The Ludicrous Impossibility of Writing a Think-Piece on a Kanye West Performance.

January 10, 2014 4:23 PM

[My editors told me I could “go crazy on this one”, they're going to regret that.] 

Music producer, film director, rapper, fashion designer, resident crazy subway-prophet of hip-hop, Corolla-smasher, Kardashian conquistador, Nike Adidas designer, king of all-caps blogger, Chicagoan “God” - Kanye West wears many hats (masks?). We sent TWELV’s very own Yeezy expert Austin Hafer to Madison Square Garden to witness Lord Yeezus in all his spastic majesty, here’s what we came away with. 

Known initially as a producer of soul beats with pitched vocals and obscure samples for the likes of Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson, then as a rapper with honest, transparent, and poignant social commentaries of life and struggle (e.g. “Through the Wire”, “All Falls Down”, “Gold Digger”, “Jesus Walks”), Kanye West has undoubtedly made a mark on the world of music (21 Grammys and counting). He has become a staple in the press as an #OhNoHeDidn’t figure, controversial in every way possible. One thing is for sure, Kanye West loves the f*ck out of Kanye West.

And with tour drama like the well-covered canceled shows in the Midwest over a “broken screen” - the Chicago cancelling marking his 4th no-show in his hometown -a recent Kansas City show with an arena sparsely attended by only 4,500, and a resounding “blah” reception of the “Bound2” music video of he and Kim Kardashian “riding” a motorcycle for 4:00 minutes straight (if you insist, the link is here); the Yeezus Tour has garnered both criticism and praise (almost ironically, just like its creator, Kanye).

Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Kanye West since 2007, as a music producer myself I didn’t listen to Kanye, I studied him both as a musician and a person. I know his high-school, his middle name. I know the rented Lexus he was driving when he famously crashed in 2002 before writing “Through the Wire”. I’m not the type of gentleman to post a “Keep Calm and Kanye On” poster over my bunk-bed but I feel (felt?) like he and I had everything in common. From his lyrics I felt a mutuality of ideologies, of aspiring and working hard to make something for yourself, the marginalized artist’s soul, hating girls in Uggs and boot cut jeans, etc.

It’s a Saturday night in New York City, I put on my best streetwear clothes featuring maximum flexibility and breathing room for what is sure to be 3 hours of aggressive dancing, rapping and air punching. Today was the day, Yeezy season approaching. So in some snowballed culmination of bad-bromance Celebrity Worship Syndrome I find myself on the edge of my seat in Madison Square Garden with the congregation of the church of Yeezus.

As the lights went dark and that first distorted synth-bass note from Yeezus’ opening track “On Site” rumbled through our skulls the Garden went loco. Ever-ever, Mr. West was in the building.

At first there was this surreal feeling of, “This is KANYE WEST, the person. Like a human.” I felt a similar feeling seeing Michael Jordan play basketball in my hometown in 2001. Maybe the correct word is “meta”, read on.

SCENE: An angry looking dude emerges from a 40 foot white mountain wearing a mask and anything-but-Nike’s stomping the beyeezus (see what I did there?) out of the stage, a huge white glass and metal stage that is like 1,000 times the size of a New York apartment.

The stage is half spaceship, half ice mountain, with a bridge connecting the two and metal arms holding lights and fire cannons. Smoke and lasers jut out all over the structure. Yeezy is accompanied by his troupe of monotoned dance hoes looking straight off the runway, emotionless clone drones in face paint and all-white everything.

He immediately dashes all conspiracy theories of “What if it’s not Kanye under the mask?”, it’s Yeezus in the flesh. He looks like pissed, like furious, like he asked for no mayo on his sandwich and they gave him all mayo on his sandwich. My first New York City instincts tell me to not make eye contact, like those angry looking guys on the train. The ballerina dancers are prancing in their unitards, because why? Because KANYE.

There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.

Kanye begins to go through songs from his latest album Yeezus like a cannonball, he’s got this urgency, this smugness, this ferocious delivery that seems so not Kanye West. He’s literally screaming the lyrics like a too-drunk stepdad. He goes through 8 songs like this, nearly all of Yeezus, and I can’t speak for everyone, but it was off-putting. We all (impatiently) waited for a throwback tune, “Gold Digger”, “All of the Lights”, anything. But if there’s one thing we all know about Kanye it’s that he does things on his own time.

He finally wraps his Yeezus tracks and begins the song “Runaway”, controlling the track live from an all-white MPC - delivered to the stage by a priest, of course- on Starship Yeezus. Kanye is rocking an oversized hobo-couture trench coat that’s a mixture of Say Anything Cusack and Blade Runner. He’s hit his stride and it is phenomenal, this is what we came for. He’s more relaxed in delivery, in his movements, playful even, smiling and laughing. As the song progresses to an extended instrumental interlude the glass mountain morphs red, volcanic, the whole Garden glows. As the song ends Kanye leaps off stage and the stage mountain begins to “erupt” and break apart in a rumbling earthquake, literally breaking into two mountains with some Disney World animatronicked/Transformers 5: Optimus Yeezus/George Lucas-esque action - iPhone video was in full force. 

