I’ve been replaying the conversation in my head.
Where did we go wrong? Every time I think about it, I am crestfallen all over again. I get that sinking feeling in my stomach. The knots in my throat. Suddenly Drake lyrics aren’t so cheesy. I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been metaphorically eating ice cream by the pint while watching Bridget Jones’ Diary 2, trying to figure out how to move on after my favorite rapper of all time broke my heart in just one two hour interview.
No, [music] doesn’t excite me like when I heard Wu Tang. Of course it doesn’t excite me like that. It doesn’t excite me like when I was using Auto-Tune for my first time. It wasn’t my first time because I did it on College Dropout too. There were things to prove. There were purposes...Sometimes when I’m even writing a rap, it starts to feel like a big responsibility.
Kanye’s words have been echoing in my head like footsteps in a barren corridor. Maybe not his words exactly, but what they mean. What I’ve taken away from that Showstudio interview, as well as his Vanity Fair update, is that Kanye no longer has an interest in making music. I mean, just look at how passionate he gets when he talks about fashion compared to hip-hop. He now treats making clothes look like making music back in the day (lock yourself in your room doing five shoes a day for three summers). Kanye lives to turn atheists into believers, but there are no more godless hip-hop fans, so music has become a chore, an obligation. Music is no longer a space to defy the odds and it's no longer inspiring, but it would appear that isn't the case with fashion. The cold hard truth is, Kanye is just not interested in music no matter how badly we want him to be.
“It [fashion] feels like hip-hop felt to me in the '90s.”
Obviously I'm not literally crying or binge eating (totally not at all in the least bit), but Kanye’s words, his new perspective, hurt me way more than I thought it would. It’s a really weird feeling when you hear that the artist who inspires you the most says that they no longer are interested in doing that thing that inspires you. When I think about all the amazing shit Kanye produced over the years, all the goosebumps, all the memories, it’s hard not to catch some feels. He's treating fashion like he used to treat music and it sucks because his music still carries so much weight. I hate seeing him channel that energy into something I don't care about one bit. It makes me miss the old Kanye. The talented, confident underdog we all fell in love with has moved on but I haven't. So, like pouring through an ex's Facebook or looking at old nudes, these past few weeks I've been living in the past, listening to the old Kanye-- the one who is but a distant memory--trying to recapture that magic.
The truly great pieces of art are those that, no matter how many listens go by, still hit you deep and in a variety of indescribable ways. If you can listen to something 1,000 times and hear something new, experience something in a different way, it’s a classic. For me, no artist has given me those moments more than Kanye. It’s what I was trying to find again. It's what I found it on "Get Em High."
I’ve always loved "Get ‘Em High," but I’ve never really stopped to smell the roses. Smack dab in the middle of College Dropout, the record has always been a great listen, but as a more relaxed smoker friendly cut it often gets lost in the bookends of “Jesus Walks”/ “Never Let Me Down” (jaw droppers) and “Workout Plan” (the penultimate superficial Ye). Listening to the song once again, that beat hits me harder than ever before; I never realized how much it thumps. That deep, bumping blow to the chest is a great juxtaposition to the skipping chime that draws your ear. Yeah, that beat is fucking great. But that’s not my biggest takeaway.
There’s one little section that caused Kanye’s career to flash before my eyes.
Your screen saver say tweet, so you got to "call me" / And bring a friend for my friend, his name Kweli / (You mean Talib? Lyrics sticks to your rib)I mean (That's my favorite CD that I play at my crib) / I mean (You don't really know him, why is you lyin') / YoKwe, she don't believe me, please pick up the line / She gon' think that I'm lyin', just spit a couple of lines / Then maybe I'll be able to give her dick all the time / And get her high
Yo, I can't believe this nigga use my name for picking up dimes / But never mind, I need some tracks, you tryin' to pull tracks out / And my rhymes is finna blow, you trying to blow backs out / Well okay, you twisted my arm, I'll assist with the charm
Every other listen, it was just a unique, interesting way to transition from Kanye to Talib, but this time, with Kanye's career arc and cultural influence fresh in my mind, it meant something different. Kanye, the icon, the internet breaker, the fashion designer, once had to name drop TalibKweli to pick up girls.
To really understand why this melted my brain, I think you have to go back to that version of Kanye, the early, young, unknown artist and producer, the one who was fighting for his place in hip-hop like he is now fighting in fashion. In fact, it was Talib who was first to give him a shot. At the time, Talib was experiencing the most commercial success of his career. 2002’s Quality was the jumping off point, but it was 2004’s The Beautiful Struggle that climbed all the way to #14 on Billboard, which at the time was his most successful record (2007’s Eardrum made it to number two). The commercial success came after Kweli had already earned the respect and admiration of the hip-hop community thanks, in part, to Reflection Eternal and Black Star. Right in the middle of it all, that’s when he met Kanye, or at least that’s when he hopped on Get ‘Em High. I’ll let Talib tell the story...
Last month, I spoke with Mikkey Halstead about the very early stages of Kanye’s career. Kanye packing up his U-Haul and heading to New York was the start of his career as a producer, but it wasn’t really until Talib took him under his wing that Kanye began to become a rapper. In retrospect, that song was a seminal moment in Kanye’s career. For years Ye had been fighting the swift current of the “producer” tag and it was Talib who threw him a life preserver and really gave him his first break by bringing him on tour. Not only did it allow Kanye to hone his craft, but for many a Talib "co-sign" went a long way in taking the beatsmith seriously as a rapper.
My relationship with Kweli I think was one of the best ones to ever happen to my career as a rapper. Because, you know, of course later he allowed me to go on tour with him. Man, I appre-- I love him for that. --"Last Call"
I’ve always identified with College Dropout because it is an incredible underdog story. I think, as Ye discusses on the "Last Call" outro, it was his way of proving the doubters wrong. In a sense he was saying, "I've arrived. I've proved you wrong and this is still the beginning." Having Talib and Common, two veteran, BBQ playlist-approved emcees who really helped him early on, appear on the same song off his debut was a pretty incredible moment in Kanye’s career. You could look at Kanye passing the mic off to Talib as a funny moment in a causal song or if you want to be a romantic, you could see it as Kanye, in a sense, thanking Talib, bowing as he prepares for knighthood. That’s not a girl on Black Planet Kanye wants, it’s the acceptance of the hip-hop community and he needed Talib to close the deal.
In his ceaseless confidence and unabashed attitude and in the countless psychoanalytical think pieces about him, what gets lost is that Kanye was once and still is a human being. He was once in a position where Talib, a successful yet underappreciated emcee, served as his wingman. The Kanye we know now, the one who likens himself to God, Picasso, and Pizza Rolls (probably), the one who breaks the internet with nothing more than a smile, was once using Talib to get girls; sometimes it’s good to take a step back and remember.
Perspective is a bitch, ain’t it?