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From personal essays, album recaps, graphics and the evolution of Kanye West as an artist and a cultural icon, we have all you need to get prepared for the release of
"So Help Me God" "Swish" "Waves"
"The Life of Pablo."
I was raised in a virtuous home graced with the vocals of R&B gods. We prayed to Marvin Gaye every morning, the Temptations every night. We had Wednesday bible study with Kool & the Gang and worship every Sunday with Luther Vandross.
I was set on the righteous path to loving R&B and hip-hop early and it looked as though my future would be bright and promising.
But like Eve, I stumbled upon my forbidden fruit and was lured from the holy path into the darkness of angsty alternative rock. It would be years until I saw the light again, and I never thought I’d be brought back by Yeezus himself.
For years I told myself I hated Kanye West.
Given, I had a bad first impression. Though I had been pretending to hate his songs like “Gold Digger” and “Stronger” for years, I didn’t know who Kanye actually was until he interrupted Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMA acceptance speech.
Now I finally had a face to attribute to these songs the scene trend told me I wasn’t allowed to like and all I knew about him was that he was an asshole.
The more I learned about Kanye the worse our relationship became.
I’ve always hated the use of the N-word. Kanye and Jay-Z became the face of advocacy to reclaim the term. What they saw as a way of taking that power away from white people, I saw as an increase in white people using the word. They used Kanye as their “black friend” card.
As far as I was concerned, he was setting us back by decades.
But my biggest reason for hating Kanye had more to do with myself. At 12 years old, I was sporting some serious internal racism and I refused to allow myself to like anything associated with black people. This meant altering what I wore, the way I talked and the music I could listen to.
The devil had me in his grasp and it looked like the end of the line for me.
And then I went to college and met a special group of white people. Like angels they came to me in my time of need and they played the legendary gospel tunes of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
At first, I refused to listen. I wasn’t ready to be saved yet, and they knew I would have to come to Yeezus at my own time.
Little did we know, that time was approaching.
Sept. 21, 2015 was the day my life changed forever.
I was riding the bus home, and I chose to listen to “Monster.”
I was nodding my head waiting for Nicki Minaj’s verse when I heard the line, “My presence is a present, kiss my ass.”
I replayed the song to hear it again and again, and every time I did the pure exhaustion with human beings emanating from that single line resonated stronger within me. The clouds parted and the sun rained down on me like the grace of God, and I felt at peace for the first time in years as I accepted Yeezus into my heart.
Kanye’s albums are the books of his scripture and when I listened carefully, he had a lot to teach about who he was and also about myself.
Real talk: the confidence Kanye gave me is insurmountable.
I don’t just mean general confidence, which Kanye is the best at teaching. His motto is arrogance over modesty and if you listen to “Last Call” you can’t fault him.
It was the racial confidence he lent me that has made the biggest difference in my life.
Kanye has a strong message of black pride and the way it shaped my racial identity at 21 has me permanently indebted to him.
As progressive as Kanye is, he actually brought me back to my roots. I’m on the righteous path again and I can raise my hands to Marvin and Luther again. So thank you, Yeezus.
Dear Mr. West,
It’d be easier for me to write this piece as an ode to Beyoncé rather than an open letter to you.
Beyoncé is the woman who used her time on a national stage to inspire black folks to feel unapologetic about their heritage and their appearance, and to continue to challenge authority. Today, Beyoncé is that artist for me.
A few years ago, though, I would have said the same for you.
When people talk about Old Kanye versus New Kanye, I think less in terms of albums but rather in terms of Katrina-era and Kardashian-era. I think this is more indicative of your life and what will ultimately be your legacy.
One day, your heroes became white men.
You admired Steve Jobs, Walt Disney. You took off the Louis Vuitton backpack you used to wear and fashioned it into a lifestyle, pushing your way into fashion houses and runways, crying alienation when they wouldn’t let you in. When they didn’t give you a key to the boy’s club. You gave a white man permission to use “Last Niggas in Paris” as a part of his collection. You co-signed making our oppression trendy.
I heard someone say once that you traded in your spaceship for 40 acres and a mule.
