Kanye West Makes Me Proud

kanye telethon.jpg
The stammer heard round the world

Even if you weren't watching TV on Friday night, you've seen it by now (and go here if you haven't). The camera slowly pans in on Mike Myers and Kanye West, aqueous blue curtains and flatscreen images of flooded streets behind them. Myers in open-collar black shirt and herby center-parted butt-cut: "There is now 25 feet of water where there was once city streets and thriving neighborhoods." West, jaw set, wearing an ugly black-and-white rugby shirt with a giant logo, gives a quaverous "um" before saying what he needs to say, not entirely committed at first, sounding almost like he's reading it off the teleprompter, ending his statements with a sort of verbal question-mark uptick: "I hate the way they portray us in the media?" He gets increasingly heated and decreasingly articulate over the next couple of sentences, trying to get out whatever's in his head, thoughts and words firing in all directions, upset and crushed, sad that he has to go on TV and say this stuff when nobody else will: "Even for me to complain about, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the teach, um, TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what's, what is the biggest amount I can give." Quickly losing his composure: "With, with the setup, the way America's set up to help the, um, uh, the poor, the black people, the, um, the less well-off as slow as possible." Myers looks surprised but still nods solemnly, not entirely sure what he should be doing. West: "And they, they've given them permission to go down and shoot us." Myers, mouth open, looks at West, takes a deep breath, and continues reading off the teleprompter. While he talks, West stares into the camera, maybe thinking to himself: Will I say it? Fuck it, I'll say it. "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Myers, shocked, looks at West and then back to the camera. Cut to Chris Tucker standing in front of a fridge.

I was going to write something about Late Registration on this blog right around now, but I wasn't sure how to do it: maybe favorably compare it to David Banner's Certified (because they're both rapper-producers), maybe say how it reminds me of Jens Lekman's Oh You're So Silent Jens (because they're both familiar singer-songwriter stuff over gorgeously expert sample-based pocket-symphony sound manipulation). None of that really worked, though, because Late Registration is so huge and spectacular that it'll take me months, maybe years, to digest; every song is a cathedral of little sonic details, shards of information that reveal themselves differently depending on how you hear it. And yeah, I think Jon Brion has a lot to do with it, but Jon Brion didn't make this album. I talk a big game about Southern rap, about how much I love rap albums that just serve up banger after banger after banger, about how much I love Ludacris's Back For the First Time and Three 6 Mafia's Da Unbreakables, how I think these are masterful displays of pure hard craft. I don't think I'm wrong about this stuff, but albums like this leave me numb and bulldozed, like I've just been trampled by a herd of elephants made out of glass and mud and light. I like to be flattened like this, but they can't be compared to Late Registration, an album that slowly unfolds in front of you and dares you to do the work required to pull out every shard of meaning. Late Registration demands overreaction, and maybe that's what I just gave it.

When my first Kanye mixtape came in the mail from Hiphopsite more than two years ago, I loved him partly because he seemed like a real person, someone who couldn't believe he had the chance to put Mos Def and Freeway on the song, to get Jay on a Kweli remix and show everyone how much better Jay is than Kweli. He seemed driven and humble and awed by the music industry. When College Dropout dropped, I loved it and so did everyone else. But then Kanye started getting on my nerves, started talking shit about magazines for giving him great reviews instead of classic ones, telling everyone who would listen about his genius. College Dropout's flaws took on a sort of glow: the clumsy delivery, the unlistenable skits, the weak drums. In February, I was sure it'd be my rap album of the year, but by December it'd slipped down past The Pretty Toney Album and Showtime and Thug Matrimony: Married to the Streets and Straight Outta Ca$hville and Still Writin' in My Diary: 2nd Entry. And that was before the angel wings at the Grammys and the bullshit Common album.

I should've seen it coming, but it was still shocking when this guy I'd already written off put out an album with such force and grandeur. That force and grandeur only seems stronger and sharper now that he's become the guy who got on TV and said what a pretty huge number of us were thinking. West isn't Bush's most articulate or informed critic. He's certainly not the only guy who's saying what he's saying. His pledge to give some money seems pretty paltry after we've seen No Limit and Cash Money burying their longstanding beef to collaborate on a benefit tour, after David Banner has rounded up all of Southern rap's heavyweights for a huge benefit show in Atlanta. But he's still the guy who blurted out what he needed to say on TV as it was happening, who had the courage to call bullshit when everyone would've patted him on the back for just reading the teleprompter. People who love rap should be proud of Kanye West today.

Voice review: Robert Christgau on Kanye West's Late Registration


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