Kanye West used to not do interviews. There was a time, around which the Glow in the Dark tour happened and he signed a young, skinny Detroit rapper Big Sean to his label, when Kanye had a blog. He typed in all caps, posted pictures of unicorns and Gucci linen as well as Macbook selfies of himself looking at unicorns and Gucci linen. He didn’t break up paragraphs and rather than typing “P.S.” before a dangling thought at the end of a post, he typed, “SIDEBAR:” It was my favorite blog.
More recently and memorably, Kanye used his Twitter account like a regular person. Nowadays, it sits mostly stagnant with the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy George Condo avatar, his single follow (Kim), and occasional links to his tour and merchandise. But back in like 2010, Yeezy was blessing his followers with more unicorns and partial thoughts and Louis Vuitton furniture and pictures of himself stunting on private jets. With the 140-character restriction, he could take what would’ve been a tall KanyeUniverseCity blog post and boil it down to a single, enduring line, just like he’d been doing over beats for so many years. And instead of commenting “FIRST” or a link to a shitty mixtape in a comment section, anyone could retweet, favorite, or embroider his words to the rest of the world. It was this prophetability, maybe more than the album mashing his name with Jesus Christ’s containing a song titled “I Am a God,” that probably inspired the Kanye West religion Yeezianity.
But it was for that album, Yeezus, that Kanye started doing interviews again. In June he did a lengthy interview with The New York Times‘s pop culture critic and longtime hip-hop writer Jon Caramanica. That led to online publications such as Buzzfeed, Gawker, and NY Mag’s Vulture website1 to either call him crazy or question his sanity, all while compiling choice quotes into lists to collect interested eyeballs. In August, West made an appearance on his then-girlfriend’s mother Kris Jenner’s short-lived talk show, which was consequently called “ridiculous” and “hypocritical.” This notoriety crested with a four-part 60-minute interview with BBC Radio 1’s DJ Zane “Zipper” Lowe and the subsequent Jimmy Kimmel beef.
Kanye responded to Kimmel’s insertion of West’s decontextualized words into a prepubescent child’s mouth with some tweets, and later went on Kimmel’s show to tell his celebrity perspective of feeling like a zoo animal. Kanye admitted to focusing on Kimmel’s skit as a scapegoat for every time the media has “act[ed] like what [celebrities are] saying is not serious or their life is not serious or their dreams are not serious” because he’s met and knows Jimmy Kimmel personally. And after having ample time to intelligently and coherently make his case, he was still ridiculed by comedians and had his point missed entirely by publications, even if some articles completely understood why he was defending himself from the heavily-veiled racism.
Mr. West soldiered on, repeating himself for interview after interview, in anticipation of his Yeezus tour. He went to WiLD 94.9 in San Francisco. He did 97.1 AMP Radio in Los Angeles. He stopped by Big Boy’s Neighborhood on Power 106. He did Wired 96.5 in Philadelphia and WPCG 95.5 in Washington D.C. He went on the Angie Martinez Show, the Breakfast Club, Sway in the Morning, the Juan Epstein podcast and did a two-parter on author Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast. The Sway interview was particularly notable for West’s exaggerated reaction to one of Sway’s questions, as Kanye later explained on WGCI 107.5 in Chicago.
All of which has preceded the February issue of Interview magazine, where a phone conversation between the British-born film director Steve McQueen’s and West will be published. The interview was posted online the other day, and it is perhaps the best one Kanye has ever done. In it, West explains his motivation to reveal himself fully to the public: “There’s also something to idea sharing, or being the person who makes the mistake in public so people can study that.”
What’s most amazing about this interview is Kanye’s respect for his interviewer. McQueen has directed three feature films, all of which come up in discussion. The most recent, 12 Years a Slave, was featured prominently during the Easton Ellis podcast, though more often than not it was Easton Ellis talking. Kanye lets his guard down in most all public speaking he does, but there’s a level of lucidity in this Interview interview with fellow black genius that isn’t present in others, especially when discussing West’s motivation behind the Yeezus tracklisting, his approach to lyrics and the “Bound 2” video.
There’s a very real connection between McQueen and West when they talk about being unfairly marginalized by the gatekeepers who give out awards for their respective art, and it leads to Kanye speaking on the problems he faces with would-be investors in his ideas. The whole thing is a fascinating read, and I’ve yet to see any of it mocked or meme-ified, even though Kanye talks about turning down a meeting with Deepak Chopra and gives the brilliant line, “Because you know what gets me calm, baby? Success.” Part of which may have to do with the fact that the public has an easier time making fun of Kanye when they see his words come from his mouth, because reading type and hearing a black man are very different contexts in a racist society.
Kanye clears up a misconception, “When I compare myself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, or whoever, it’s because I’m trying to give people a little bit of context to the possibilities that are in front of me.” He’s also downright inspiring when he says, “It’s the idea of everyone else starting to believe in themselves just as much as I do that’s scary.” I hope I’m not spoiling anything when I quote their final exchange: “MCQUEEN: Do you think that some people feel threatened by you because you make sense? WEST: They try to make it seem like I’m making the least sense possible.”
If you’ve taken the time to read a white man’s summation of Kanye interviews, you owe it to yourself to hear it from the source and take in his turn up.
1. Vulture later edited out the line where they said his “grasp on reality” is “loose,” as noted in the second