Kanye West Roundtable: SNL, “New Slaves,” “Black Skinhead” and New Album “Yeezus”

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“They see a black man with a white woman/At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong” – Kanye West in “Black Skinhead”

Even by his standards, Kanye West had a crazy past week.

First, he played at a super secret Adult Swim party, where he went on an epic rant about SNL. Then he did a really awkward Saturday Night Live promo with host Ben Affleck and departing cast member Fred Armison. Next, he debuted a track called “New Slaves”off his upcoming album by simultaneously projecting it on 66 buildings worldwide in cities like Berlin, Chicago and Paris. After that, he rocked the SNL finale with performances of “New Slaves” and another new track entitled “Black Skinheads.” He even got some Twitter love from Michael Moore for taking a shot at the CCA. If all that wasn’t controversial enough, yesterday a Kanye-Kim-iTunes ménage à trois let it slip that his next album would be called Yeezus — as in Yeezy + Jesus — and will drop June 18.

Eddie Strait and Ramon Ramirez, our two resident Ye experts from FanSided partner Bro Jackson, join me, FanSided Co-Founder/Yeezy apologist Adam Best, as we try to make some sense out of Kanye’s latest takeover.

His rant at the Adult Swim shindig was similar to Charles Barkley once famously saying, “I’m not a role model.” Except it was way more ranty and, well, Kanye-ish. He stated that he’s not a celebrity, or running for office, or kissing babies, and that he’s only going to make music — don’t ask anything else of him. And don’t under any circumstance try to humanize him. With a lot of MFs tossed in there. When has being an asshole ever been this good for business? Was this a calculated move or more of Kanye just being Kanye?

Eddie: I think this is just Kanye being Kanye. The more famous he gets, the more brash and unrelenting his personality becomes. In a world where the majority of people in the spotlight micromanage their image and do whatever they can to not offend people, I still find Ye’s bluntness refreshing. I always wonder when I’ll reach my breaking point and stop defending him, but honestly, as long as the music is great and interesting, I don’t really care. Everyone wants to judge him, and he makes it really easy to do so, but that’s a fruitless exercise. Unless I ever come to meet him or know him personally, all I really care about is the music.

I saw a really funny tweet recently that addressed the question of whether Kanye was always this way or if fame changed him. The tweeter said that Kanye was basically like Walter White. There were seeds on College Dropout that hinted at what he would become and we’ve witnessed the transformation over his discography. Kanye, like Walt, has become the villain in his own story. But he’s such a compelling and divisive figure that people can’t look away. One thing people agree on with Ye is the quality of his music. That will always keep him relevant and the ridiculous behavior will keep people talking about him.

Adam: Are we sure that all people agree on the quality of Kanye’s musical catalog? His discography is as flawless as perhaps any discography ever (through five albums), but during my time as an unabashed Yeezy supporter I’ve encountered some less favorable opinions. Half this country still doesn’t take rap seriously. And with rappers like French Montana and Kanye cohort 2 Chainz running around, who can blame them. That said, from PE to ATCQ to Dre to Wu to Kast to Jigga to Shady to Ye to Weezy to K.Dot, rap/hip-hop has been the dominant musical genre of the past 25 years. Hands down. Yet it’s still treated like it’s a second-class citizen.

The Taylor Swift interruption thingy is still a big problem. It’s the Jennifer Aniston Effect. In America, we act like we know celebrities. We try to know their personal lives. We takes sides. Eff that. They are entertainers not friends or family. Besides, how much do we really know? Sure, in the case of someone like, say, O.J. Simpson, you have to get off the fence and say this is a bad person. Otherwise, they are entertainers and should be respected or not based on the quality of the entertainment they produce. Taylor Swift is a joke of an artist; Kanye West is perhaps our most artistic star. That’s why I think Kanye is frustrated. He’s likely the artist of the new millennium so far, yet to half of the country he’s “Kim Kardashian’s black boyfriend” or that guy Obama called a “jackass.” Many people aren’t even aware that he was a prolific producer before blowing up as a rapper.

At this point, I’m frustrated.

Perhaps Kanye should be most frustrated with himself. On one hand, you always have to be bigger, bolder and, yes, sometimes ridiculous to keep trending in a world full of tweets, status updates and short attention spans. On the other hand, he’s a very serious artist, but it’s hard to take a guy serious when he’s throwing tantrums on live TV and romantically involved with a Kardashian. Overall, I think this is both him being frustrated and a calculated move to stay relevant. He knows speaking his mind, and doing so in somewhat dramatic fashion, is part of his brand. So now it’s become part of his ritual.

Ramon: I think it’s important to remember the context of where Kanye is today. A buddy of mine wrote this post about 2010′s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on our defunct hip-hop blog (#RIP, #MomentOfSilence) that strikes a nerve:

“All Falls Down,” “Heard ‘Em Say,” “Touch the Sky,” “Stronger,” “Good Life” — You wouldn’t think it to look at his public image, but time and time again Kanye has been known for these good-hearted, Annie-esque, motivational pop songs. It’s really been his M.O.: Up until the psychic catharsis of 808s and Heartbreak, his albums are largely filled with these anthemic neo-spirituals… But what has all that got him? The ugly truth is that large swaths of the public hate his guts. He’s been seen alternately as a laughing stock, a vapid egotist, and a bigot.

And yeah, that hasn’t changed. If you read Pitchfork’s analysis of the Adult Swim rant — I won’t front and act like I came across the post organically–they write it like he’s threatening to drop your baby. In reality, he’s making a clear point that doesn’t want to hold your baby, make a mistake, and then get sued for millions.

His goodwill is completely exhausted and there’s no point in trying to please anyone else. In another concert rant from years ago about his Taylor Swift moment, he very clearly made the point that he was (1) sorry about it; (2) apologized publicly to Swift; (3) she had every opportunity to publicly accept his apology and did not; and that (4) he really felt in his heart it was the right thing to do (“Am I the only one here that’s not crazy?”) And yeah, it was the right thing to do and I’m grateful he made a scene over art–no matter how pointless and arbitrary a Moon Man statue was by 2009.

West seems rejuvenated. His last summer solo release–2007′s Graduation–basically made everything fun and was a defining soundtrack to cookouts and beach volleyball. The two new tracks are darker and abrasive, but I’m fairly certain Yeezus will run most of 2013 because that’s what his albums do.

What I don’t understand is folks that dislike Kanye and then appreciate his music: very few artists pour more of themselves into their music than ‘Ye.

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