There are suns on my tongue & they all smell like France.
Depending on my mood, I am every color of fall—
the temperament, not the act, never the action in the before.
Depending on depending, I am what you call basketball short.
I am what you call teacher hot. My hair stays night
when it’s still falling on more night. My face be storms,
my face be standing rainforests. Your legs stay space shuttles
while my therapist goes hypnosis.
My heart stays a puff, puff, pass kind of feeling.
Please know I only snort women, I only drink what comes
out of them. The best weather is thigh weather.
Hey, I’m digging on us. How we fuck like bounty hunters.
How we fuck like Europeans on vacation. This here it goes:
we fuck like all nations. I could say We fuck all nations,
but we practice minimalism in bed.
This should’ve been the refrain: You go over legs so well.
I never lived longer because I opened a book.
Someone start this poem over. Don’t publish my mother
crying over the charcoal on my hospital gown.
Exhume my sister, try the feeding tube again.
I am good to have known you, so I keep myself
only wilderness. When I grow up I’m going to be quicksand,
lightning, that goddamn super fast shit. On TV a rocket
launcher goes through a Kevlar vest, & now nobody stays
safe even while inside. They got these drones now,
so I’m hiding my children even though I don’t have children.
Let me borrow yours. My favorite part of fucking is before
your clothes are off & I already smell what you’ll taste like.
Last night the wind left but the trees were still moving.
I thought Love. I thought about growing
into incredible monsters. I thought to think
Thank God civilizations start with just a twitch.
“Let’s take it back to basics/ When shit gets worse
we Converse/ How we need a New Balance/ before
the lines get crossed like ASICS”
– Kanye West, “Back to Basics (The Corner pt.3)”
“Hold up, I ain’t tryin’ to stunt, man/ but these
Yeezys just jumped over the Jumpman”
– Kanye West, “New God Flow”
“The only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail
me now.”
– Kanye West, “Jesus Walks”
“All Falls Down,” The College Dropout (2004)
Nike Air Jordan 7 “Raptors” (1992)
When I think of Kanye West, it doesn’t take me long before
I start thinking about his shoes. The man’s sneaker game is
iconic. He’s single-handedly double-footedly raised the profile
of certain retro sneakers, made entire genres of footwear hip
to new audiences, and designed multiple high-end pairs for
multiple brands. But it wasn’t until the video for “All Falls
Down,” the third single off of his debut album, that we see
Kanye’s feet at all. His shoes were clipped out of our sight by
the borders of a Polaroid picture or by the pastor’s pulpit. A
deliberate framing that now feels like fear, feels like Kanye
holding back, feels like self-containment. And that feeling is
largely present in the video for “All Falls Down,” a first-person
narrative that sees Kanye escort his girl to Chicago O’Hare
International Airport. Kanye is our avatar in this video, and we
see glimpses of the black toebox of his sneakers whenever he
looks down. For a brief moment towards the end of the video,
Kanye lays down to run himself through an x-ray machine as
if he were baggage – no doubt reflective of the song’s lyrical
critiques of consumer culture (including namedrops of Nike’s
Jordans and Air Force Ones). In this moment we can make out
the tongue and accent piping of his sneakers. He’s wearing
the True Red and Dark Charcoal colorway of the Air Jordan 7,
which is commonly referred to as the “Raptors,” even though
the similarly-colored Toronto Raptors NBA franchise wouldn’t
exist until 3 years after the shoe came out. The sneaker
was over a decade old when this video dropped, instantly
establishing Kanye West as a serious sneakerhead. In a way, I
see this choice of footwear as foreshadowing: as Kanye’s way
of saying “the real Kanye West has existed long before you
will recognize him.”
“Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” Late Registration (2005)
Alife Everybody Low (2005)
It’s a sunny day gone grayscale chill. Kanye West broods
amidst the majesty of Prague’s architecture. In this, his
first video for his sophomore album, Kanye finds himself at
particular confluences. His fame and wealth have brought him
to this point: he’s rapping about the brutality of the diamond
trade in Sierra Leone while also rapping about how awesome
his Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses are. His inner fury blazes
when he’s in an empty, ornate church, but merely sizzles
on Prague’s streets, where he wears designer peacoats and
jeans. He’s no longer in his native Chicago, and he seems to
have left his Jordans back home in the shadow of the United
Center. And while he’s rapped about boutique sneakers from
Yohji Yamamoto, he seems reluctant to wear them, let alone
wear a pair of bespoke dress shoes from some elite illuminati
cobbler in Paris, some Jacob the Jeweler of patent leather. His
compromise is a simple black and white lowtop sneaker from
start-up NYC brand Alife. Its buttery nubuck matches his
peacoat, and the vulcanized midsole complements his bright
white belt. Kanye may not see it yet, but he’s trying to be
equally loved by pop music consumers and by music critics.
He’s trying to love the excesses of the world and somehow
show concern for it too.
“Stronger,” Graduation (2007)
Ato Matsumoto Cow Hide Boot (2008)
Kanye is a changed man, this much is obvious now. Common
must have lost his ear, because Kanye has abandoned that
small part of the socially-conscious rap tradition that was
in his music. He is engaged at this point: fiancé to designer
Alexsis Phifer; engaged to the world of high fashion;
engaged in his increasingly complicated mind. The more he
looks inward, the greater danger he is in of alienating the
streets. This song, built off of a Daft Punk sample, is full
of references to various anime films. I am a white, middleclass nerd, so I catch these references. But others wouldn’t
be blamed for seeing Kanye’s forward-thinking aesthetic as
a kind of oddity. His shoes are from a designer that was put
on the fashion map only because Kanye decided to wear them
in this video. They’re fairly basic mid-cut sneakers, with an
icy outsole design stolen from Nike Dunks. They stand out
from their influences, however, because of four shiny patent
leather flaps – two at the base of the toebox and two sort of
aligned with the ankle. They are large, they widen out to a
bulb, and they connect to each other with Velcro. What Kanye
has done here is to marry designer fashion, musical content,
and visual aesthetic. Only by updating his look and sound
with elements of late childhood – Japanese cartoons, Velcro
shoes – has Kanye become “harder, better, faster, stronger.”