I admired you, ‘Ye. Not in the passive way I admire Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson by virtue of who they are and what they’ve done, I mean I really admired you. I still listen to “The College Dropout” on wax. I bought your records and recited your lyrics to the envy of all of my elementary school friends.
I, with what little knowledge I had of politics or social inequality, somehow knew that when you said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” it was truth. I regarded your word as law. And maybe that was where I went wrong.
You see, Kanye, at the end of the day, you’re just a man. You live and breathe, you say things you regret, you take them back, you create, you destroy and you will die as humans do.
Somewhere along the line, I think even you forgot you were mortal. Somehow, between the gleam of Kardashian and the check from Adidas, you began to think you were impervious to criticism, that you were above reproach. You claimed you were an OG, the greatest artist of all time and in the process, somehow became more “Twitter fingers” than Meek.
The thing is, though, you attacked a man’s (ex)wife and child on Twitter the other day and that’s where I drew the line. You slut-shamed a woman for the same qualities you once loved her for.
You continue to praise your non-black wife for the traits she appropriated from us, black women, while simultaneously implying we should be ashamed for the same sensuality, the same autonomy Kim seems to have.
But then again, you told us a long time ago that “when he get on, he’ll leave your ass for a white girl.” So perhaps I’m to blame for believing otherwise.
Do you still talk about Chicago the way you once did, in terms of resilience and struggle and beauty in a world that aims to erase it? Do you still think about the kid who wasn’t supposed to make it past 25?
Is that narrative still in you?
West, Kanye. Occupation: rapper. Or so most people would probably say when asked.
But it’s worth remembering West began his career as a producer, and many of his triumphs as a solo artist stem from his production, including, though not limited to,his increasingly singular sample choices. There’s a sense these picks come straight out of West’s record collection, one as enigmatic as the artist himself.
The samples on West’s early solo albums trend heavily toward classic soul and rhythm-and-blues, creating a warm sound that’s become associated with the first half of his career.
On “The College Dropout” and “Late Registration,” West samples Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, among others.
Some of these choices still define West for some — “Gold Digger,” still one of West’s most popular songs, leans heavily on Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman” — even as his career since has drastically expanded his sampling pallet.
He hasn’t moved entirely from those early leanings. Just last week, he said in a radio interview his upcoming record would be “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing," but the forms have changed.
“Yeezus” contained choral samples, as did those early records, but when he fit “Sermon (He’ll Give Us What We Really Need)” into “On Sight,” he cloaked it in distortion; and he’s twice sampled Gil Scott-Heron, but whereas “Late Registration” cut “My Way Home” drew from the soulful “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” prominently featured the fiery spoken word of “Comment No. 1.”
“Graduation,” then, is a turning point in this regard.
Its biggest hit, “Stronger,” is another case of a song building off a strong sample — here it’s Daft Punk, who West would later work with personally — but a chunk of the album also sees West chopping and repurposing what some might call dad rock: Elton John, Steely Dan and Mountain all make appearances.
Michael Jackson and Public Enemy are also sampled on “Graduation,” but its most surprising sample and the biggest sign to that point of West’s idiosyncratic taste is of German experimental band Can’s “Sing Swan Song.”
“808s and Heartbreak” was a statement album for West, a mournful and autotune-heavy offering that shifted sharply from his prior work. As such, its gorgeous production is sample-light.
When he does sample here, though, he does it from unexpected places. On “RoboCop,” he pulls, oddly enough, from the score for the 1998 film adaptation of “Great Expectations.”
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” flipped that script, as West repurposed his widest breadth of material yet. There’s the punching prog-rock of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the autotune experiment of Bon Iver’s “Woods,” Smokey Robinson’s version “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” Aphex Twin’s delicate “Avril 14th” and, of course, that Gil Scott-Heron sample.
And then “Yeezus” expanded even further upon this crate-digging mindset. West samples music from India and Jamaica.
He drops Frank Ocean’s distorted vocals over an instrumental from Hungarian prog-rock band Omega. He deftly combines Nina Simone’s haunting “Strange Fruit” with the trap clarion call horns of TNGHT’s “R U Ready.”