It’s two-thirds through the show and it begins - he rants for 20 minutes. We all knew it was coming, if you need to use the bathroom, grab some popcorn, call your GF, now’s the time to do it.

He says something about the Illuminati and how Nike and Disney and Coca Cola are all conspiring against him, how he is Steve Jobs, Michelangelo, and Walt Disney, more feelings of the crazy train guys. It was like Tracy Jordan meets a paranoid version of Riff Raff. Believe me, he wasted enough people’s time in those 20 minutes, I won’t waste any more.

Is he delusional?

Is he saying this because he knows how awful it sounds?

Is he just trying to get a rise out of, well, everyone?

Is this a giant play on media? Does that include me now? Ahhh man.

Kanye starts to (thankfully) delve deeper into the old catalogue, a greatest hits from Watch the Throne, College Dropout, GOOD Music, and a few miscellaneous notable feature tracks from over the years.

At this point it only makes since that “old Kanye” should take off the mask. The show is interrupted by calls/requests/demands from annoyed/confused/creeped-out fans for Kanye to “take his mask off” - he of course does not comply - he recently stated at a San Antonio show that he couldn’t take the mask off because of “Instagram”. No, I don’t know what that means either.

This is just the megalomaniac supericon that is Kanye West.

And in one charming, ironic moment that was just so typically ‘Kanye’, Kanye yelled into the microphone mid-song to some unseen visual effects stage manager “Turn down the smoke, they can’t get their Instagram pictures!”

With the masks and the rants and the “I hate everyone in this stadium” demeanor, one thing became clear to me. The Kanye West I found in 2007 was an advocate, a voice, a middle finger to “the man” that I could rally behind, it was about us, the community, fearless artistry and self-expression. The new Kanye West is only an advocate of one - Kanye West. He literally said in a rant, and I quote: “GIVE ME YOUR MONEY!”. #CrazyPills

When “New Slaves” chorus started: “There’s leaders and there’s followers, but I’d rather be a d*ck than a swallower,” I realized instantly that Kanye wasn’t singing with us, he was singing at us. He was the leader, we the followers. When we first loved Kanye because he said it was ok not to draw inside the lines, now Kanye West wants us to draw inside his lines.  If you wanted to be different and rock pink polo with camo, fur, and Jordan 1’s that was cool. Now instead of breaking the rules we’re just locked to a new set (Remember, Dr. Dre made cuffed and creased khakis the most gangsta thing on the planet for over a decade.).

Am I reading too deeply into the artistic message of a Kanye West rap show? Should I simply turn my brain off and just enjoy All of the Lights (get it) and a plexiglass mountain and super hi-def video screen without questioning motive, message, or ideologies I condone or subscribe to by singing along? I thought that was what Kanye told us exactly NOT to do?

I’ve defended Kanye for years on social media, saying he had to be outrageous to fight back, to play the press, to win the people who didn’t get Kanye, but he fought us too, and we were on his side. I, as a fan, as an artist, as a spectator, wanted to get inside the mask metaphorically. To see Kanye West, not Yeezus, and that simply was not happening.

In one sentence, the Yeezus show can hardly be described as anything but a maximalistic fashion show, musical, concert, church service, and political rally - all in one. The music was perfect, there are over 50 Kanye West songs I’d love to jam to with Kanye. So basically whatever he played I was hyped, the lights, the stage, the dancers, the lasers were perfect. The Garden was the greatest place I can imagine seeing him.

Would I go again? Yes, I would. Did I expect more? Yes, I did.

Believe me, I’m not Yeezy grilling, as an artist this guy is an unprecedented genius, he really is. When his backup musicians dropped the ball and all the music abruptly stopped on “Cold” (“Can a young n**** get money anymooore?...” Kanye finished the entire last chorus completely acapella, and it was awe-inspiring; my jaw dropped so hard it almost scuffed my Nikes. He beat boxed the track and sang the synth line with intensity and precision that was sheer perfection. It was like looking into what it’s like when he first envisions a song or records in the studio and being there with him, a master at work.

There are three ways to leave the show:

-Followers: “Rap is fun!”

-Believers: Kanye is a non-conforming, self-aware genius and that flaunts the fact that he’s much cooler than you, he has to act crazy - to fight off his corporate and industry “oppressors”.

-Non-Believers: Kanye is legitimately insane and out of touch with the universe, he thinks he’s a genius, but he’s psycho. “I like his old stuff, though…”

Instead of telling you which to subscribe to I’ll leave you with all the facts and options.

And if you ever get the chance to see this dude live, don’t pass on it. It’s amazing, so amazing, so amazing, so amazing, it’s amazing (Let’s go).


By Austin Hafer. 

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Photograph by Shervin Lainez


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