Only by tapping into the imagination has he found a way in to
the fashion world. This video made Ato Matsumoto’s career.
And it would mark the point in which Kanye loved his own
imagination more than anything or anyone else.
“Love Lockdown,” 808’s & Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye West for Louis Vuitton Don’s (2009)
It’s a low, off-white sneaker with an idiosyncratic mix of
materials: premium leather body, nubuck toebox and accents,
thick midsole ala Nike Air Force One, two connecting flaps
(where have we seen those before?), a large, plush piece of
cushioning on the heel, like a cupped hand, making this low
shoe look like a mid. It’s unique, straddling a line between
elegance and incoherence. It’s extraordinarily expensive. It’s
made by Louis Vuitton. And Kanye West is the sneaker’s only
designer. It was always coming to this: Kanye creating fashion
instead of just influencing it. But this isn’t a triumphant
moment for Mr. West. His engagement was broken off and he
had released a break-up album. The songs are sad, ambient,
electronic, cold. Far ahead of its time, his production on 808’s
& Heartbreak would influence the world of pop music for the
next many years. In the video for “Love Lockdown,” Kanye
mopes around his house, a prisoner of his swollen heart. He
wears this pair of LV Dons the whole time, casting pained
glances down at them as if to ask “Are these shoes worth what
was sacrificed for them?” As if to implicate his art and his
genius as a sort of saboteur. After this album’s release, Kanye
would find a new girlfriend, Amber Rose. They would attend
fashion shows together. They were photographed laughing,
enjoying life. Kanye would not make music for the next two
“Power,” My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Nike Air Yeezy (2009)
Kanye West’s return to music couldn’t have been more brash.
A slow-motion music video that sees all manner of golden,
perfect bodies performing various depictions taken from
ancient pottery art. A video that sees Kanye West at the center
of an ever-expanding zoom-out shot, dressed in all black except
for this medallion of Horus, the king of Egyptian Gods, that
is quite literally the size of a toddler. The amount of swagger
on display here, from an artist whose last contribution to
music was an album of tortuous self-doubt, is truly awesome.
The song is built around a sample of progressive rock band
King Crimson’s “Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man,” which
plays as a knowing wink to Kanye’s eccentricity but also as
another reference to kingship. When Kanye West is at his
most confident, he is not to be trifled with. He came back to
once again dominate the music industry after a year which
saw him break up with Amber Rose and also dominate the
sneaker industry. His Louis Vuitton sneakers were influential,
sure, but it was his collaboration with Nike that inspired the
average hip-hop fan. The shoe is as brash as the “Power”
music video: extra-padded hightop ankle support; shoelaces
that go through a plastic ‘Y’ emblem on the tongue; an Air Max
cushioning unit in the heel, replete with window; a grooved,
textured, elephant print flap that comes across the foot at the
base of the ankle; a glow-in-the-dark outsole. They retailed
for $215, but production numbers in the low thousands for
each colorway meant that pairs were going for upwards of
$1,000 on eBay. Such was the demand to wear what Kanye
designed. Such was the demand to bask in the glory of a man
at the height of his abilities.
“All of the Lights,” My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Nike Jordan 3 Retro (2001)
In the video for a song that features over twenty guest
musicians, Kanye wears an unassuming staple shoe of street
fashion – the Black/Cement colorway of the Air Jordan 3. This
can be seen as a play to his hometown of Chicago, or as a show
of respect to the sneaker lineage that made the Air Yeezy
possible some 25 years later. This choice of sneaker is easily
the calmest, most stable element of the seizure-inducing
menagerie of lighting effects that is this music video. As an
artistic statement it is hard to read. Only in retrospect can I
see it as a transitional shoe for him, its cement print design,
excuse me here, paving the way for the years to come.
“Mercy,” G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer (2012)
Nike Air Yeezy 2 (2012)
The last couple of years have been good to Kanye. He’s
cultivated a thriving music label, G.O.O.D. Music, and has
continued to rap guest verses for his artists. He’s started
a straight-up women’s fashion line called DW Kanye West,
which has held shows in London, Paris, and Milan. He’s dating
Kim Kardashian and seems happy. But maybe that won’t last.
Maybe things can never last because what we learned five
years ago is just as true now: Kanye loves ideas and art and
aesthetics. He really doesn’t love himself, and certainly not
anyone else. Maybe we’re seeing Kanye at another in-between
moment of his life. He’s put out the sequel to his Nike Air Yeezy,
with such features as a range of spiky bumps above the heel
that looks like a mountain range or a Stegosaurus, basketball
netting draped over the tongue, and a material covering the
shoe’s lower half that I can only describe as “hard mesh.” It
sold out instantly at nearly $300 retail, and the secondary
market prices have been predictably exorbitant. Feet have
not failed Mr. West, no indeed. And yet the dominant use of
mesh and netting on the Air Yeezy 2 suggests to me a desire
to trap something inside of it. Perhaps Kanye is, in his own
way, getting back to the podiatric point at which he started:
trying to contain himself. He plays a background role on the
Cruel Summer crew album. And anyone who has seen his
appearances with his girlfriend on her reality show, Keeping
Up with the Kardashians, knows that Kanye’s presence on
the show is tame. A supporting player. That is how I would
characterize this in-between moment in his life: Kanye West is
trying to figure out how large a role he should play in things.
I suspect that when we see the design for the Nike Air Yeezy
3 we will be able to tell exactly what Kanye decided.
An excerpt from the novel Last Call in the City of Bridges
We are on Mars, but we are no longer young. This is not
the place for youth. It is where the elderly are shuttled off to,
the assisted living ranches of outer space. We sit on Mars under
big glass domes and tilt our wrinkly heads toward the sky.
They have us lined up on an infinitely long porch, our bodies
connected to hundreds of computers, impossible machines
that shout “Beep!” and “Yip!” complete with nugget dials and
sensors that make us nervous. We cannot move. The machines
are too big, unruly, all hooked in intravenously through our
mouths, noses, ears, belly buttons, anuses, genitals.
