Kanye West And Our Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Narcissism

(The Champ’s latest at Complex Magazine on the irony of us criticizing Kanye for being narcissistic.)

Of all his questionable behavior—his consistently disturbing lyrics about women, his co-opting the Confederate flag, his introducing us to Big Sean, etc.—the narcissism seems to bother most of us the most. Everything he now does—the interviews he allows, the woman he proposes to, the clothes he wears, the music he creates, even the child he produces—is seen through this lens. This obsession with himself and his image is our most concrete evidence that Kanye West no longer represents anybody, and this bothers us. We think we lost Kanye. To himself. But we’re wrong. Kanye West never stopped representing us. He’s just representing a part of us we don’t necessarily want represented.

I have a little under 1400 Facebook friends. Of these, I’ve met (maybe) 30 percent in person. And (maybe) 30 percent of that 30 percent are people I’d actually consider friends. I also have 14,000 Facebook fans I’ll never meet, and 11,000 Twitter followers I wouldn’t know if they were sitting on my living room couch. Yet, I seem to care very much about what these anonymous people think of me. It’s not uncommon for me to spend three minutes editing a tweet it only took three seconds to type, and 30 more minutes thinking I should have typed something else. I feel good when even my most mundane status messages are liked by people I’ve never met, and even better if those people happen to be people I consider “cool.” I try very hard to say the type of “witty” and “insightful” things that make it seem like I’m not trying very hard, with the hope that people I don’t know appreciate it so much that they share it with people they don’t know.

What is remarkable about what I’m saying is the fact that nothing I’m saying is remarkable. I may have more friends, fans, and followers than most (I certainly have fewer than some!) but my behavior is not abnormal. We’re all A&Rs of our own personal brands now, and part of maintaining that brand is soliciting acknowledgement from strangers. And part of soliciting acknowledgement from strangers is being hyperconscious of your image. We know which angles give us the most flattering pictures, and we’re annoyed when we get tagged in a photo without our permission because we can’t fathom letting people know what we really look like. We’re more meticulous about the image we want to project than we are about actually wanting our person to match our persona.

We are undeniably and unambiguously narcissistic.

I’m far from the first person to notice any of this. The editors of Oxford University Press just chose “selfie” as 2013′s “word of the year.” If that’s not a sure sign of humanity-wide narcissism, I don’t know what is. In fact, some psychologists believe we are living through a full-fledged narcissism epidemic. In “Narcissism: The Malady of Me” the New York Times’ Benedict Carey writes that narcissism has become so common that behavioral scientists are reconsidering the definition—and this was published three years ago. Before Twitter became ubiquitous. And before the Pope got on Instagram.

With our generally accepted narcissism comes an implied code of conduct. This code of conduct has one rule. It is okay to be narcissistic. Necessary even. The only condition is that you just can’t admit that you care about your image as much as you care about your image. Kanye West has no such pretense. He has no rules. He is exceedingly, almost maddeningly transparent about how much he cares about how he is perceived. And about the importance of acknowledgement. And about his image. The only difference between his narcissism and our narcissism is that he doesn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. He acknowledges it. Embraces it. Swims in it. Fucks it. He’s too [insert adjective here] to be as self-conscious as we are about admitting to it. Naturally, he fell in love with the only woman who matches his translucence.

(Read the rest at Complex)

Miley Cyrus’s Funhouse Mirror of Black America

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***The Champ’s latest at Complex touches on Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, race, class, and…Superman***

“To them and people like them, hip-hop is simplistic, pathological, and (most importantly) Black. Too Black. Inescapably, undeniably Black. And, anything that Black cannot possibly be artistic. I no longer feel the need to remind them that that hip-hop is a Harvard fellowship, a movie score, and a quarter billion dollar tour deal negotiated in a throwaway verse. Although hip-hop remains inherently iconoclastic, it has a stout enough resume to be genuinely iconic. It is no longer the music your parents just don’t understand. Your 52 year old dad was 18 when “Rapper’s Delight” dropped; your 72 year old grandmother listens to “Umi Says” when she crochets.