Sometimes the samples in West’s catalog reflect his favored themes: race, ego, family. Sometimes, they complement his distinctive musical textures: warm soul, cold aggression. But they’ve always highlighted West’s pure love for music of all kinds, something that’s often been lost in the noise surrounding him as an icon and celebrity.
Of course, most of West’s records have been hits. As such, not only have they seismically altered hip-hop and pop landscapes (see: hip-hop’s return to soul and R&B as prime inspiration post-“College Dropout” and the wave of “sad robot” autotune jams after “808s,” to name a few), they’ve introduced West’s musical infatuations to places they probably wouldn’t have shown up otherwise: Daft Punk at football games, King Crimson in video game commercials, Ray Charles at college parties.
And for a music fanatic, what could be more satisfying than sharing his obsessions with the world?
Kanye West sat next to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show and tried to rationalize the irrational. He struggled to joke back with Leno’s attempts to diffuse the situation. He fidgeted with his hair during an awkward silence.
One day earlier, West had taken the microphone from Taylor Swift and proclaimed her victory at the MTV Video Music Awards a mistake. But in this moment, West sat in front of viewers with regret.
He felt bad because he had hurt a person he considered talented. He said he had always wanted to help people in life and admitted his actions were wrong.
“It was rude,” West said. “Period.”
Then Leno asked West what his recently deceased mother would have thought of the incident. In the two years prior, West had lost his mother, broken up with his fiancee and released an album people didn’t appreciate.
West looked down and thought about how to answer the question. Twenty seconds passed before he said a word.
“I need to, after this, take some time off and analyze how I’m gonna make it through the rest of this life,” West said.
And that’s exactly what he did. He vanished from the public world for nearly two years and created a masterpiece.
It’s easy for people to look into the actions of West and purely see the narcissistic egomaniac who talks in nonsense and craves attention. It’s easy to see an asshole.
Maybe he is just that, but the roots of West’s actions are often misunderstood.
Kanye West is the rock star most die-hard music nerds would be if they became rock stars. He cares so much about the concept of culture and how society evaluates it that he sometimes loses his mind. He absolutely plays a calculated character, but the type of character he likely loved growing up. He’s a nerd.
One of the biggest keys to understanding West — coming from someone who has never met but pretends to understand him — is that he ignited the sensitive rap generation.
In a time of gangster rap, West took paint classes at the American Academy of Art and studied English for a short time at Chicago State University. While most rappers come up as teenagers and are stars before they can legally drink, West grinded for six years as a producer before being signed as a rapper.
His insane intensity may not stem from a drug-oriented youth or from poverty. He was raised in a middle-class environment, but he had to persevere through each and every stigma. He created an identity in music that had yet to be seen.
West is an emotional romantic. People often confuse his blatant honesty as him being a bad person. Everyone is a mess. We all do incredibly stupid things. He just isn’t afraid to speak specifically about sending girls pictures of his junk or his massive ego.
Most of his seemingly unforgivable actions come from more than ego, though. They come from caring so much about a thing we also care so much about: music.
He’s the kind of guy who stopped by the Rolling Stone offices to explain to them what an album meant. Yes, maybe now he is someone who shows no emotion and calculates each public move he makes.
But that withdrawal from the public comes from being so worn down from being so damn hated for every action he did which, which were all rooted in the fact he cared. A lot.
In that same interview with Leno, he spoke about wanting to help Swift move on from the incident. He tried to open up about trying to be a better person.
“I want to live this thing,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes.”
So first thing’s first: Kanye West is a master tweeter.
I can’t say he’s the best when Tila Tequila is still tweeting about being a bio weapon/clone/alien, or when she practically invented the whole #FlatEarth gag. However, I can give Yeezy credit for practically revolutionizing Twitter as a playground for the loonies.
“French fries are the Devil,” he once tweeted.
Seriously, where would such scholarly and respectful figures like Jaden Smith, Gucci Mane and Donald Trump be without the total hysteria and brilliance of West’s wonderland of a Twitter account?