We sway back and forth on the rocking chairs of our
Some of us listen to music. We avoid the old crooners, the
Frank Sinatras and Dean Martins and Sammy Davis Juniors
and Peter Lawfords and Joey Bishops or anyone else associated
with the Rat Pack. We prefer gangster rap. We sit on our death
rockers and tentatively nod to “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G. and
“California Love” by Tupac Shakur. We have forgotten which
one of these urban youths died first, but either way it’s a tragic
shame perfectly suited for a group of people whose hormones
first went ape shit during the 9/11 attacks.
We are shocked at how old we have become. Liver spots!
When we saw our grandparents’ hands as children it seemed
like a sick joke. Saggy skin. Pale complexions. Baldness. We look
like babies! And maybe that’s all aging is. The universe was
born and then it expanded. After a period of time it began to
rapidly compress. Maybe the aging process is the contraction
of the human spirit.
No one talks much anymore, but we do have Facebook on
our machines. So we can make wall posts from time to time.
We rarely do however. What is there to say really? Hi. I’m still
on that porch on Mars. What up? So we sit and watch the dead
sky and wait to die. Sometimes we play Nintendo games. Very
few of us can even make it past 4-1 on Super Mario Brothers
these days. The digital apparitions of our youth torment us so.
Because the sky burned out so long ago, we no longer have
Earthian conceptions of time. But He comes at what was once
referred to as midnight. It begins as a speck in the distance,
a reminder of our former planet. But the speck grows larger.
Fast. Fast. Fast. Within seconds He is above the dome with His
arms extended. He sits in a diamond encrusted chariot pulled
by six stainless steel horses. They breathe fire.
It is Kanye.
He beams down Star Trek-style and folds his arms over his
muscular chest. His glasses reflect the black hole sun. He has
not aged a day. He is the same old Kanye we remember from
our youth, hands outstretched to the heavens in a diamond
shape. We want to shout and scream. We want to bask in the
glory of this miracle, that Kanye West has returned from His
adventure across the cosmos to learn how to cheat death, to
end and potentially reverse the natural flow of time.
Kanye West has come to save us from ourselves.
Yet we are troubled. Why hasn’t He spoken? Why won’t He
speak? We remember how He disappeared in the early 21st
century, how He left in an Escalade rocket claiming He would
only return when He’d discovered the meaning of life. Why are
His hands above his head? Why won’t He speak?
We lean forward in our rocking chairs. Our machines gasp
in agony. Our bodies have not experienced this much stress in
Kanye opens His mouth. He booms.
“The Kanye cometh! Ye have bequeathed your spiritual
birthrights. I have naught come hither to save you. I have
travelled the stars and have returned to tell you this: Ye have
failed. The dearth of your anonymity astonishes. No one knows
you. The world is not aware of your names. Thou art one in a
crowd of billions. Because of that, thou doth not matter, thou
doth not exist.”
Electricity cackles between His open hands. Then a solid
yellow light. An explosion that blows everything back for miles,
the endless porch decimated, the machines caved in, the rocking
chairs shattered. Bodies everywhere. The dome explodes. We
are blown into the emptiness of Martian space. Kanye returns
to His chariot and rides toward the burning black tentacles of
the zombie sun.
Not anywhere. Certainly not in Honolulu, certainly not on
a night like this one. Kanye pushes though the glass door
onto the studio deck. He leans against the railing over Kuapa
Pond, its shores lined with palm trees and expensive homes,
and checks his phone. Nothing, still. Rose usually gets back
to him right away. He wonders if she’s still awake. Across the
pond lies the highway, dotted with headlights, and beyond
that the Pacific, black and still in the night. The sky thick with
stars. In the sunlight, Honolulu is blue-green and white and
slopes toward the ocean, toward the clouds that hang just
above the hills. At night it’s another city.
He’d sent the others—Cudi, No I.D., Jeezy—back to his
house hours ago. Get some sleep, he’s said. You’ll need it
for tomorrow. He’ll work as late as his eyes will let him, as
long as he can hold his neck erect, keep his forehead from
dropping to the console. He’ll sleep a few hours on the couch
in the lobby, wake before the others arrive in the morning.
He’ll have coffee ready, protein bars, weed. Whatever they
need to perform.
He’s frustrated with his collaborators. They’re hesitant
about the new album. It’s different, they said, the sort of
thing you say when you don’t know how to react. And it is
different, though Kanye would say it’s fresh. Forward thinking.
It’s all ghostly synths, drums like a marching band playing
at half speed from two blocks away. And his voice—filtered
through a machine, warbling like a recorded message. Jeezy,
in his fitted hat and dark sunglasses and diamond-bedecked
snowman chain, said it sounds lonely. He said it sounds like
talking on the phone with no one on the other line.
Maybe Kanye drank too much Hennessy after that. In the
studio, seated at the console, he’d unzipped his jeans, pulled
his dick through the opening in his boxers, taken the picture.
He’d sent it off to Rose with a message: Got this for you if you
come to the studio. We’ll fuck until the sun rises. He hasn’t
heard back, so he texts her again: Still awake?
His phone goes off—The Jackson 5’s “One More Chance.”
That means it’s his fiancé, Alexis. He lets it go through to his
voicemail, wonders why she might call now. The song stops.
A notion floats through his head, slowly, like a map
unfolding, revealing unknown things. He clicks through his
phone and confirms it—he’d accidentally sent the picture
message to Alexis. His thumbs had flown across the screen
blindly, by habit. He’d tapped the wrong name. Every part of
him stands still. His blood stops pumping. He waits, imagines
the voicemail: the curses, the tears, the demands that he call
her back, that he never call again. The phone vibrates, the
song starts up again.
“Sick little man,” she says when he answers. Her tone is
curious, teasing. No trace of betrayal. No sobs.
Kanye realizes he’s holding the phone away from his ear.
“Well,” he says.
“I couldn’t figure out what that picture was at first,” she
says. “It looked like a roided-out weasel with an afro.”
“Is that a compliment?” he says.
“What’s got you so turned up, all of a sudden?” she says.
