1. There are few movies I anticipated the way I anticipated Kill Bill Volume 2. None perhaps. As far as sequels to movies I’d loved goes, I also was anxious to see The Dark Knight and The Matrix Reloaded. But with each of those, I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen and, most importantly, the way the story was going to be told. With Kill Bill Volume 2, though, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to see. Yes, I knew Beatrix would find a way to kill Bill at the end of the movie, but would Elle Driver and Budd be given the same type of anime-intro O-Ren received? Which genre would Tarantino lean on more? Spaghetti Western? Blaxploitation? Samurai? Would the scenes follow a chronological order? How much would be shown in black and white?
As I’ve mentioned before, this same type of imperviousness to prediction is (to me) the most notable aspect of Kanye West’s talent, the most literal manifestation of his (depending on who you ask) genius, madness, or wackness. I can’t think of any other hip-hop artist who consistently defies expectations this way. I mean, when you hear that Jay-Z or Ghostface or Drake or whomever is releasing a new album, before you even hear it, anyone familiar with their work is going to have an idea of what it’s going to sound like. The only question is whether or not it’s going to be any good. But, trying to predict how a Kanye West album is going to sound is like trying to imagine how the air tastes on Jupiter. I think that people who anticipate his albums the way I do are compelled by this volatility, while the people who can’t stand him and/or find him inauthentic are annoyed by it.
2. It would be unwise to craft your final judgments on New Slaves and Black Skinhead right now because one thing you can predict about Kanye is that a Kanye song the first time you hear it and the album version of a Kanye song are likely to be completely different. But, in the chance that these were the final versions of the songs, I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I do. My opinions aren’t based on whatever “messages” the songs were trying to convey. I just like the way each sounds.
3. I loved College Dropout, but I do not miss College Dropout Kanye or want College Dropout Kanye to “come back.” For those who do—and, apparently, there are many—I don’t know if you realize how selfish that is. It’s also impossible, both literally (obviously) and figuratively. You’re asking someone to recreate memories and music so you can feel how you felt when it was initially created. You don’t want College Dropout Kanye back. You want who you were when College Dropout dropped to come back. Neither will ever happen.
Thing is, even if this were to happen—if Kanye or whoever was able to transform back into a long dead version of themselves just to replicate their art—you would not be able to replicate how you felt when first hearing it. Just as they’re not the same person, you’re not either, which is why it’s imperative to create new memories and associations instead of trying (and failing) to relive old ones.
4. From a personal perspective, I am almost completely neutral about Kim and Kanye’s relationship. And, by “I am almost completely neutral about their relationship” I mean “I am neither rooting for nor against them, but if a gun was pointed to my head and I had to choose, I’d root for them. I’d then ask Panama why he pulled a gun on me.”
But, as Rembert Browne alluded to last week, it’s near impossible to listen to a Kanye song or album now and not wonder what influence Kim has had on his work. For this reason, I think being with her may end up being the worst musical decision he’s ever made. I wont pretend to know what’s going on inside of Kanye’s head, but he’s always struck me as an artist who’s more concerned with product, legacy, and praise than popularity. Not only does he want to be the best artist, he wants everyone to recognize him as such. (Ironically, this maniacal focus on product and legacy has made him extremely popular. There’s a positive message here somewhere that I’d note if I cared about positive messages.)
But now Kim Kardashian’s shadow looms over his work. Regardless of how good (or bad) this album is—and regardless of whether their relationship has any influence at all on the quality of his work and the frequency that work is produced—Kim’s name will be mentioned in every longform review and article about it, and her presence will be thought of when people assess this album. She, he, and them together are too transcendentally (and, perhaps, intentionally) bizarre for this not to happen.
For an artist so concerned with legacy, so concerned with how his work is regarded, you have to wonder why he’d willingly enter a relationship that would have such an effect on how people regard his work.
(Actually, I don’t really wonder why. Although Kanye has been the subject of numerous gay rumors, he’s always struck me as a person who’s exclusively attracted to and infatuated with women and completely dependent on their validation. Basically, he seems like the type of guy who needs women to cum while f*cking him for him to get any lasting pleasure out of sex. Sure, the woman “wins,” but it’s really all about him and proving to himself—and her—that he has that power. For a person who thinks like this, Kim Kardashian—a woman whose popularity largely stems from being the amalgamation of a million different porn-addicted men’s sexual chimeras—is not only an understandable choice, she’s the best one.)
5. I think certain decisions Kanye has made has caused many to think of him as a shameless attention whore. I’ve never agreed with this, mainly because I can’t think of a current celebrity who’s noticeably disquieted by attention more than he is. It feels like he wants to be known and thought of, but not actually engaged unless he has complete control of the interaction. Basically, he’s the music world’s unlikeliest introvert.
6. I think Kanye is the single most important person in music right now. I think he’s very aware of this. He also must be aware that his last album was regarded by many very serious hip-hop critics as one of the best rap albums ever made. I think this would put any artist under a shitload of pressure. I’m (obviously) not sure how Kanye is handling this, but I think we’ll have a better idea June 18th.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)