Kanye West – New York Times Interview (Excerpt)
[JC] When your debut album, “The College Dropout” came out, the thing that people began to associate with you besides music was: Here’s someone who’s going to argue for his place in history; like, “Why am I not getting five stars?”
[KW] I think you got to make your case. Seventh grade, I wanted to be on the basketball team. I didn’t get on the team, so that summer I practiced. I was on the summer league. My team won the championship; I was the point guard. And then when I went for eighth grade, I practiced and I hit every free throw, every layup, and the next day I looked on this chart, and my name wasn’t on it. I asked the coach what’s up, and they were like, “You’re just not on it.” I was like, “But I hit every shot.” The next year — I was on the junior team when I was a freshman, that’s how good I was. But I wasn’t on my eighth-grade team, because some coach — some Grammy, some reviewer, some fashion person, some blah blah blah — they’re all the same as that coach. Where I didn’t feel that I had a position in eighth grade to scream and say, “Because I hit every one of my shots, I deserve to be on this team!” I’m letting it out on everybody who doesn’t want to give me my credit.
[JC] And you know you hit your shots.
[KW] Yeah — you put me on the team. So I’m going to use my platform to tell people that they’re not being fair. Anytime I’ve had a big thing that’s ever pierced and cut across the Internet, it was a fight for justice. Justice. And when you say justice, it doesn’t have to be war. Justice could just be clearing a path for people to dream properly. It could be clearing a path to make it fair within the arena that I play. You know, if Michael Jordan can scream at the refs, me as Kanye West, as the Michael Jordan of music, can go and say, “This is wrong.”
[JC] You’ve won a lot of Grammys.
[KW]“[My Beautiful] Dark [Twisted] Fantasy” and “Watch the Throne”: neither was nominated for Album of the Year, and I made both of those in one year. I don’t know if this is statistically right, but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person.
But the thing is, I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate.
[JC] You want the historical record to be right.
[KW] Yeah, I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: “Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.” I remember when both Gnarls Barkley and Justin [Timberlake] lost for Album of the Year, and I looked at Justin, and I was like: “Do you want me to go onstage for you? You know, do you want me to fight” —
[JC] For you.
[KW] For what’s right. I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things. So when the next little girl that wants to be, you know, a musician and give up her anonymity and her voice to express her talent and bring something special to the world, and it’s time for us to roll out and say, “Did this person have the biggest thing of the year?” — that thing is more fair because I was there.
[JC] But has that instinct led you astray? Like the Taylor Swift interruption at the MTV Video Music Awards, things like that.
[KW] It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That’s all it is.
[JC] So no regrets?
[KW] I don’t have one regret.
[JC] Do you believe in the concept of regret?
[KW] If anyone’s reading this waiting for some type of full-on, flat apology for anything, they should just stop reading right now.
[JC] But that is something that you apologized for.
[KW] Yeah, I think that I have like, faltered, you know, as a human. My message isn’t perfectly defined. I have, as a human being, fallen to peer pressure.
[JC] That’s fascinating, to look at that record through that lens.
[KW] I don’t have some type of romantic relationship with the public. I’m like, the anti-celebrity, and my music comes from a place of being anti. That was the album where I gave people what they wanted. I don’t think that at that point, with my relationship with the public and with skeptical buyers, that I could’ve done “Black Skinhead” [from “Yeezus]
[JC] Does that make “Dark Fantasy” a dishonest album in some way?
[KW] It’s always going to be 80 percent, at least, what I want to give, and 20 percent fulfilling a perception. If you walk into an old man’s house, they’re not giving nothing. They’re at 100 percent exactly what they want to do. I would hear stories about Steve Jobs and feel like he was at 100 percent exactly what he wanted to do, but I’m sure even a Steve Jobs has compromised. Even a Rick Owens has compromised. You know, even a Kanye West has compromised. Sometimes you don’t even know when you’re being compromised till after the fact, and that’s what you regret.
I don’t want to come off dissing “Dark Fantasy.” It’s me never being satisfied and then me coming and admitting and saying the truth. As much as I can air things out for other people, to air things out for myself, to say, “I feel like this could’ve been stronger.”
[JC] Even though you had always wanted to be out in front, was there ever a point where you valued your anonymity?
[KW] Yeah, I held on to the last moments of it. I knew when I wrote the line “light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson” [from the song “Slow Jamz"] I was going to be a big star. At the time, they used to have the Virgin music [stores], and I would go there and just go up the escalator and say to myself, “I’m soaking in these last moments of anonymity.” I knew I was going to make it this far; I knew that this was going to happen.
[JC] But producting happened for you first, especially after Jay-Z used you so heavily on “The Blueprint.”
[KW] I used to have tracks that sounded like Timbaland; I had tracks that sounded like [DJ Premier]. But Jay-Z was an amazing communicator that made the soul sound extremely popular. And because I could make the soul sound in my sleep, it finally gave me a platform to put the message that my parents put inside of me and that Dead Prez helped to get out of me and Mos Def and [Talib] Kweli, they helped to get out of me: I was able to put it, sloppily rap it, on top of the platform that Jay-Z had created for me.