There’s something strange to her voice. It’s still filled with
warmth and light, still husky in that way that used to drive him
crazy. But there’s something distant, removed. He realizes,
with sudden guilt, it’s just the way her voice sounds over the
phone. He rarely speaks with her on the phone anymore. When
they’re apart, they converse with texts, e-mails. Fingertips
against keys. “It’s been awhile since you’ve done something
like that,” she says.
And she’s right, Kanye thinks. It’s been awhile since
anything. He tours, shoots videos, appears on late-night
shows. He can’t remember the last time they spent more than
a day or two together. He can’t remember the last time they
made love.
“What time is it in New York?” he says.
“Almost eight in the morning. I just finished my quinoa.”
He pictures the view from her loft in the Upper East Side:
the gray February sky. Blocks of high-rises like crooked spines.
Snow hard and black in the gutters. Far below, at 77th and
2nd, taxis and people in long coats and people on bicycles.
Kanye and Alexis had stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows
often, naked, unafraid. They were too far up for anyone to see
them. Even if someone had, it didn’t matter much. They were
beautiful, rich, living high above the city.
“Hope you don’t throw up your breakfast,” he says.
“Because of the picture and all.”
“Trying to get me flustered before work?” she says.
“Not intentionally.”
“Trust me. I’d rather be in Honolulu than about to hop on
the 6-train.”
“But back here,” she says, “in real life, the sun is already
up. Some people have real jobs. Why don’t you go ahead and
think about what I’d do to you if I was there?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you’d do?” He holds his breath.
“What makes you think it’d be something good?” she says.
And suddenly he wants her. He wants her with a fullness
he hasn’t known since they first met, six years back. He’d
been nobody then—a producer, a DJ. Fresh off some hits for
Jay-Z, sure. But he’d been spinning at a New York fashion
show for cash. And the woman who’d caught his eye wasn’t
one of the models, wasn’t one of the women in underwear or
furs or geometric dresses. She was the designer in the front
row, the one with the straightened hair. The one with a mole
on the bridge of her nose.
“Come to Hawaii,” he says, before he can stop himself.
“Like I said, I’d rather—”
“No,” he says. “I mean really. Take a few days off and fly
out here.”
A pause. A sound like a briefcase being set down.
“You always told me,” Alexis says, “you can’t work when
I’m around.”
“I know.”
“You said you have to concentrate. You need solitude.
Mister genius. Mister tortured artist.”
“You want to come out here or not?” he says.
This is what he imagines: Alexis bites her lip. She lowers
herself into a chair at the kitchen table. Her leather pump
brushes against her briefcase, knocking it on its side. She
“Buy me a ticket,” she says.
So he does. When she arrives a few days later, they’ll be
shy around each other, like they’ve only just met. They’ll paw,
blush, stay in bed all night. Her breath will sour as morning
draws near. He’ll remember that breath.
But tonight, after he hangs up with Alexis, the phone
vibrates again. A text from Rose: Awake. Why?
Maybe he should have her over one last time. Maybe, after
they’ve used each other, after they’ve worn each other out, he
should tell her that Alexis is coming. That he can’t see Rose
anymore. Maybe.
Never mind, he replies.
He erases Rose’s number. Erases all the blurred pictures,
taken in the mirror, of her pale breasts, her stomach, the
contrast in color at her bikini line. That’s how he’ll remember
her, when he does. Her face half obscured by the camera’s
flash, the mirror smudged, her body bare and curved.
He considers the mysteries of life, the strangeness of it all.
The palms lean over Kuapa Pond like outstretched hands.
Beef It’s What’s for Business
In the late summer of 2005, my Army unit and I listened
as Shirley Bassey’s voice rang out across northern Iraq. The
remix from Kanye West’s Late Registration used a haunting
sample of the theme from the James Bond movie Diamonds Are
Forever. We played it from the ridiculous, loud speakers one
of the guys had in his room, and loud as it was, more people
came over to listen with us than asked us to turn it down.
The music flowed with Bassey, amplifying the melancholy in
her voice and also the melancholy in us. Only, Ye didn’t let us
feel sad for long. The music switched into a rapid, pulsating
beat building a manic energy that made us want to fucking
conquer something.
Much like the protest music of the late sixties and early
seventies serves as the soundtrack for Vietnam, the war on
terror was fought in harmony with our generation’s music of
rebellion: hip-hop. Of course, with hip-hop there are always
battles waging amongst the ranks of rappers. As much as
we depended on them, they gave very little thought to us.
Eminem’s record that year was whack. His protégé 50 Cent
began to distance himself from the Great White Hope-thatwas and after successfully battling Ja Rule into irrelevance
(thereby doing every hip-hop fan a favor), his sights aimed at
Only, 50 lost that fight. The year I was in the desert, 50
Cent released his sophomore album that didn’t live up to
the promise of his debut. But Kanye’s album hit harder than
the nightly mortar fire. The Rap Beef is a time-honored hiphop tradition, but in the late 2000s it was the last bastion of
record profitability. Even a rapper with the thug bona fides of
Fiddy, didn’t take it to Kanye on the streets or in the lyrics of
his songs. Their contest was purely based on artistic merit,
represented by record sales. Kanye won handily because he
is the gangsta hip-hop deserved. Street credibility meant
nothing compared to SoundScan success. 50 Cent made his
recording thinking about beating Kanye, but Kanye worries
about topping himself every day of his life.
No One Man Should Have All That Power
In 1998, Ol’ Dirty Bastard bum-rushed the stage during
Shawn Colvin’s Grammy win to decry the Wu’s loss of the
Grammy that year to No Way Out. “Puffy is good, but WuTang is the best,” he told a stunned crowd who applauded
him because at those award shows there is only one state of
emotion permissible, good-natured politeness. The audience
applauded Kanye too, when he took the stage at the VMA’s in
2009 and said that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all
time. The all-encompassing onslaught of outrage and vitriol
that cascaded over Kanye did not start in the crowd. That
wave broke the morning after.
