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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Oscar Winner for Most Stressful Experience
If you woke up today to a long text breakup from your boyfriend or girlfriend, if your boss just assigned you to work on a month-long assignment with the guy you hate most at work, if your pet died, if you caught the stomach flu and then fell in the shower out of dizziness, if you lost your rent money during March Madness, if you defecated yourself while out in the world today and didn't have a nearby bathroom accessible, you should go see 'Unsane' tonight. Steven Soderbergh's new movie (out now) is poorly written, directed, acted, et al, but most importantly: it is so difficult to watch that no matter how terrible your life is at this moment, you'll leave the theater feeling better for having survived the experience.
In Unsane, Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) has just moved to a new city to escape her stalker ex-boyfriend (Joshua Leonard) when she begins to demonstrate symptoms of PTSD. After a few psychotic episodes Sawyer seeks help from a psychologist, who involuntarily places her in a mental institution. Her struggle to get out of, or cope with, the reality of her new situation is complicated when that dangerous ex shows up as a new employee of the facility.
On paper, Unsane appears like it could work. The plot sets up a little "is she crazy or is she not" brain tease. Steven Soderbergh is an experienced director--the kind of auteur type who might just flex and cast Jay Pharoah in a dramatic role. Juno Temple gives a veritably great performance as a deranged young female patient. And for all the budget not used on scoring and post-production (the film is anxiously devoid of both music and visual polish), there are a few guest cameos that are truly fun surprises.
The problem, though, is this: 'Unsane' isn't just bad, it's painful to sit through.
I could go on and on about the film's more conventional problems: lo-fi camera shots that scream "shot on iPhone 4S"; a screenplay that repeatedly tells-not-shows; fish-eye camera that's presumably meant to give audiences a Vertigo-ic feeling of distorted reality but ends up just being flat out distracting; plot holes and loose ends; Jay Pharoah, for all his comic talent, actually not being a good dramatic actor; one-dimensional characters; naming the movie in the form of a pun (never a good sign). But to give too much consideration to these more standard-fare issues would be to miss the forest for the trees.
Unsane is straight torture porn. The first half of the film at least plants the seeds of potentially interesting plot developments--like, say, a corrupt big pharma theme--and subtle psychological games of trying to figure out whether we're dealing with a reliable or unreliable main character. However, the big reveal halfway through shifts the character of the film entirely, doing away with anything resembling subtlety or sophistication in the story, opting instead for a basic "will she die or won't she, and how".
Every scene following the reveal serves only to ratchet up the level of Hell manifest onscreen. I wouldn't want to spoil any of the fun for you, so I'll give just one example of what I'm talking about. There's a scene in Unsane where a woman getting raped is literally secondary--almost insignificant--to what's going on. My mind couldn't have conceived, before watching this film, of any scenario where violent rape could be the second most terrible thing happening at one place and time. Oh, and then there's another scene a few minutes later that makes the one I just described seem like child's play.
This film is remarkably, exceptionally, fucked up.
There actually could be a second reason to see Unsane. At some point during the viewing the other night, I felt myself join a coalition of audience members who simply gave up on seeing this as a serious piece, gave up on feeling bad, and just started laughing. The shock value of the film became so extra that it actually fell back in on itself, and all of what might have otherwise been upsetting transformed into farce. Perhaps Unsane, in the vein of other trash films like "The Room", is seen better as a comedy of schadenfreude. There's no doubt that far more laughter was had at the AMC during this film's screening than, say, during 'The Death of Stalin', an intentional comedy which I saw later in the week. After enduring the physical and mental stress of Unsan--watching the Sawyer Valentini character experience fates far worse than death, new and fresh in every scene--I left the theater feeling a weight lifted, and laughing a little to myself.
Nate Nelson is an NYC-based writer and podcast host.
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Hip-hop today is as thriving as it's ever been. Even your parents know who Cardi B is. Migos might be the hottest group in the world as of this writing. 2017 was the first year in history that it became the most popular genre in the United States. If there's any problem with hip-hop right now, it's that it's becoming too popular, to the point where mainstream pop music threatens to dilute some of the heart of what made it great in the first place.
With all the extra cash flow coming in, rappers have been able to expand their horizons and take creative risks at a level we haven't seen before. One of the rewards we've seen as a result are better, funnier music videos. Artists like Tyler, the Creator and Young Thug made their bones doing subversive comedy, and now even those acts who haven't previously been known for their personality are getting into the game.
When Migos released their "Walk It Talk It" video last week, it was both "dumb-funny" and a step towards maturity for the group. The '70s throwback aesthetic was pure, and even though Drake kind of messes it up with his modern dance moves, the Migos members themselves stuck dutifully to the shtick.
Dressing up like the Isleys and doing this whole Hustle routine doesn't come out of nowhere, though. Migos have always prefigured themselves as "the culture"--the artists who define the sounds and look of the youth today. Referencing the groovy '70s seems like their way of acknowledging that, yes, this boy band dress-up thing they do may be corny, but it isn't just a gimmick: it's them, as artists, carrying the torch from those music taste makers that came before.
Dressing up is nothing new 1.bp.blogspot.com
Looking fly i.pinimg.com
The Walk It Talk It video was directed by the same artist--Daps--who made the first funny Migos music video -for "T-Shirt"- off their first Culture album. It dropped only a few weeks after Offset's "Ric Flair Drip", which featured a ludicrous, geriatric Ric Flair doing his catch phrase, and ogling women young enough to be his granddaughters.
It will be a good sign if rap videos keep going in this direction. Historically speaking, humor has been a sign of good health for the genre--an indicator of artists ditching tropes, and being comfortable enough to experiment. " The Real Slim Shady" and "Pass the Courvoisier" arrived at a coming-together point of hip-hop and mainstream pop culture at the turn of the century. When Kanye did "Touch the Sky" and "The New Workout Plan", he ushered in an entirely new era of the game. A decade later, Tyler, the Creator with Odd Future did so much good satire that they actually managed to get their own sketch show on Comedy Central. Perhaps we're now approaching another wave.
If you're in the mood for it: here are, the top five funniest hip-hop music videos of the past couple years...
5. Ain't it Funny by Danny Brown
4. Moonlight by Jay-Z
3. Baby Blue by Action Bronson
2. Freaky Friday by Lil Dicky
1. Wyclef Jean by Young Thug
Nate Nelson is an NYC-based writer and podcast host.