Tag Archives: Kanye West

You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part Two

What's a king without a crown?

What’s a king without a crown?

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In my last post, I ended with a reference to Kanye’s um…somewhat emotional interaction with radio host Sway. And when I say emotional, I mean fucking Megatron is reincarnated and he’s looking for Starscream. Seriously, you could’ve heated like 20 working class Chicago homes for the winter with the fire coming outta Yeezy’s nostrils during that interview.

That brings us to writer Christiana Mbakwe’s take on the Kanye Problem. First, let me say that she at least treats her subject with enough respect to acknowledge his positive attributes and the potential value that his recent protests can provide. Still, she argues that this positivity is being obliterated under the weight of his woes, the origin of which lies in some type of mental disorder, whether it be autism, PTSD as a consequence of his mother’s death, or heck, even drug addiction. Yes, you read that last one right. To Ms. Mbakwe, that Hennessy botttle at the Taylor Swift incident and subsequent behavior over the years are signs that he’s “unravelling” and desperately in need of a therapist. This makes me wonder how often the British Ms. Mbakwe gets to party with Afro-Yanks. If she did, she’d know that when celebrating, some brothers hug a bottle of Henny harder than they hug their girl…even if she does look like Amber Rose.

But hey, maybe dude is a little mental. So am I. And so are you. Psychological scars are the cost of living. I have no doubt that the death of Donda West still affects Kanye deeply, and anyone who doesn’t allow him that either grew up on Vulcan or got the wire hanger treatment one two many times. However, when we leap past acknowledging emotional difficulties and their concomitant bad behavior all the way to diagnosing someone as mentally ill—based solely on cherry-picked media moments in a life lived in public—we head into dangerous territory. At that point, it becomes all too easy to marginalize a person with unpopular views. Just label them a ranting madman and POOF! Watch all of their credibility slide away like so much blood on a leaf.

Seriously kids, there’s just insufficient evidence to say that Kanye is crazy. Does he have anger management issues? Yes. He should learn to contain and focus it because, unfortunately, many of us can’t see past the rage to glean the truth and significance of his words. Does he declare his own genius too often? Probably. While I’m totally on board with reminding these muphuckas of who the hell they’re dealing with, if you overdo it you chafe their delicate little egos and trigger widespread outbreaks of Tall Poppy Syndrome. This explains why folks get so up in arms when Kanye compares himself to heroes like Steve Jobs. What the detractors can’t seem to understand is that when Kanye likens himself to those people he’s not literally saying that he’s just as great or has done anything that’s just as important as any one of them per se, but that he dreams in the same expansive way and needs someone to help him realize his vision.

Steve Jobs (and Steve Wozniak AND Ronald Wayne) got Apple’s first computers built with financing from a vendor who took a leap of faith and filled their order for crucial components based solely on the word of a would-be first customer. Even then, Jobs was eventually booted out of the company in disgrace and didn’t reappear at the forefront of business for a decade. His return to reshape the consumer electronics industry only happened because Apple bought NeXT, his struggling company, and brought him back home with it. Likewise, you might not even know the name Michelangelo today if it weren’t for the rich and powerful Medici family who gave him commission after commission from the time he was a young man. Jesus of Nazareth was scorned, homeless and executed as a criminal, but now his worldwide faithful call him the King of Kings. He owes that not to a miracle, but to his follower Paul, possibly the best marketing guru ever, whom he never even met.

Each of these men displayed varying degrees of talent for their chosen vocations at the onset of their moments of truth. It ranged from undeniable in the case of Michelangelo, to unproven in the case of Jobs, to still disputed in the case of Jesus, but they all eventually succeeded in making a legendary impact. Without major support however, their visions would have withered and died and their names would have crumbled in the unrelenting winds of history.

The notion of getting it done yourself is a fantastic motivational tool, but it’s just that: a fantasy. No one gets it done by themselves. The idea that great entrepreneurs are self-made is a myth that’s central to the American consciousness, but to take a large scale commercial vision from concept to reality in an insular, exclusive, and capital intensive industry like fashion requires a patron. Kanye is searching for that patron. Should he find one, he may succeed in breaking down walls and democratizing high fashion. Or, he may just break down. We’ll never know unless somebody helps him do his thing, just like somebody helped Steve Jobs and Michelangelo. Oh, and Jesus, too.

Amen.

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You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part One

"Who gone stop me, huh?"

“Who gone stop me, huh?”

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece on Kanye West and his frustration with his inability to break into the fashion world. I thought that would be that. In the last couple of weeks however, I’ve watched the anti-Yeezus stream grow into a river threatening to flood the internet. The deluge has consisted of nasty one-liners, thoughtful psychological profiles, and everything in-between, but it’s all had one thing in common: overwhelming negativity.