Later that week, President Obama—the homey of Ye’s Big
Homey, Jay-Z—called Kanye “a jackass.” The remark wasn’t
supposed to be on-record, but Kanye had the attention of
his second American President. On the book tour for his
memoirs, President George W. Bush was asked by Matt Lauer
about Kanye’s accusation that Bush didn’t care about black
people. Dubya became angry and called it “the most disgusting
moment of my Presidency.” That’s the power of Kanye. A
hundred other musicians with opinions formed more from
anger than reading have said way worse shit (Dave Mustaine,
I’m talking about you, psycho), and elected leaders brush
it off like so much dirt off of a shoulder. That’s the power
Kanye wields. An off-hand comment was the low point of the
President who was in office when the World Trade Center
crumbled to the ground, 2,996 people perished, and all hope
was lost for peace in our time.
Kanye’s only mistake was trying to apologize at all. Sure,
he’s probably wrong that Bush doesn’t care about black people,
but it could have been one of those so-called “teachable
moments,” had it happened in a time when our culture wasn’t
so sensitive and politically correct that any harsh words are
dubbed “bullying” and dismissed. Ye’s not a gangsta because
he sags his pants or runs the streets. He’s a gangsta because
he says what he wants, when he wants, and no fucks are given.
Kanye West Doesn’t Care About White People
The Today Show interview is analogous to the problem
that the haters (as identified by President Bush) have with
Kanye. When ODB stormed the Grammy stage, he didn’t
receive nearly as much backlash as Ye. But Dirty got his
own microphone. Yeezy is well known for his unadulterated
dismay at being overlooked for awards, because he knows he’s
the most deserving. There’s no denying his musical genius.
Claire Tomko, a hilarious writer outta my clan, believes
Kanye is the voice of her generation. “Kanye West is the only
artist who deserves to have a big ego,” she said, “He’s Kanye
fucking West.” It wasn’t even narcissism because Kanye was
speaking on behalf of another artist. The problem with the
VMA stunt was that he snatched the microphone away from
lily-white Taylor Swift to extoll the virtue of his friend and Big
Homey’s babymama Beyoncé. Entertainment anchors gleefully
speculated that Kanye was racist himself.
It’s not that Kanye doesn’t appreciate white culture.
Musically, I was raised with one foot in hip-hop and the
other in heavy metal. When I was listening to My Beautiful
Dark Twisted Fantasy, the song “Hell of a Life,” came on. The
opening melody is electronic, but sounds like a guitar being
played with a lot of distortion. I was immediately reminded of
the way Black Sabbath opened many of their songs. No sooner
had I finished the thought than the chorus of the song mimics
Ozzy Osbourne’s singing style from Iron Man. White culture
doesn’t get much whiter than Black Sabbath and Beavis &
Butthead’s signature song.
Matt Lauer, with his embarrassing hairline and milquetoast
quasi-journalist demeanor, sought only to chastise Kanye
during that interview as if he was speaking to an unruly
thirteen-year-old and not the most significant hip-hop artist
still making records that capture and keep the attention
of America all the way up to its Presidents. An atypically
reserved Kanye attempted to carefully phrase his answers
with contrition and nuance. Lauer continuously interrupts,
restating Kanye’s answers in a manner that both reduces their
substance and better fits the soft-spoken narrative he was
attempting to weave. Lauer didn’t want to hear Kanye’s side
of the story; he wanted America to sit in judgment of Kanye
with Lauer’s smugness as the proxy. Yeezy wasn’t having that
shit from that glib motherfucker.
N***** in Paris (for Fashion Week)
Musicians increasingly become profitable earners for other
industries and diversify their incomes and brands; Kanye is
no different. Both Puffy and the Wu-Tang Clan have released
fashion lines, Sean John and Wu-Wear respectively, but they
had to fight for acceptance in fashion beyond the urban-retail
market. Even the Big Homey himself, Jay-Z’s Rocawear earned
their credibility in designer circles by first earning massive
profits. Kanye wants to walk that path as well, but rather than
hire professional and respected designers to attach his name
to, Kanye wants to design the clothes himself.
He’s traveled Paris, met with designers, and his successive
collections debuted during fashion week in the city. One
night my friend Sal Pane tweeted a video that inexplicably
showed something like a dozen dandy designers sitting down
to dinner and, among them, Kanye. It boggled the mind, but
he was winning them over. His 2011 premiere fashion show
was panned by fashion critics. I know good music, but I have
no goddamn clue what makes one goofy fashion collection
better than another. I speculate, though, that a persona as big
as Yeezy was doomed to have to fight for acceptance into this
culture of big egos. His most recent collection, however, has
been well-received by the fashion community. Regardless of
how crazy the collection looks, Kanye West moves units, son.
Cash rules…and all that.
Kardashian Konsolation Prize
Kanye West has never really had a high-profile celebrity
relationship. The closest he came was with the most famous
bald dimepiece since Star Trek: The Movie, Amber Rose, but
that was most likely stagecraft. Because Kanye is a real G, he
typically keeps his sexual shenanigans on the low, but the
paparazzi-culture we live in used that to speculate about his
sexuality. Yeezy always gives the public what it wants. Last
autumn, a girl in poetry class I took for fun, showed off a
picture of a pensive Kanye in a hotel room. She made her way
backstage at a concert and then to the hotel after. She was coy
about the details, saying only, “All I’ll say is he’s definitely not
Now Kanye has found himself in the heart of it all by
being publicly linked to the machine that is Kim Kardashian.
Kardashian started out famous for her father and a stellar
performance getting smashed on film by Brandy’s little brother
but she has since become a juggernaut of money and vapidity
that has burrowed into our culture like botfly larvae. Kanye is
surely an equally large machine of publicists, managers, agents,
and hangers-on. Perhaps their surreal worlds of film crews
and yachts on foreign seas has created a kind of shared bond,
much like those formed in the military or amongst astronauts
that have been to the Moon. Yet by entering Kardashian’s
world, Kanye is now easily catalogued and monitored by a
celebrity-obsessed media that conflictingly adores and seeks
the utter destruction of their subjects.
Kanye can have a place in her world, but there are no
allowances for bum-rushing the stage, no getting gangsta on
Presidents or beloved morning show hosts, there’s no place
for reality. Unlike West, a genuine artist, Kardashian has a
carefully crafted life that must be executed perfectly lest the
public realize that she has no talent and is a complete boor.
Can Kim K. cage Kanye? Would she even try? I might be wrong.