Before, when I wanted to rap, my raps sounded like a bit like Cam’ron; they sounded a bit like Mase; they sounded a bit like Jay-Z or whoever. And it wasn’t until I hung out with Dead Prez and understood how to make, you know, raps with a message sound cool that I was able to just write “All Falls Down” in 15 minutes.
[JC] Is that true?
[KW] Yeah, that’s how I discovered my style. I was just hanging out with them all the time in New York. I would produce for them. You know, I was able to slip past everything with a pink polo, but I am Dead Prez. And now, because I was able to slip past, I have a responsibility at all times.
[JC] What were the things that you were trying to do on “Late Registration” that you either did not or could not yet do on “Dropout”?
[KW] I was trying to do different things with orchestras. It was just a vibe that I was trying to get at, a sound I was trying to mix with hip-hop to try to see how far I could expand it. I guess that was a Chicago thing, like Quincy Jones.
[JC] But you came here, you worked with Jon Brion [the Fiona Apple producer].
[KW] I really liked the sound of some projects that Jon Brion had worked on. I was always considered this crazy hothead kid, but I would always just go and just really break bread with someone who I respected. I will completely bow to anybody I respect.
[JC] That era also includes what I find probably the most moving thing that you’ve ever done, which is calling out President Bush at the Hurricane Katrina telethon. To me, that moment is actually the peak of putting a message in a pop format, even though it’s not a song.
[KW] Yeah. I guess it’s a very pop moment of a lifetime or generation. I mean, my dad’s generation is a generation of messaging, you know? But that’s just a piece of me being the opinionated individual that I am.
[JC] Were you conscious that that’s what you were doing, or was it totally just instinct?
[KW] Yeah, it was pretty bugged out. When you think about it, I was wearing like, a Juicy Couture men’s polo shirt. We weren’t there, like, ready for war.
[JC] You look at Jay or Diddy, and I’d say like, 90 percent of the time, you think they’re having a good time. With you, I would say, I don’t know, 50-50 maybe? Or 30-70?
[KW] Maybe 90 percent of the time it looks like I’m not having a good time.
[JC] But you’re in a very public relationship, a seemingly long and satisfying relationship: you’re about to have a child.
[KW] Any woman that you’re in love with or that loves you is going to command a certain amount of, you know, energy. It’s actually easier to focus, in some ways.
[JC] When you’re uncertain about love, it can be such a distraction. It infects all the other areas.
[KW] Yeah, that’s what I mean when I say like, “Yo, I’m going to be super Zenned out like, five years from now.” I’m the type of rock star that likes to have a girlfriend, you know? I’m the type of soul that likes to be in love and likes to be able to focus. And that inspires me.
[JC] On “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” there’s a really affectionate scene where you go and help Kim sort through her clothes.
[KW] That was from a place of love. It’s hard when people read things in a lot of different ways. You know, the amount of backlash I got from it is when I decided to not be on the show anymore. And it’s not that I have an issue with the show; I just have an issue with the amount of backlash that I get. Because I just see like, an amazing person that I’m in love with that I want to help.
[JC] One of the things I thought when I heard the new record was, “This is the anti-'College Dropout.’ ” It feels like you’re shedding skin. Back then, you were like: “I want more sounds. I want more complicated raps. I want all the things.” At what point did that change?
[KW] Architecture — you know, this one Corbusier lamp was like, my greatest inspiration. I lived in Paris in this loft space and recorded in my living room, and it just had the worst acoustics possible, but also the songs had to be super simple, because if you turned up some complicated sound and a track with too much bass, it’s not going to work in that space. This is earlier this year. I would go to museums and just like, the Louvre would have a furniture exhibit, and I visited it like, five times, even privately. And I would go see actual Corbusier homes in real life and just talk about, you know, why did they design it? They did like, the biggest glass panes that had ever been done. Like I say, I’m a minimalist in a rapper’s body. It’s cool to bring all those vibes and then eventually come back to Rick [Rubin], because I would always think about Def Jam.
[JC] His records did used to say “reduced by Rick Rubin.”
[KW] For him, it’s really just inside of him. I’m still just a kid learning about minimalism, and he’s a master of it. It’s just really such a blessing, to be able to work with him. I want to say that after working with Rick, it humbled me to realize why I hadn’t — even though I produced “Watch the Throne”; even though I produced “Dark Fantasy” — why I hadn’t won Album of the Year yet.
This album is moments that I haven’t done before, like just my voice and drums. What people call a rant — but put it next to just a drumbeat, and it cuts to the level of, like, Run-D.M.C. or KRS-One. The last record I can remember — and I’m going to name records that you’ll think are cheesy — but like, J-Kwon, “Tipsy.” People would think that’s like a lower-quality, less intellectual form of hip-hop, but that’s always my No. 1. There’s no opera sounds on this new album, you know what I mean? It’s just like, super low-bit. I’m still, like, slightly a snob, but I completely removed my snob heaven songs; I just removed them altogether.
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