The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley seemed to delight in underscoring just how hard of a time Mr. West is having. While her scathingly sarcastic piece took pains to underscore just how unimpressive Kanye’s designs have been thus far, she largely chalked up his failure to penetrate fashion’s inner circle to his inconsistency. “In order to be sold, clothes have to be produced,” she reminded us.

I’m no expert on the fashion industry. I mean, I don’t know Ricardo Tisci from fucking Ricardo Montalbán. Still, to these eyes what Ms. Binkley conveniently seems to be overlooking is the fact that for clothes to be produced, one must have access to a means of production. In addition, once the clothes are successfully produced, one must have access to a means of distribution. The fashion industry is not the technology industry. You can’t just rent office space, buy a couple of computers, put up a site and start looking for yacht club memberships. Producing a fashion brand at the level Kanye desires requires substantial capital and, apparently, some imagination on the part of the investor. No offense to the relative success of Pharrell Williams’ Ice Cream and BBC lines, but if I hear one more comparison between Yeezy and Skateboard P’s fashion pursuits I’m gonna pop an ollie into a boardslide…on somebody’s fucking head. Pharrell’s joints are streetwear brands. I’m sure Kanye could get the money to start one of those faster than you could say “cultural ghettoization,” but our boy is aiming for Ralph Lauren style and status.

So, in order to achieve the consistency Ms. Binkley chides him for lacking, he needs a shit ton of support from one of the handful of people who controls the gears of production and distribution…and he’s not getting it. That’s why, after rather cogently and calmly answering the question of why he can’t just do it himself on New York’s Hot 97 radio station, Kanye went BANANA NUT APE SHIT on radio host Sway’s show when asked the same thing.

I’m publishing the second part of this piece on Friday. Press the little button up there on the right and subscribe to make sure you get the whole story!

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King Kong, Kanye, and Me

King Kong

“They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor, they gone come to kill King Kong.” – Kanye West, Black Skinhead

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I remember the first time I saw King Kong. I’m not sure if it was the quaint, goofy-looking classic from 1934, or the 1976 version with a seriously hot Jessica Lange. What I do know is that I was watching it as a kid on local TV in St. Louis, Missouri.

The looks of unmitigated terror appeared suddenly on the faces of the crowd that had come to see Kong, the spectacular star of the show, then rippled out across the streets of New York City in tandem with our protagonist’s bottomless rage. He ripped and smashed his way across the urban landscape, and in the blink of an eye, Kong had gone from being an unmissable bit of vaguely threatening and therefore palpably exciting exotica for the bored bourgeoisie, to a raving, uncontrollable beast. Windows were smashed, cars morphed into tangled mounds of steaming metal, and (I could only assume since this was a PG movie) people died. I was rooting hard for Kong though, and that’s even more true now.

You see, in the decades that have passed since that evening in my grandmother’s living room, I went on to attain what is, by anyone’s measure, an elite education: Hotchkiss, Harvard, Columbia Business School. I’ve worked for some of the blue-chippiest companies on the planet, beginning with the one that pretty much defined the concept of Wall Street. Started from the bottom, now we’re blah, blah, blah. Except it’s not true.

Despite my inscrutable educational accomplishments, obvious intellectual curiosity, well-documented affability, and noted charm (ask somebody and see if you ain’t heard), since my early career days I’ve felt the imposing presence of The Cage. DuBois called it The Veil, others refer to it as The Glass Ceiling. Pick a nominal metaphor. The point is, it sucks, and I use that word deliberately. As a black person in the U.S., it’s all around you: a cage initially fortified by blatant racism, now maintained by the institutional variety and reinforced by the ignorance of its passive beneficiaries. You can feel it, even if your face isn’t actually smashing into it at that very moment, and the cold realization that you can only move but so far begins to suck the very life out of you. Near the end of my time at one of those companies I was so despondent and angry that I wore all black to work every day…for three months. Some of us just aren’t content living in captivity. I’m not. Kong wasn’t. And neither is Kanye West.

Recently, Kanye appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show, ostensibly to clear the air between him and the host after Jimmy did a parody of Kanye that Yeezus made known he did not like. After hearing of this, I decided to check out Kanye’s latest “rant” for myself. Considering my knowledge of the man, I expected that I’d hear multiple declarations of his own greatness, I anticipated being treated to wild parallels between him and famous historical figures, and I presumed that all of it would proceed from his lips at a dizzying pace, with not a hint of irony. That’s par for the Kanye course, and yes, it was all there. What was also quite apparent however, was that along with the awesome amounts of self-aggrandizement, I was watching a man who was trying desperately to free himself from a cage too small. See for yourself:

Kanye made a name for himself as a beatsmith and rapper with a big sense of style and an even bigger mouth. The public and the media ate it up. Critical accolades poured in, with some even crediting him with bringing back the musical aesthetics of hip-hop’s Golden Age. Everybody loved the Louis Vuitton Don. What Kanye has been trying to tell us for a while now though is that he hasn’t been the Louis Vuitton Don in a long time. In fact, he wants to put his name (or his mother’s to be more accurate) on your back, but has found himself running up against barricade after barricade. In his own words: “To have a meeting with everyone…and everyone kinda just looks at you like you’re crazy…And you just cannot overcome it.”

