Prelude: Is Kanye a puddle or an ocean?
I am a Kanye West fan. I once thought that Kanye West’s classic “Jesus Walks” meant that he would become hip-hop’s savior from all the ills that kept me from loving it in totality. I now understand that hip-hop itself will never be a vehicle for its own salvation. Once I stopped looking for martyrdom from Ye, I liked him better.
That is not to say that Kanye is an entirely likable figure. There are two ways of reading him: superficially and critically. By superficial, I literally mean a surface view of him without delving into the why’s, how’s or the racial implications of anything he utters. Kanye West is obnoxious and brilliant and funny if you take that approach. His anger management issues make him easy fodder for ridicule. His opinion of himself leaves the rest of us little room to praise him without sounding like yes-men.
But studying Kanye further, I see a wounded black man striving to articulate his American experience through the limited lenses of hip-hop and fashion, and whose efforts at transcendence are often stymied.
I saw the interview with Sway. And although the punchline “YOU AIN’T GOT THE ANSWERS, SWAY!” will likely go down as the phrase of 2013, I heard Ye.
He is acutely conscious of his fame and infamy, causing him to employ godhood as trope throughout much of is music. Still, he knows how human he is. For a man who aimed to get rich since he started in the industry, to find himself rich and still not all-powerful because of racism and classism must be confounding. And yet, Ye is blind to his own privilege as a rich black man; he seeks to enter artistic institutions built to keep him out but frames that experience in terms of chattel slavery.
Kanye deserves both looks at his life–the surface and the profound–because even griots need levity in their lives. He can neither be this weighty symbol of black America’s New Slaves nor a tritely dismissed petulant rap star, but all the above.
It is armed with this framework that I went to see his Yeezus Tour, with Kendrick Lamar as opening act. Admittedly, I am more a fan of his first four albums than the most recent ones. The tickets were free, won from a local radio station; no way was I not going. I live blogged my thoughts throughout the show until i got too crunk to type. My explanations are in brackets.
Act I: Kendrick Lamar, the King of New York
Kendrick Lamar reps Compton so hard. It’s amazing how place defines and shapes us as people.
All the times I blast my music in the car, it’s not because I have horrible hearing (although I do). It’s because I’m trying to recreate a concert in my vehicle. There’s few feelings better than that of bass rumbling under my booty.
Kendrick Lamar is a quick spitting poet.
It takes approximately 13 minutes to get used to the weed smoke. Makes all the lights a lovely hazy color though.
I defy anyone to tell me that black men don’t express their feelings. Few rap songs are as poignant as “Promise that You Will Sing About Me.”
Act II: Yeezus Saves…the Best for Last
I did not love the first set. The Yeezus album and 808s and Heartbreak are not my favorites.
Angel iconography again? #Yeezus complex indeed.
But when the beat to Lamborghini Mercy dropped? HEEEEEY!
12 white women wearing sheer nude suits and thongs.
[One of the women might have been a light skinned black woman, but from my vantage point, they looked white. These 12 dancers were initially dressed in angel robes, then spent the majority of the show (in)visibly naked.]
Gorilla suited beast crawling up a glacier.
[Kanye used a dancer in a gorilla suit to symbolize how the public tends to view him as a brute.]
Donda West lives in her baby boy.
[Kanye had so much to say about his beloved mother. I have long thought, since the release of 808s and Heartbreak, that much of Kanye’s public displays were offshoots of his pain about his mother’s death. He said about Donda:
“She minored in English but wanted to be an actress. Dad was a professor teaching at CAU and must’ve swept her off her feet.”
“My mom had a PhD. She was the first black woman faculty at Chicago University.”
Act III: Kanye Takes off the Mask
Kanye had on a black, diamond-crusted ski mask during the majority of the show. Then, during an encounter with “White Jesus,” after which he properly quipped, “Thank you, White Jesus,” Ye ripped the mask off. He was funny and candid and performed his older hits.
“I love Autotune. Thank God for Autotune. If you was 14 years old and you was in high school and you couldn’t talk to a girl, don’t you just wish you had Autotune? Don’t you wish the whole world had Autotune?” He sang this. With Autotune. -_-
“I would sing in the shower and I would think that s**t sounded great and and it sounded TERRIBLE. But that was before Autotune.”
“If Louis Vuitton tried to sell what they sell without the rappers pubbing they s**t, it would be like me singing without Autotune.”
“I tricked y’all into thinking I was a rapper but I’m really Picasso. I tricked y’all on the radio with my good a** raps. I’m an artist.”
“I want to keep it safe as possible. I’m really emotionally hurt when people talk s**t on the Internet. I’ve decided tonight in Atlanta, the place where I was born, I’m not gon’ say nothing.”
“How many people in here hate your boss? How many people in here is a boss and you hate your motherf****n’ employees?”
“I been turning up too much as of late. Who got the answers?”
I can now say that I am, in truth, a former Kanye West fan, living in the golden age of his past self, before he lost Donda, before he became the self-referential figure of Yeezus and stopped being relatable to me. But I respect his growth as an artist and as a man. The concert was impressive.