If Kanye West reads this headline, he’ll undoubtedly object. It’s not BIG enough for him. Super-size is not his style. It must be SUPA DUPA size - even if it won’t fit on the page.
Size matters to Kanye (nobody calls him West). He has an outsized ego in a field filled with chest-beating, self-promoting braggarts. But this hip-hop supernova has earned the ego.
Kanye is the first bona fide rock star that hip-hop has produced since Eminem shared the Grammys stage with Elton John. Like Bob Dylan, Bono, Prince and rock’s other greatest stars, he is a visionary, a rebel with a cause, an innovator who colors outside the lines, a provocateur with a sense of the artful and the outrageous, an uber-talent who knows it.
Like them, he can wear sunglasses anytime, anywhere, and seem way cool. And borrowing a page from their icon manual, he does interviews only when he wants to. In fact, he has not given one since his mother/manager/closest friend, Donda West, died unexpectedly in November.
So, in the collage-making spirit that drives Kanye’s music, we’ve put together an interview, drawing from his obsessively updated blog (www.KanyeUniverseCity.com/blog), previous interviews and his lyrics.
Question: How has the death of your mother affected you?
Answer: If there’s anything my mom taught me, it is to enjoy life. I just recorded my first verse in the last six months two days ago at Bape’s Studio in Japan. It felt good and I was inspired. I absolutely lost my mind (in a good way) on the new “Glow in the Dark Tour.”
The constant hours of creating helped me to keep from losing my mind in a bad way. (Video director) Chris Milk told me tragedy can produce great art and this is definitely true. I am a total mad man now, up till 3 a.m. every night, trying to fight pain, boredom and uncertainty with creativity. All that said, life is good. (Blog, April 2008)
Why are you such a detail-obsessed workaholic?
If I was more complacent and I let things slide, my life would be easier, but you all wouldn’t be as entertained. My misery is your pleasure. (Rolling Stone, February 2006)
What are you trying to do with your music?
My music isn’t just music - it’s medicine. I want my songs to touch people, to give them what they need. Every time I make an album, I’m trying to make a cure for cancer, musically. That stresses me out. (BMI MusicWorld, March 2006)
Where does your sense of political or social commentary come from?
I get down for my grandfather who took my mama/ Made her sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat/ At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sittin’/ And with that in my blood I was born to be different. (“Never Let Me Down,” 2004)
As a kid, were you seen as different?
Yeah, definitely. I dressed like I was on TV before I was on TV. I tried to be different for the sake of just being better than what was out there, like saying, “Let me show you an alternative that I think is better than what everybody else is doing.” Some people are different and it’s worse. (laughs) Also as a producer I’m very melody-driven. My messages are similar to the messages that you’ll get in R&B music and rock music_ a lot of inspiration. I think it’s harder in rap, because we have so many lines drawn. So I have to work way harder than anybody else to make rap songs that have the same impact as rock songs and R&B songs. (Interview magazine, October 2007)
Let’s talk about your new album. Do you think “Graduation” is blacker than your debut, “The College Dropout”?
Way blacker. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” - how hood is that record? “Good Life” is straight Steve Harvey, all day long. “Flashing Light”? I never had a record that was that black. But it’s white at the same time. Certain things are so good it doesn’t have to be white or black. That’s what “Graduation” is. Take “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” It’s a white sample, but everything I do to it is to make it as black as possible. So I’ma make the bass as black as possible, I’ma make the lyrics as intense as possible. (Spin, January 2008)
Why do you have groups like Coldplay, Daft Punk and Steely Dan on “Graduation”?
Some of these aren’t the coolest groups. But they have songs that really connect. (The Times of London, October 2007)
Have you ever looked out at your audience and felt dismayed by the number of white faces - or black faces - in the crowd?
Never! You can never shun either audience. ... Every time I do a video, every time I do a song, I have to keep in mind everybody. It’s `Mission: Impossible’ for real. I’m the only artist who has a responsibility to hit five, six different types of fans every time. (Entertainment Weekly, February 2006)
You’ve become controversial because you are so outspoken. Do you worry that what you say might hurt your career?
Yeah, I do worry about that. But I worry more about not being myself. (Interview magazine, October 2007)
Which hurt you more: Dissing President Bush on the Hurricane Katrina telethon for his treatment of black people or calling out hip-hoppers on your MTV special for being homophobic?
The homophobia in hip-hop comments were something that could’ve been more detrimental to my career than the George Bush comment, because it wasn’t popular opinion. Most black people hate George Bush - and it’s not just black people, either. (Chicago Sun-Times, October 2005)
Why did you stop doing interviews?
People who write stuff paraphrase. They take what I’m saying - and I speak in colors - and flip it to black and white. Sometimes I might say something that has four or five meanings. If I’m being sarcastic, they’ll take out the setup or the punch line and I sound like a jerk. It’s the edit. Do the fans sit back and wonder why, every time in the press, Kanye is made to look so bad, but when you listen to his music, it’s so good? (Sunday Herald Sun of Australia, September 2007)
Many critics have been less than generous in assessing your skills as a rapper. How do you feel about that?
I’m nowhere as good as Jay-Z, Eminem or Nas. So I compensate. With star power, sheer energy, entertainment, videos, really good outfits and overwhelmingly, ridiculously dope tracks. Justin Timberlake isn’t the best singer, but he’s a true star, the entire package. The main thing I use to make up for my lack of rapping skills is my content, my subject matter. (Playboy, March 2006)
One last question. Entertainment Weekly wrote a very favorable review of your Glow in the Dark Tour, though they were less effusive about your opening acts. Why did you go ballistic when they gave the tour a grade of B-plus?
What does B-plus mean? I’m an extremist. I’m either pass or fail. A-plus or F-minus! (Blog, April 2008)
// Notes from the Road
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