Miley Cyrus was not alive when “Rapper’s Delight” dropped. She was three when Tupac died. Four when Wu-Tang Forever made fatigues and fishermen’s caps high fashion. She is very, very, very young. And while youth isn’t an excuse to culturally appropriate without any discernible sense of context, I just can not get too upset at any act done by any post-teen that doesn’t involve murder or my Chipotle burrito. Somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking, and I don’t give a fuck.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I wouldn’t give a fuck about her twerking, her use of Black dancers as seesaws, her tongue, or her unauthorized use of “homie” if they existed in a vacuum. Context matters, though. It does not seem to be a coincidence that Cyrus’ very public shift in behavior occurred soon after asking Timothy and Theron Thomas to create a “Blacker” sound for her; a request that that eventually led to the ubiquitous “We Can’t Stop”—a track whose video became a national Rorschach test for feelings about race, class, and ass.

“If there are 40 million Black Americans” says Henry Louis Gates Jr. “then there are 40 million ways to be Black.” To Cyrus, though, Blackness seems to correlate with ratchetness. The fact that she’s become music’s Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment by doing this doesn’t add insult to injury as much as it reinforces the idea that Blackness is an accessory. A prop. The clown hats, lenseless glasses, and plastic machine guns available at wedding photo booths. It’s post-racial the same way a Prius with a Charger engine in its trunk is a muscle car.

She wakes up every morning as Miley Cyrus, the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, and one of the few mega famous child stars to successfully make a post-childhood transition to continued stardom. The costume she dons—the ratchetness, the minstrelsy, the hood language so over the top it borders on parody—is her idea of what it means to be more Black. Miley Cyrus is Clark Kent, and Miley Cyrus’ Clark Kent is a funhouse mirror of Black America.”

***Read the rest at Complex***

The Surprisingly Solid Sex Advice From Kanye West’s “I’m In It”

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It’s been two weeks since Kanye West’s Yeezus first dropped. Since its release, serious critics from pretty much every corner of the music world have been in a virtual race to see who could give it the laudingest review.

Yet, while the sonic aspects of the album have received the lion’s share of the praise, the actual lyrical content has received quite a bit of (justified) criticism. Particularly, how it deals with women. 

One song in particular has seemed to draw the most ire; an especially, almost hilariously dark three minute and forty-five second long genre (and gender) bending track that kinda sounds, to quote a friend, like “…something the antichrist would say while on a date at the Olive Garden.”

Needless to say, it also happens to be my favorite song on the album.

Anyway, after listening to it for perhaps the 32nd time a couple days ago, something dawned on me: What he’s saying here isn’t actually that bad. It’s actually kinda…thoughtful. And…practical. And…romantic.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s go line for line and see.

“Damn your lips very soft”

When dating a Black woman, you can never go wrong with an unsolicited softness, hair, skin, or struggle-related compliment.

“As I turn my Blackberry off”

Some of us are so attached to our phones that we schedule mid-coitus breaks to check Instagram updates, and he’s actually turning it all the way off! How considerate is that?

“And I turn your bath water on”

Who said chivalry was dead? Not Kanye.

“And you turn off your iPhone”

See, men. If you take the lead, she’ll follow. As the homie Paul Brunson says, it’s not complicated.

“Jealous whispers, eye f*cking, biting ass”

As the guy who used to hawk boosted water guns and Progresso soup cans outside of my barbershop used to tell me, “foreplay is the best play.”

“Neck, ears, hands, legs, eating’ ass”

He’s making sure no part gets neglected. I hope you guys out there are taking notes. It’s not always just about nips and lips. Toes, elbows, and the perpetually ashy space between her fingers need love too.

“Your p*ssy’s too good, I need to crash”

Another unsolicited softness and lips-related compliment. Plus, the intentional hyperbole of “too good” instead of just plain “good” will definitely make her smile on the inside.

“Your t*tties, let ‘em out, free at last.”

He obviously listens to his woman—and other women—and knows that wearing a bra all day can be painful and restrictive.

“Thank God almighty, they free at last”

You can never go with with invoking Dr. King in the bedroom. Never. (How am I so sure? Don’t ask.)

“We was up at the party but we was leavin’ fast”

There are some of y’all who’ve been dating the same person for three years and won’t even go to the Wendy’s drive-thru together yet, but he obviously thinks enough of her to be seen with her in public and be seen leaving in a hurry with her.

“Had to stop at 7-Eleven like I needed gas. I’m lyin’, I needed condoms, don’t look through the glass.”

There are so many nuggets of gold here that it’s hard to keep count.