Things might be okay. Summer was GOOD. Autumn is going
well. And winter is coming. Where Kanye goes there but for
the grace of God go us all.
To write it at all to appropriate:
Yeah I roll with $alvateezy
Before his novel published
Before his jaw shattered
Lit Swerve Autumn Crew reupholstered [my poetry?]
*Poésie. This white boy
Quarter-Chinese swag ain’t nothing on
Albany the clouds gathers. The room
Silence building Deleuze lays himself there
Yeezy got me through it.
The room silent as he described
She comes carrying the rod. Flowers. I scuttle
Beneath the Highland Park Bridge. Hilda:
I sang it through but my own cords distracting
Chords through a Pro Co RAT past puddles of I.
If I could interview him: I’d ask about the “Monster” video,
Whether to be purposefully disgusting or just disgusting. That
Yabba Dabba. It’s Happening
All the East Asian ladies in the Capital District say heeyy
Huh! How gendered put it away
To be purposefully disgusting take words out her mouth
Nicki’s verse is the best on the record though
Yeah I roll with Romney
1K per credit-hour no first book out
Does McNulty fuck anyone but himself
Yes. Every one it poured out of me. Could we get much higher
You tell yourself that this is it – the chance you’ve been
waiting for. That this is your first stepping stone. That a hashtag
in the anthology title means nothing wrong and the Kanye West
theme means less than that.
You struggle for days to tackle your submission, staring at
blank Word docs while Yeezy spits mad flow in the background,
searching for some #inspiration. As fluidly and easily as his
words spill forth, a dam blocks your creative reservoir. You
come to hate his self-confident bravado. His swagger.
“What sort of guy wears those shades?” His Ray-Bans glimmer
in a video, catching the studio lights.
“Good Life” becomes an anthem of envy for you. How he
funds his life of celebrity luxury by bragging about it. His music
awakens a Want in you that you’d not previously known. When
he rattles off cities you’ve never seen, a wanderlust rages inside
of you.
Slowly, through hours of “research”—listening, watching,
reading, and digging through bins of CDs at used DVD stores, but
never writing—you feel that hateful envy grow into admiration.
Sure, the hurt of jealousy remains, but the realization of Yeezy’s
artistry summons a kindred spirit within.
Where you once saw cookie-cutter swagger, you now see
wordplay and a rhythm your own words lack. The beat to his
thoughts and rants drive forward with an unrelenting pace your
countless scribbled-in journals lack.
When you talk on the phone to your dad about your week and
continued unemployment, you try to brighten the conversation.
“I think something of mine is going to be published.”
“Really? What?”
“A piece for an anthology about Kanye West.”
“Really?” He tries to disguise his chuckle as a throat-clearing
“Seriously. For real.”
“Good for you. Just tell Mr. West to watch out for the underage
You ignore the fact that Akon and R. Kelly are not the same
as Kanye West and wrap up the conversation so you can return
to Kanye’s VH1 Storytellers concert.
How could you make him understand? How could you
expect him to believe that where he saw Yeezy as an ignorant,
chest-thumping thug you saw a man holding a mirror up to the
culture that raised him by embracing its flaws and living its
dreams. Where he heard offensive words and hurled aspersions
were wordplay and lyricism pouring forth from a vulnerable
man’s raw wounds and self-consciousness in a way not often
seen in his world. Where he saw another common thug with a
microphone you saw Yeezy the Artist.
You realize what to do. The airwaves are Kanye’s blank Word
doc that he fills with his own struggles and triumphs. That
blinking cursor that had previously taunted you is actually your
ally, a beacon to show you forward. “Tell me your story.”
You turn on “Power” and feel Yeezy’s flow, how he frees
himself by reveling in his words, his mic, and his fans. How he
takes pride in his pride, how his living satire is equal to Proust
or Pollock in his mind.
As your fingers drum across the keys a similar pride ignites
in you. This is it. Your chance. Your story.
Hustling freelance to escape the breadlines
Muscling finance, signing 10-99s
Now I’m running outta space, shuffling checks
Called the bank, now my deposit’s direct
Manuscripts piling to the skies, besides
I’m like Peter Travers meets Bertie Brecht
and Sharon Olds best protect her neck
with these poems, criticisms, plays: March’s Ides
can’t knock this, et tu, Jay? And you, Ye? Click
goes the shutter behind me, just my man
with his Annie Liebowitz shit. My clique?
Just me and him, camera lens and pen
media cred in hand, couple Moleskines
If you’re lucky I might pencil you in
If you’re lucky, I might pencil you in
Giving anglais lessons, hustling abroad
If you’re wondering ‘bout my flow: New God
Made in ‘merica, une Americaine
beguiling, French, Belge, and Algerian
red wining me up and down the damn Seine
Got these boys talkin’ ‘bout my writing, awed
Legs like Bolshoi walkin’, got brains and bod
They’re beggin’ for a lesson de la langue
I’m putting nouns and verbs where they belong
Victoria Hugo in my own right
my sonnets are loose but my rhymes are tight
crowning ‘em, drowning ‘em in vers anglais
Pardon me, sirs, Imma parlez vous some français
Pardon me, sirs, Imma parlez vouz some français
I’m steppin into the cipher, bit of blue eyed soul
Another rust belt white girl, bit of green bill roll
I hear my n***** up in Paris callin that shit cray
I’m ballin hard in their theatres, 18th century
I’m here on a scholarship, penning paroles
Can’t afford this shit, kinda in the hole
Scored some court-side tix, Comédie-Française
Keep your Nets vs Knicks, gimme Beaumarchais
Alors, boys: écoutez. Watch your own damn throne
I’m crafting plays, all of these franglais poems
Still tryna pay all of these student loans
Garçons! Hé! Quit this carrying on
Hova, Ye: Pass that tirer bouchon.
Bike thieves thrive in Tempe, Arizona. In the past year alone,
an estimated 1,500 bikes were stolen.1 Nothing will stop a
determined bike thief, but there are precautions you can take.