His perfectly loathsome blend of stupidity, impulsiveness, inconsistency, misogyny, anti-Semitism and racism have brought forth a renaissance in the realm of social media. It is no longer a means of communication; it is Wonka’s Golden Ticket to a chocolate factory of hysterically ludicrous idiocy.
Can we truly be surprised about any of this though? We just gave a practically anonymous link to the world to the guy who wrote a song called “I Am a God.” We had to see this coming.
Need proof? On Tuesday, he posted a rather ambiguous, yet unsurprisingly disgusting tweet: “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!”
BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 9, 2016
Honestly, there’s no other way around it: this guy really hates women.
If the music video for “Monster” or lyrics like “I keep it 300, like the Romans/300 bitches, where’s the Trojans?,” or his comments about former girlfriend Amber Rose, aren’t enough then this should do it.
Despite the fact that all evidence points to the fact that Cosby committed rape not once, but multiple times, West still seems to find it in his heart to blatantly dismiss all of the victims who had the courage to come forward with one single tweet.
Of course, people across Twitter united to confront West for his sexism.
Comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted, “Kanye!! You can’t be for real. FIFTY WOMEN. With nothing to gain thanks to a statute of limitations ON RAPE. Oy.”
Kanye!! You can't be for real. FIFTY WOMEN. With nothing to gain thanks to a statute of limitations ON RAPE. Oy. https://t.co/3ekYD43uMs— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) February 9, 2016
Funny or Die writer Bill Eichner tweeted, “Are we sure Kanye isn’t just a character from Zoolander?”
And so on. It’s more than surprising how notable feminists like Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian can allow themselves to associate with a man built of so much sexism — it’s baffling.
I’m not going to pretend like West is the only rap icon to show this level of misogyny. The rap music video is legendary for its objectification of women. Rock music has shown it too, especially in the ‘80s.
However, none of these contenders have expressed interest running for office in 2020, and given that Trump just won the primaries in New Hampshire, West seems to have a good chance.
Fortunately, not all of West’s tweets are this hateful. Sometimes, his social media can actually be beneficial to our entertainment.
ROLLING STONE SHOT BY TYLER THE CREATOR pic.twitter.com/lOMtOdOEel— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 3, 2016
Take for example West’s short-lived Twitter feud with Wiz Khalifa.
It started with Khalifa reacting to West’s decision to change the title of his upcoming album to “WAVES.”
Later that day, Khalifa tweeted, “Hit this kk and become yourself.”
West, being the paranoid egomaniac he is, thought that “kk” meant “Kim Kardashian,” so he subsequently blitzed Khalifa on the social media page with atomic bombs of 140 characters or less.
You know, besides calling or texting him like a normal human being.
Later, it was discovered that “kk” actually was a slang term for marijuana. Who would’ve thought?
I’m happy that I now know that KK means weed… please excuse the confusion … now back to #WAVES— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 27, 2016
Believe it or not, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, folks. Jimmy Kimmel, Justin Timberlake and an insane number of major companies have fallen under attack from West, typically for absurd reasons.
Regardless, we can all still sit back and laugh at the rodeo clown of hip-hop while he continues to entertain us with his reality-TV-level of naivety.
“Sometimes I get emotional over fonts,” he once tweeted.
Same, Kanye. Same.
At this point, it’s useless to question Kanye West’s long-tried fashion career.
Yes, he promoted a line over the course of four years that never saw the light of day. Yes, he created not one, but two whole collections of pantyhose bodysuits in the same calendar year. And yes, he once classified his style as being, “50 percent rock ‘n’ roll, 50 percent hip-hop, 50 percent genius.”
Nevertheless, as questionable as West’s sartorial exploits have been through his 10-year stint, we all still seem to care, as can be seen by the instantaneous sellout of the Yeezy Season 3 show scheduled for this afternoon.
There is an understood set of rules for celebrities-turned-designers, which typically most adhere to during their brief fashion ventures.
Over the past 10 years, West has broken every single one of them: crowding other designers out of their fashion week time slots, publicly bashing the industry’s top critics and announcing his collections just weeks before their arrival like a Beyoncé world tour.
