certainly wouldnt have allowed that to happen. Why might he be so hands off?
Where West has been more present,or at least more defined,this year is on television,as a sometime guest on Keeping Up With the Kardashians,alongside Kardashian. West typically eats up scenery,but next to Kardashian,hes practically docile.
West is often depicted as arrogant and surly,but the warm swaddle of the Kardashian clan has done him wonders. In one episode he helps clear Kims closet of clothes that he deems out of style; in another,he attends Kourtneys baby shower and has a private moment with Khloe discussing his relationship with Kim,admitting,Its scary,but its about me being responsible with my heart.
In all the episodes hes smiling goofily.
To see West as a beta character is a new wrinkle in his public persona,a possible indication of rewiring still to come. Thats also evident from the Cruel Summerwhen his future pursuits arent occupying his mind,his past is. Wests persistent reminders of where he came from on an album that mostly shows off where hes aiming to go.
But West is 35 now,and its difficult to keep one foot planted in the past and the other in the future. On The One,he raps,Had to take it to another realm/Cause everything around me got me underwhelmed. Maybe he means aesthetics. Maybe he means emotions. Maybe its time for everyone else to fend for themselves while West finds a place to land safely.