Riding a cheap bike, for example. I ride a maroon beach cruiser. My
bike has never been stolen, and I steel myself against the taunts
launched from passenger windows, like “Hey, man, where’s the
beach?” and “You have the smallest penis ever!” Another tip: the
more locks around a bike, the more inconvenient it is to steal. I
use a U-Lock, then wind a standard chain around it, through the
frame and the wheels. The tools bike thieves use to bust locks
and cut cables are different, and the chances a bike thief will
have both tools, plus the time to use them, is low. They’ll go for
the one next to mine instead. 2 Chainz wants to leave my bike
out in the open, unlocked, not chained to anything, and then
wait in the bushes for bike thieves to descend upon it. He wants
to talk to them, interview them about their way of life. He says
it’s an untapped subject, ripe for his raps.
2 Chainz and I are in a barbershop duo. Right now we know
only two songs: “Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie” and “Swanee,”
but we’re trying to learn more. We’ve been hired to perform at
birthday parties and weddings. I sing the bass parts, the bum
bum bums and do do dos. 2 Chainz sings tenor. This limits our
range a little bit, but 2 Chainz insists it makes us more dynamic,
unpredictable. “At any minute, one of us could change octaves,
shift our pitch,” he says. “We could drop to baritones or risk a
falsetto.” We’ve been practicing a little less recently, because 2
Chainz just released a couple mixtapes of home-recorded raps
and they’re getting a lot of attention. In fact, 2 Chainz is a new
name, one he picked just for these mixtapes. I’m still getting
used to calling him that. I don’t even think he’s a very good
“Bike Thefts Continue to Plague City,” The Arizona Republic, 21 July 2012, sec. 3, C5.
rapper, but I don’t say anything. I just remind him how good
he is at carrying a tune. There are some people, out there in the
world, whose voices can produce two distinct notes at once. 2
Chainz believes he is one of those people. When we practice,
2 Chainz won’t stop trying to sing two notes at once. I don’t
ask him what will happen to me if he finds another voice in his
throat, if he realizes he alone can sing for the both of us.
2 Chainz was once known as Tity Boy. He was a member of
Playaz Circle, a rap duo. In old videos, the artist then known as
Tity Boy wears only one chain, or sometimes nine. He does not
say his name before he begins his verses, like he does now. 2
Chainz gets mad if I bring up his days as Tity Boy. The name was
more for the sake of symmetry than anything: the other half of
Playaz Circle was a rapper named Dolla Boy. 2 Chainz explained
it to me once like this: “All the best things come in twos: eyes,
breasts, gift cards. We wanted to be the best, to be a pair, two
Boys with different tastes.” 2 Chainz clarified that he also likes
money, but Dolla Boy picked his name first. “I preferred picking
second,” 2 Chainz said.
When 2 Chainz was a kid, he had a hard time learning to
ride a bike. His father took him to the park every weekend, but
without training wheels, 2 Chainz would only go a few feet before
clattering to the ground. The other kids in the neighborhood
called him Four Wheels, which was worse even than being called
Four Eyes. The kid called Four Eyes had already left the training
wheels behind. He zipped up and down the street like a zipper
being zipped and unzipped by a kid who couldn’t decide if he
was cold or not. Four Wheels would watch Four Eyes from the
window and imagine himself on that bike, splitting the breeze.
When he watched him, he could feel something inside of him
opening up. Four Wheels never learned to ride a bike particularly
well. He learned instead to convince people he had—whenever
he rolled up, something in his voice made people believe his slow
weaving wobble was how he meant to ride, made them believe it
was his style, superior to their own balanced trajectories.
I throw 2 Chainz a party for his birthday in the backyard. All
his friends come. We grill burgers and have water balloon fights
and break a piñata in the shape of a waxing moon, or maybe
waning, it’s hard to tell. 2 Chainz insists that if he blows out all
the candles, he gets two wishes. All the guests laugh, crowding
around him as he leans over his chocolate cake. I’m standing
toward the back of the group with Kanye West. “He’s going to
be big,” Kanye says. I say, “He’s not even a good rapper.” This
is the first time I’ve said this aloud, and I feel embarrassed
saying it with my friend just out of earshot, cutting himself two
slices of cake. “It doesn’t matter,” Kanye says, “because he’s
convinced everyone that he is.” After cake has been eaten and
presents have been opened, 2 Chainz announces that he’d like
to perform a song with a very special friend of his. Excited, I
start toward him, clearing my throat, but before I can get there,
Kanye West has joined him and they are performing “Birthday
Song” on top of one of the picnic tables. “Birthday Song” is
largely characterized by stereotypical, generic rap lyrics like “All
I want for my birthday is a big booty ho.” But harmonics theorist
Peter Rodilla writes that the music, the dramatic synthesized
string section, transforms lines like “If I die, bury me inside the
Gucci store” from celebrations of wealth and decadence to real
expressions of fear in the face of mortality.2
2 Chainz says if he could be any Batman villain, he’d be
Peter Rodilla, The Hidden Track: Layers of Meaning Illuminated by the Juxtaposition of
Words and Sound (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 67.
Two-Face. I say I’d be the Riddler, but 2 Chainz tells me I can’t
pick the Riddler, because he’s not really a villain anymore. “He
helps Batman now. That’s not adequate villainy. That’s not
even mischief.” I say, “No, no, he went insane again, I think he
murdered his daughter,” but 2 Chainz won’t hear it, so instead
I say I’d be Clayface, something the opposite of Two-Face: able
to change shape at will, both malleable and solid, not limited by
a finite number of faces. “Is that villainous enough for you?” I
say. I try to transform my face into something like fury, but if I
had a mirror, I’d see how pitiful I look. I leave the room before 2
Chainz can say anything. I let the door slam behind me.
Kanye invites 2 Chainz out to his studio. Nicki Minaj and
Wiz Khalifa ask 2 Chainz to rap on some tracks. We practice our
barbershop songs less and less. 2 Chainz forgets the words to
“Swanee.” He’s driving to Los Angeles every other day, recording
songs with Bon Iver and Elton John and Taylor Swift, recording
the first single for his own upcoming album. I suggest we go to
the park and leave my bike out in the open, unlocked, chained
to nothing, but he says he doesn’t have time for that. While 2
Chainz calls his manager, I hum “Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie.”