Still, West has garnered considerable recognition for what his designs deserve, questioning if anyone can break into the fashion industry as long as he has mastered one element: spectacle, an art we’ve seen time and time again in both his music and fashion careers.
In 2008, when West released the much anticipated “808s & Heartbreak,” his transition to electropop influences wasn’t initially welcomed.
While his success from “Graduation” had anchored him a strong spot in the music industry, he chose to shift gears, producing more minimalistic sounds with the usage of new Auto-Tune and 808 drum technology.
This move was met by controversy, but West simultaneously found spectacle, ranking number one on the Billboard 200 and gaining platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Much in the same way, spectacle has become an essential in West’s fashion career.
Fashion shows don’t normally feature drill sergeants commanding models to march along the runway. In turn, models don’t usually shuffle along catwalks smoking cigarettes or fidgeting with their hair.
Oddities as they are, these were the spectacles which ruffled fashion’s feathers in West’s past seasons.
“This second round of drab, broken-down basics proved he can’t be taken seriously as a designer, but nevertheless many people in fashion do seem to take West seriously — they keep showing up expectantly for his performances,” critic Cathy Horyn wrote in The Cut after seeing West’s Yeezy Season 2 last fall.
Designers don’t rent out Madison Square Garden’s 18,200 seats for a fall line. Nor do they hire 1,200 cast members to participate in their show.
Spectacles yet again: these are the exact plans of Yeezy Season 3, as West hinted on his Twitter account and an online casting call.
Although the entire point of spectacle is to surprise the unassuming, it is quite fun to wonder what sort of show will be put on this afternoon.
With 1,200 models, maybe we can expect a flash mob of sorts. Not only could this make an interesting form of entertainment for the attendees, but it could even become a viral YouTube video, if we’re so lucky.
Or better yet, maybe we’ll see a Yeezy toddler line, as inspired by his growing family of unique baby names.
Season 4 I’m only working on kid’s clothing...full time— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 9, 2016
Because West has revealed his next album will be gospel-focused, maybe today will become an evangelical event, definitely deserving spectacle status.
Whatever the case, Yeezy Season 3 is bound to be a collection worth its hype, not necessarily for the clothes, but for the show we can’t dream of expecting.
Kanye’s first studio album was arguably one of his strongest. Before he was Yeezus, and sang a song that featured God himself, he had the hit “Jesus Walks,” showing a more humble ‘Ye than the one we currently see. Other standout tracks include “Through the Wire” and “Family Business.”
We could write about his whole album, about the pure joy of “Touch the Sky,” which gave Lupe Fiasco his big break, and about how there wasn’t a sophomore slump for Kanye. But I’d rather talk about “Hey Mama,” the most beautiful and heartfelt ode from Kanye to his mom. Go listen to it, and then give your mom a call.
With a more electronic feel than the past albums (though nowhere near how electronic he would soon go), “Graduation” marked the end of the school-themed trilogy. An often-overlooked but classic song, “Everything I Am,” shows some real honesty. “I’ll never be no picture-perfect Beyonce,” Kanye sings. Same here, ‘Ye.
Released after Kanye’s mother died and he broke off an engagement, “808s and Heartbreak” is 52 minutes of emotional outpouring. You probably didn’t like it when you first listened to Kanye bare his auto-tuned soul. It’s been eight years. Listen again.
Forgive us, Yeezy, for we knew no what we mocked.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is an eclectic masterpiece. It mixes elements of rap, R&B and classical music to create a sound particular to Kanye West. It starts with the now classic vocal layering of “Dark Fantasy” and ends what is basically a remix of the Gil Scott Heron spoken word poem “Comment #1.” The middle covers a lot of ground as West is aided by guests like Jay Z and John Legend.
What do you get when you combine the lyrical genius Kanye West and the “master of flow” Jay Z?
You get a cinematic look into the rapper’s thoughts on sexuality and fidelity in “No Church In The Wild”. You get an emotional testimony to fatherhood and fame in “New Day”.
