Calling Kanye West "crazy" is a little like calling a jacket warm.
Indulge me for a moment, please.
What is it like to reach the pinnacle of an industry? I imagine it's a little like dying. Your whole life is driven towards one end, and then you reach it, and what's left on the other side?
It's the kind of burden that only a few people of any generation will come to know. The second problem with reaching the peak of human performance: the only people able to achieve such heights tend to be, for lack of a better word,
crazy. Like the death of a neutron star, Bobby Fischer collapsed inward and became a danger to his own life. Steve Jobs fought against the medical treatment that could've saved him. Michael Jackson...well...
Calling Kanye West "crazy" is a little like calling a jacket warm. It is an entirely unoriginal and unnecessary thought, for it is only by definition of the adjective that the noun exists at all. A jacket that isn't warm isn't a jacket. The entire infrastructure of Kanye's stardom is built on those characteristics of his that people don't understand, find utterly confounding, and lead to usage of the term "crazy" in lieu of a more accurate descriptor.
Why we care in the first place how a celebrity chooses to live their life is a whole other discussion I wont get into here. Usually, Kanye holds a tenuous but otherwise harmless relationship to the general public: a sort of bad boy, "love him or you hate him" thing. Unfortunately, when he expressed his political preference for Donald Trump back in 2016, that relationship became poisonous.
To longtime fans, the recent public outcry against Kanye is hardly anything new. Ever since 2009, suburban moms, J. Cole fans, and anyone else with a stick lodged somewhere unpleasant within themselves has had a negative thing to say about him as a public figure. Some prefer to keep the man and the music separated--enjoying the albums without justifying the behavior.
His most ardent fans argue that only by virtue of the type of man he is, is Kanye able to make the groundbreaking music he does. I can name you thirty emcees who could have written "Crooked Smile" by J. Cole. Even "Humble", by Kendrick Lamar, could've just as easily been a Cardi B track. "Jesus Walks", "I Am a God", "Famous"--like Picasso paintings, you know these songs immediately by the indelible mark of their creator's touch. All the noise and the nonsense from Twitter--well, that's the price we pay.
Which brings us to "Lift Yourself": released last week, and probably the strangest thing Kanye's ever put out into the world.
I'm sure you've heard it already, but if not, here are the song's lyrics (sans the sample), in their entirety:
But they don't really realize, though
This next verse, this next verse though
Watch this shit, go
In proper alt-right fashion, "Lift Yourself" is a troll job. The sample comes from a slow R&B track from 1973 called " Liberty" by the group Amnesty--"liberty" and "amnesty" being two of the largest words in any Republican's word cloud. The album "Liberty" appeared on was called Free Your Mind, echoing Kanye's recent misguided political journey.
"Lift Yourself" is also
hilarious. When Andy Warhol first displayed "Campbell's Soup Cans" in 1962, I wonder how many critics derided it for being inanely stupid, how many read into it some genius deeper meaning that may not have otherwise been there, and how many simply laughed at how wildly unique a concept it was. "Poop de scoop" is so far from reality as we know it that it might seem irretrievably ridiculous, something close to genius, or none of the above. It's kind of like the "Octomom": entirely nonsensical yet somehow real, both funny and tragic, and so far from our shared conception of how things work that one simply cannot look away.
Not everything about "Lift Yourself" is strange and unfounded, though. The sample is really nice, and his treatment of it has a distinct Yeezus-era feel: minimalist, experimental, closer to electronic than you'd expect. As for the lyrics, Young Thug has already been leading a coalition of today's rappers towards abstraction: verses that reject conventional, bar-for-bar, try-hard lyricism by breaking down rap into its component parts, sounds, ticks and grunts. Few would blink if Thug incorporated a "poop-di-scoop" or two into one of his verses. That doesn't justify a line like "poop, poop", but it can help explain it. Perhaps it's even commendable, that Kanye would risk his reputation as an emcee by getting so daringly weird.
So please: feel free to hate "Lift Yourself," mock it, et al. Feel free to call me a Kanye apologist. Feel free to deride him for his half-baked political views. Know, however, that there's more going on under the hood than is evident from a cursory glance, and using the word "crazy" misses all of that. As one of the great musicians in the American canon, Mr. West has earned the right to be imperfect: to make music not everybody likes, to say things not everybody agrees with, and live his life in a way not everybody thinks is best. Personally, I unironically love "Lift Yourself," and as a fan of his for years now, I know what it means to wait a few years while everybody else catches up to what he's doing.
Regardless of how you feel about Kanye, his politics, or his music, I think we should be focusing on what we all agree on: his other new song, "Ye vs. the People", actually does suck.
See? No matter what divides us in this country, we can always find common ground.
Nate Nelson is an NYC-based writer and podcast host.
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