Kanye West Talks Dilla, God & Pornography
Kanye West returns in his second interview of the year following the release of his latest LP Yeezus. The self-described rockstar sat down with W Magazine to discuss his life, music and other interests ahead of the album’s release date in Paris. The discussion with writer Christopher Bagley spans West’s interests from his developing tastes and ever-evolving education on the subject of fashion to time spent with the Kardashian clan and their apparent differences; after playing tracks from Yeezus for Kris Jenner he becomes dissatisfied and mocks her response to his music. We also get a look at Kanye’s life outside of the media circus during his sessions for Yeezus, which included Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd. During the interview Kanye West touches on his controversial song title “I Am God” and his lingering porn addiction. He also addresses his own narcissism and generally considers himself a linchpin without whom – even in moments of relative failure – society and innovation would falter; this admission offers an unexpected view of the spring from which West’s urge to compare himself to Steve Jobs could have materialized. His sharp commentary is reprised in a clip from the forthcoming Stones Throw documentary Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – a film whose teaser features West comparing J Dilla‘s sound to “good pussy.” Check the clip below for the full scoop. Scroll down to read a portion of West’s interview with W Magazine. Purchase Kanye West’s latest LP Yeezus via iTunes.
“How do you spell Mies van der Rohe?” West has logged on to his MacBook Pro laptop—custom-finished in matte black, just like the Porsche—and is Googling modernist architects while playing around with new beats for his album. As usual, there are several collaborators, friends, and minions milling around his living room studio, including the producer No I.D. and the Canadian rapper the Weeknd. When West is at the microphone, alternately freestyle rapping and bouncing up and down, it’s clear why his bona fides are unquestioned, at least in the realm of music. He blasts a new track at top volume, and its wailing Deep Purple–esque guitar riffs have the Weeknd holding his head in disbelief. “That shit is awesome,” the Weeknd says. “Just fucking reckless. A lot of people who hate you are just going to hate you so much more.” West says he wants the record—whose title, Yeezus, is a mashup of “Jesus” and West’s nickname, Yeezy—to be like a “one-man gangbang.” He plays one intensely dark, primal track that he worked on with the French electro duo Daft Punk: the defiant anthem “I Am a God,” which he debuted live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala in New York in May.
It turns out this song was inspired by a serious diss—not from another rapper but from a major fashion designer. Last fall, a few days before Paris Fashion Week, West was informed that he’d be invited to a widely anticipated runway show only on the condition that he agree not to attend any other shows. “So the next day I went to the studio with Daft Punk, and I wrote ‘I Am a God,’ ” West says. “Cause it’s like, Yo! Nobody can tell me where I can and can’t go. Man, I’m the No. 1 living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison; I am Jimi Hendrix.” West is not smiling as he says this, and his voice is getting louder with each sentence. “You can’t say that you love music and then say that Kanye West can’t come to your show! To even think they could tell me where I could and couldn’t go is just ludicrous. It’s blasphemous—to rock ’n’ roll, and to music.”
Later, West gives a more measured take on the incident, explaining that he was “just very hurt” by the designer’s attempt to control him. “How can someone stop my opportunity to see something that he can teach me, that I can help teach the world?” West asks. But it’s precisely those types of outbursts, as well as the tortured semi-apologies that often follow them, that have come to define West’s public image. Whether it was his onstage ambush of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (a fiasco that prompted President Obama to call West a jackass) or his declaration during a live telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (a moment that Bush called the low point of his presidency), West’s eruptions have made it all too easy for people to forget that he’s spent the past decade creating some of the most brilliantly original music of any genre. Rolling Stone, in its rhapsodic five-star review of 2010’s Twisted Fantasy review” My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, lauded him for “blowing past all the rules of hip-hop and pop, even though…he’s been the one inventing the rules.” (The reviewer added: “Nobody halfway sane could have made this album.”) Last year in The Atlantic, David Samuels hailed West as “the first true genius of the iPhone era, the Mozart of contemporary American music.” (He also called him “a narcissistic monster.”)
Of course, West’s bright and dark sides are fully interdependent, and they’re equally essential to his art. Both are very much on display during our conversations in Paris. It’s a big deal for West to invite a journalist into his house: He hasn’t given many interviews in the past few years. This is due in part to a string of PR disasters, the last of which was an on-air clash with Matt Lauer about the George Bush accusation, which led West to cancel a live performance on the Today show. West is especially wary of print interviews, since the writer retains the power to choose which of his quotes are relevant (though at one point he asks me to streamline his more rambling comments or, as he puts it, “to turn my flea market of information into a beautiful living space”). Another issue: West’s opinions evolve so quickly that by the time a profile comes out, he might have totally changed his mind. And finally, there’s his self-acknowledged deficiency in the eloquence department. “God’s little practical joke on me—as an intellect who doesn’t like to read a lot—is like, I’ll say some superphilosophical shit, but I’ll say it the wrong way,” he says, laughing. “I’ll use the wrong word, so it goes from being really special to completely retarded.”
For a while, West’s communications strategy involved pouring his heart out on Twitter, where his droll one-liners and 80-tweets-in-160-minutes rants earned him almost 10 million followers. But a few months ago, West deleted all his posts. He agreed to do this interview because he feels like he’s reaching peak creative potential—“bubbling at the highest level of output”—and he’s ready to talk publicly about his thoughts and theories and plans, in entertainment and beyond.