First, realizing she may have had too much to drink, he’s driving. Second, he’s practicing safe sex…something we all know we could be much better at. Third, to add strawberries to bacon, he knows that, despite their need and utility, condoms aren’t necessarily the most romantic object, so he conceals the purchase.

“Chasin’ love, lot of bittersweet hours lost”

A subtle reminder that, even in the throes of passion, it’s wise to step back and assess whether your level of commitment is harming other aspects of your life.

“Eatin’ Asian p*ssy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce”

While awkward, this level of pre-coital cultural sensitivity is rare. I mean, you can be as politically correct as you want, but it helps to know some culturally specific things before jumping into the sack, especially if you’re a Black male.

For instance, you probably shouldn’t pull a Black woman’s hair, you probably shouldn’t sleep with a White woman if her dad is still alive, and, apparently, condiments are key if performing cunnilingus on a Chinese woman. Learn something new every day.

“Tell your boss you need an extra hour off.”

Sensitive enough to make sure she doesn’t get in trouble at work. Plus, this line single-handedly refutes all the data, surveys, stories, and specials about how difficult it is for professional Black women to find men.

“Get you super wet after we turn the shower off.”

Although it looks great in movies, anyone who’s ever had shower sex…or bathtub sex…or jacuzzi sex…or typhoon sex…or Allegheny River after dark when the police boats start floating towards the Ohio sex…knows that water can act as an anti-lubricant. It is, without question, the world’s great paradox.

Yet, Kanye has obviously been paying attention, and knows that it is best to wait until after the shower to start the sexual activity.

I’d break down the second verse as well, but I think we need the weekend break to process everything we learned here so far.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Yeezus’s New Slave

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After making a few jump shots in a row, occasionally Lebron James will race down court the next time he gets the ball and shoot an uncontested 35 to 40 footer with 20 seconds left on the shot clock (watch from 0:29 to 0:59 here for an example). For those not familiar with basketball, doing this is the equivalent of approaching your manager to ask for a raise and your own parking spot, receiving both, and then approaching him later that day to ask for a blow job.

In basketball terminology this is known as a “heat check.” Basically, you’re doing something seemingly outrageous to test the limits of how far your “hot” streak will go.

This idea isn’t limited to basketball. Pop culture is filled with popular artists heat-checking themselves, and Erykah Badu’s Window Seat vid is another example of that.

While many have lauded this as ultra-creative, paradigm shifting, envelope pushing, and iconoclastic, personally, I just think it’s her way of saying “I’m Erykah f*cking Badu. I have millions of die-hard fans, I single-handedly made a jersey-rocking rapper from Atlanta start dressing like a drag-queen mannequin at an H&M fashion show, and I have a fat ass. I’m bored, I can do whatever the hell I want, and my fans will still love me. Creative schmeative“

I wrote this three years ago, as the beginning to a post about Erykah Badu’s Window Seat video. Aside from adding my own interpretation of Badu’s motives for creating this video, I somewhat condescendingly imply that her diehard fans are incapable of being objective when assessing her work.

I felt the same way while attending an event at the Andy Warhol Museum last weekend. That Warhol was a visionary deserving of all lauds and accolades is undeniable. But, the visit just reinforced the fact that when certain people reach a certain stature, anything they do is accepted as genius, including some things that garner “Wows” when they should be receiving a chorus of “WTFs.”

I guess you can argue that status is earned. If a newly found, ketchup-stained napkin with Warhol’s signature on it is able to command 1.6 million dollars at an auction, this says more about the transcendent force of Warhol’s talent that anything else. His resume allows him to receive the benefit of the doubt.

But, the person actually making that purchase allows himself to be gamed by a person’s name instead of making an honest assessment of the actual product. And, not only are they lying to themselves, they perform the worst type of self-delusion—one where a person is completely aware of the lie they’re telling themselves, but they’re completely sold on selling it to themselves anyway. They’ve fully bought in to the bullshit, and when you buy bullshit that you literally saw drop out of a cow’s ass, you have no integrity. You make yourself a slave to a person instead of what that person creates and/or what they represent.

Anyway, I downloaded Kanye West’s Yeezus Friday, and have listened to it approximately 10 times since. It is an incoherent, jumbled, rhythm-adverse, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, racist, and misogynistic mess. It may very well be the first major label hip-hop album that caused listeners actual physical pain while listening to it.

I’m also in love with it.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

On Kanye, New Slaves, Kim, College Dropout, and Kill Bill

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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”)