The Nowhere Man

The Nowhere Man

Kanye West’s distracted,lazy and goofy and this is not helping his music

Forgive Kanye West: He’s been terribly distracted. There’s the immersion in the fashion world: “Dinner with Anna Wintour/Racing with Anja Rubik.” There’s his sneaker line with Nike: “Hold up,I ain’t trying to stunt,man/But the Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman.” There’s the still unrealised creative aspirations: “I just meditate,” he raps,“about how I could build a new Rome in one day.” And of course,there’s the new girlfriend,Kim Kardashian: “My girl a superstar all from a home movie.”

These are more than hobbies; they’re 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 what’s 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,Creepers—feature what’s 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 he’s also not one to mind the house when he’s 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 crew’s most unlikely member,the smooth Nigerian pop star D’Banj,is reduced to some formless singing on The Morning.

Operating at full intensity,West certainly wouldn’t 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,he’s 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 Kim’s closet of clothes that he deems out of style; in another,he attends Kourtney’s baby shower and has a private moment with Khloe discussing his relationship with Kim,admitting,“It’s scary,but it’s about me being responsible with my heart.”

In all the episodes he’s 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. That’s also evident from the Cruel Summer—when his future pursuits aren’t occupying his mind,his past is. West’s persistent reminders of where he came from on an album that mostly shows off where he’s aiming to go.

But West is 35 now,and it’s 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 it’s time for everyone else to fend for themselves while West finds a place to land safely.