You get overarching themes of race, perseverance and success communicated through hard-hitting lyrics and laced with complex melodies.
You get “Watch The Throne”: a collaboration and a masterpiece.
“Yeezus” begins with a technological cascade and ends with an eye toward love. The album’s best stretch sees Kanye darting from prison industry critiques to a top-shelf sex jam and landing on one of his greatest songs, a deconstruction of ego and wealth assisted by a Nina Simone sample. But the album’s mission statement, swathed in distortion, is there in opener “On Sight” — “He’ll give us what we need – it may not be what we want.”
Using a very scientific method of polling, roundtable discussions and then some spur-of-the-moment decisions, we compiled a list of Kanye's best 20.
"Let's have a toast for the douchebags / Let's have a toast for the assholes / Let's have a toast for the scumbags / Every one of them that I know / Let's have a toast to the jerkoffs / That'll never take work off / Baby, I got a plan / Run away fast as you can."
You know who sings in this song? Kanye West, Tony Williams, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Drake, John Legend, Ryan Leslie, The Dream, Charlie Wilson, Alvin Fields, Ken Lews, La Roux and Elton John. And it doesn't ever feel like too much.
"I say fuck the police, that's how I treat em / We buy our way out of jail, but we can't buy freedom / We'll buy a lot of clothes when we don't really need em / Things we buy to cover up what's inside / Cause they make us hate ourself and love they wealth."
"God show me the way because the Devil's tryin' to break me down / The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now / And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs / I want to talk to God, but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long, so long."
"We could've been somebody / Thought you'd be different 'bout it / Now I know you not it / So let's get on with it"
"Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cause I'm so proud of you / Let me tell you what I'm about to do, (Hey Mama) / I know I act a fool but, I promise you I'm goin back to school / I appreciate what you allowed for me / I just want you to be proud of me (Hey Mama)."
"Middle America packed in / Came to see me in my black skin / Number one question they asking / Fuck every question you asking."
"We wasn't supposed to make it past 25 / Joke's on you, we still alive / Throw your hands up in the sky and say / We don't care what people say."
"But God said I need a different approach / cause people is looking at me like I'm sniffing coke / its not funny anymore try different jokes / tell 'em hug and kiss my ass, x and o / kiss the ring while they at it, do my thing while I got it."
"Uh put your hands to the constellations / They way you look should be a sin, you my sensation / I know I'm preaching to the congregation / We love Jesus but you done learned a lot from Satan."
"Reach for the stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud / Jump in the crowd, spark your lighters, wave 'em around / If you don't know by now, I'm talking 'bout Chi-Town!."
"I throw these Maybach keys / I wear my heart on the sleeve / I know that we the new slaves / I see the blood on the leaves."
"I’m living in the future so the present is my past / my presence is a present kiss my ass."
"Pink wig, thick ass, give em whiplash / I think big get cash make em blink fast."
"Human beings in a mob / What's a mob to a king? / What's a king to a god? / What's a god to a non-believer? / Who don't believe in anything?"
"I'm not lovin' you the way I wanted to / I can't keep my cool, so I keep it true / I got somethin to lose, so I gotta move / I can't keep myself, and still keep you too."
"Damn, here we go again / People talkin' shit, but when the shit hit the fan / Everything I'm not, made me everything I am."
"Jay favorite line: "Dawg, in due time!" / Now he look at me, like, "Damn, dawg! You where I am!" / A hip-hop legend, I think I died / In that accident, cause this must be heaven."
"Y'all don't know my struggle / Y'all can't match my hustle / You can't catch my hustle / You can't fathom my love dude."
"You go out to eat, he can't pay y'all can't leave / There's dishes in the back, he gotta roll up his sleeves / But why y'all washing watch him / He gone make it into a Benz out of that Datsun / He got that ambition, baby, look in his eyes / This week he mopping floors, next week it's the fries."
"I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts / Got treasures in my mind but couldn't open up my own vault / My childlike creativity, purity and honesty / Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts / Reality is catchin' up with me / Takin' my inner child, I'm fighting for its custody."