Sing, dance, and rap well, and you're a genius. Complain that you're being limited...now you're some kind of crazy clown.

Sing, dance, or rap, and you’re entertaining. Do it well, and you’re a genius.
Complain that you’re being systematically constrained…now you’re a clown.

It is in this sobering context that I see his legendary Twitter diatribes, the famed New York Times interview with Jon Caramanica, and yes, this latest appearance on Kimmel, as hallmarks of a man who has decided to stand defiant, beat his chest, and devote the core of his being to demolishing the bars keeping him from the full measure of greatness. The anger has been building for a while. His indictment of George W. Bush during the Hurricane Katrina telethon was an early sign of the rage within. The Taylor Swift incident was another. The mean old gorilla threw shit all over the pretty little girl’s dress. Look, some people may get hurt during this process. Anger is no friend to discipline. But it takes fury to break out of the perfumed hellholes reserved for the likes of people like me and Kanye, and accordingly I have just one word for those that happen to be nearby when we finally bust out.

Run.

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Niggas Embarrassed: Gwyneth Gets the People Goin’

Don’t make me get in my zone…

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By now, you’ve heard how Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted a picture of herself with Jay-Z and Kanye West on stage at the “Watch the Throne” concert in Paris with the caption, N**gas in Paris, for real…”  And you probably also know that said tweet ignited a firestorm of fuckery all over the internet regarding her right to use that word.  Basically, the anti-Gwyn squad’s well-trod argument goes like this: nigga is a word that has been at least partially rescued from its racist past and co-opted by certain black people for use as a self-referential noun.  There is a law governing said use.  In its strong form, only those who self-identify as black can access the word.  In its weak form, those who don’t necessarily identify as black but who possess sufficient African ancestry can use it also, e.g. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and other Latinos.  White people don’t make the cut though, not even white rappers, unless they’re given a special dispensation by their local chapter of the NAACP personal circle of black friends.

Look, I’m just gonna put it out there and say that this line of thinking is naïve at best and hypocritical at worst.  It’s naïve because white people are presented with instances of black people using nigga on the daily.  The word is everywhere.  It’s on the lips of comedians, definitely in your favorite rapper’s lyrics (even the so-called conscious ones), and most importantly, it’s firmly embedded in the public conversations of everyday black folk on the train, on the bus, in the line at McDonald’s, and at school.  Why in the name of Strom Thurmond should any white person feel like they shouldn’t be able to utter that word when black people have made it seem as regular a part of speech as the slightly more common but only somewhat less annoying use of “um”?  The aural evidence suggests that they just shouldn’t care since we as black people apparently don’t either.

Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga,

Damn fool.

Monkey see, monkey do.

— Da Lench Mob, “Ankle Blues”

Right about now, some of you are saying, “Oh, hell no.  Just because WE can say it, that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden Whitey has carte blanche to say it.  That word is OURS.”  And see, this is where I start going gorillas, ‘cause that’s just hypocrisy, and hypocrisy can get the fucking…Balzac.  Excuse my French (but I’m in France).  Either the godsdamned word is unfailingly vile and only holds one meaning in every situation, thus it should never be used by anyone, or it’s a word like any other, meaning it has a significance that can vary across time and context and as such its use should be evaluated on a case by case basis.  What you cannot do is mix both of these views on the act of using the word nigger – let’s call it niggerating – into one pot and serve that shit up like it’s some kind of indignity flavored gumbo.  If the word is hateful in all places and times, then it’s always wrong, no matter who says it.  Jay-Z and Kanye: wrong.  The kids in the fried chicken joint: wrong.  Me and you, your momma and your cousin, too: wrong.  And yes, Gwyneth Paltrow: wrong.  On the other hand, if the word may or may not be offensive depending on the circumstances, then we must evaluate each instance on its own.

I think it’s safe to say that only the most sensitive among us would accuse Ms. Paltrow of being any more of a racist than your average person.  She certainly doesn’t seem like a bigot, and she’s never shown any signs of hating black people, to my knowledge at least.  In fact, she seems genuinely happy whenever she’s photographed with her black friends, if that counts for anything.  If you agree with this admittedly superficial personality reading, then based on what I’ve written above there’s no reason to tar and feather her for niggerating.  Babygirl was just expressing her excitement about participating in a very meta experience with some folks who she really enjoys and who in turn apparently really enjoy being niggas in posh European capitals.  If you don’t like that they like it, then maybe you should get outraged at them.

I’m definitely in my zone…

Oh, and black people do not “own” that word.  If anything, we borrowed it from some really mean people who used to shoot it at us like so many bullets.  In reality, no one can own any word, but since they created it, I’d say that white racists are the ones with the biggest claim to it.  Fortunately, I believe in the mutability of words and language, so I support the notion that black people reshaped the word “nigger” into something new.  In addition to serving as a vessel of hatred, now it’s also one for love and laughter, as well as a simple synonym for “person.”

The fact that we were able to accomplish this transformation is either a testament to our resilience and ingenuity or to the deep internalization of someone else’s hatred.  Since we’re human, it’s probably both.  With that said, “nigga” is an undeniable part of African-American culture, and since African-American culture forms the basis of modern pop culture worldwide, “nigga” is now a piece of world culture.  Trying to mandate that black folks should be the only ones who can niggerate is therefore futile, dude.

But besides being useless, that stance is also lazy.  After all, the real problem that Paltrow’s critics have with her isn’t her niggerating.  Whether they know it or not, what they’re actually upset about is the idea that black people around the world can never really know the extent to which racism is rooted in the heart of any given white person.  Instead of addressing that fundamental concern though, they take a shortcut via censorship, fooling themselves into thinking that it will solve the problem.  “Hey!  Maybe if they don’t say it, then they won’t think it!”

There’s only one worthy response to that.  Nigga, please!

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I’ll Be Late for That: Punctuality Pisses Me Off

 

Role Model for Us All

Let me paint a picture for you.

It’s been a while since you and your people have gotten together so you decide that you’re gonna plan a big dinner.  A week in advance you pick a trendy restaurant with a swanky vibe, make the reservations for 7 PM, and send out an Evite to the whole crew.  The big day comes and you’re so excited that you get there at 6:45.

7 o’clock rolls around and no one’s there yet.  7:10 hits and only two of your friends have arrived.  You ask the hostess if you can go ahead and move to your table.  The pretentious, aspiring model/actress barely looks up to remind you that Sexy Midget doesn’t seat anyone until their entire party arrives.

At 7:30, everybody’s finally in the house, so you walk over to tell the hostess.  She sighs, giving you that tight-lipped, constipated smile that women give men whose game is sub par, and informs you that she had to give your table away…and that there are no more reservations tonight for a party of 17.

Guess what, dumbass?  That was your fault.  That’s right.  Your inconsiderate, anal-retentive butt ruined the whole night.

Oh, stop looking like I just punched you in the stomach and rubbed your crotch.  It was your fault ’cause you failed to consider that your friends have hectic, tremendously busy lives just like you.  Or maybe the problem is that you actually don’t have a life.  Either way, it leads to the same place.  When making plans, it’s imperative that you allow space for the little hiccups and big bumps in the road.

Whether it’s parties, dates, or nights out on the town, follow these four simple rules to avoid strife and broken relationships:

  1. Never tell people the real start time for group events. These kinds of things tend to transpire on weekends, and weekends are packed with social events.  Give people time to move about their social calendars.  Or maybe the couples just wanna get a quickie in before they go out and get too plastered to do it later.  Whatever.  If it’s a party or an event at your crib, tell them it starts an hour before it actually does.  If it’s a meal at a restaurant, pad it by 30 minutes.
  2. Observe the 15 minute rule on dates. If Mr. Hotpants shows up anywhere within 10 minutes of the start time of your little dangerous liaison then he ain’t late, sweetheart.  However, if he shows up 11-15 minutes after the slated start then you have the right to issue his ass a demerit.  After 15 minutes, things done changed.  You can bounce on him like a lazy stripper, or stay, then use his lateness as a bargaining chip for one of your future fuck-ups.  It’s really up to you.
  3. If you’re “fake” late, use every tool at your disposal to shift responsibility onto the real guilty party.  (Hint: It’s never you.) You’re fake late if the host began the event on time, like a dick.  As soon as they start mouthing off, just look at ’em like they’re crazy and remind them that they violated protocol, not you.  If anybody else came late, get them to join the fray.  Pretty soon, the host will feel like the idiot that they are.  The same thing goes for dates.
  4. If you’re “really” late, just man up and channel Kanye. At this point, there’s only one arrow in your quiver: personality.  It’s time for a Jedi mind trick.  Again, look at the host/date like they’re crazy, then smile like Jesus is your dentist and say, “My presence is a present, kiss my ass.”

Yep.  Yeezy taught me well.

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