I wonder what it was he wished for, what wish came first, which
was a second thought.
On G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer, there is a posse cut called
“Higher.” Before every verse in the song, 2 Chainz says “yo,”
and I keep expecting him to emerge from the stuttering snares
and strings, from the baby-coo samples. I expect him to shout
his name, declare his arrival before beginning his verse. Hiphop historian Linda Winterowd believes the preponderance of
rappers “tagging” tracks—saying their name or a catchphrase
before rapping—came about as a necessity: when radio DJs
stopped telling listeners what songs were being played, artists
were forced to find other ways to get their names out there.3
But 2 Chainz does not shout “2 Chainz” on “Higher.” He doesn’t
even appear on the song outside of his recurring yo, red herrings
that fool me every time, for just a minute, making me believe he
is there.
2 Chainz is standing in front of the mirror in one of his new
homes, practicing his new rap songs. He imagines there are two
2 Chainz, wearing two chains each. He imagines he is a bike thief
or a super villain or a barbershop singer singing. He is singing
the bass parts, the bum bum bums and do do dos, a duet with
his reflection, who truly shines at the rests, at the breaths, at the
brief pauses between bars, but otherwise sings so quiet you’d
think he was standing there silver and silent. Or maybe I am the
one standing in front of the mirror, pretending I am two people,
pretending I am 2 Chainz, waiting for 2 Chainz to call me. I will
let the phone ring twice. I will ask who is there and he will yell
his name in my ear. Project your voice. From the diaphragm.
From the top, twice more. This time with gusto. This time with
feeling. Again, again.
Linda Winterowd, World Wide Rap: Hip-Hop in the Internet Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 249.
LIGHTS (5 : 00)
There is no time for introductions here—no room for a
handshake in the form of an orchestra. Instead, you, cold,
while the rain sticks to the fur around the hood of your
coat. When the lights turn on, it is time for us to leave—all
things brighter, the wetness from the bar darkening my shirt,
the silver paint from a beer label under my fingernails. The
calendar says it was cold, although you can never tell these
days: the heat cracks the streets here, and ever since the storm
there has been less shade—trees stripped bare and shipped
east to pulp to paper. The street lights told us stay, and so
we did: orange palm outward telling us to stop or telling us
to place something in its hand—a key, a coin, something to
give thanks, numbers clicking backwards and the shifting of
colors. When I leave you—for just a moment, a small, small,
moment—in the middle of the night I keep one eye closed. I
cannot tell you why: you and I know that I cannot see in the
dark, that with the lights extra bright I can’t see much beyond
sweeps of hair and buildings on the back of your shirt. To be
honest, I feel the patterns on my chest before I see them. I
turn on the light and look at myself in the mirror—one-eyed,
blurry, my nose to the glass so I can count every pore if I
wanted to, I can see the direction of things. You do not see
me like this and I am thankful: you, face to the wall though
not closest to the door, and I am sorry—though you can run if
there is something wrong. You, beautiful. I see us as if I were
watching a film: the back of shoulders overhead. I can cut
though the darkness: the lights are on, dim so they do not wake
you, all things blurred yet perfect, the wind generated by the
fan, by the soft blow of air from the vent. You fall asleep first:
feet frozen, eyes closed. I try to match your breathing: you,
fast-breathed, you, smaller. I breathe deep and the cadence
is off: exhaling when I should inhale, muscles tense to the
five-count. I pull air from my navel like I am about to shout,
to sing you the best song you’ve ever heard, listen up, I want
you to hear this. I told you about the paper before: how things
break and become new: things to write down, notes to leave.
And still, we are warm, our arms exposed, our hearts slowed.
I tried to tell you this before you fell asleep but you are so
tired, I know, I know. I tried to tell you, but I hope you know
what I mean. I tried to tell you that I hold my breath to find
yours. I tried to tell you but all I could say was
Maya Angelou knows in that moment she’d better watch
her back. She glares at her computer screen, glares lasers at
the words I Know Why the Caged Trilla Sings. “Hasn’t the man
any respect?” she intones to her Welsh corgi that has waddled
in. Maya Angelou keeps her old Dell desktop in an elbowsscraping-the-walls back room. No one should know she has
a computer. In her kitchen, she stacks notebooks and loose
papers, scatters pens and pencil shavings when the rare friend
or family member comes over for tea or dinner—which isn’t
often, Maya Angelou has outlived many of them. But “Let me
move this mess out of the way,” she says when they reach
the kitchen. “I mustn’t let work get in the way of company.”
She wants people to know she’s working, still working, always
working. She does not consider this prideful. Only honest.
But now she will have to redouble her efforts, fully commit
herself to the thirty-seventh volume of her autobiography,
even though popular demand has dwindled over the years. She
knows this volume will be her last. Will she have to mention
this latest hiccup? Hasn’t she gone through enough for oneand-a-half lifetimes? Maya Angelou purses her lips and reads
advance praise of this braggart’s (probably ghostwritten) book:
Kanye West has brought the world joy and inspired reflection and
introspection with his internationally acclaimed music and home
goods. Now, West brings us a tale of childhood and sacrifice, struggle
and compromise, and, ultimately, joy and redemption. I Know Why the
Caged Trilla Sings is set to change the literary landscape and become
a household fixture.
– W.E.B. DuBois
Those rat-bastard publicists time-traveled back to get a blurb
from DuBois! Time travel had initially shown such promise:
historically accurate field trips, avenues for empathy and
understanding, a way to erase regret by splashing a well-aimed
martini in an unfaithful lover’s face. Now it was cheapened into
marketing ploys and publicity stunts. Maya Angelou shakes her
head and keeps reading.
Like his music, Kanye West’s book combines complex and undulating
layers. Reading his prose is akin to listening to the greatest vocal and
spiritual rhythms. An absolute triumph.
– Alice Walker.
“She’s going off the speed dial,” Maya Angelou tells her
corgi. The dumb dog looks up at her, smiling, or appearing to
smile. But the dog has only opened its mouth to pant in the
summer heat; it only looks like it’s smiling. The illusion of its
smiling has endeared it to generations of people. And, those
time travelers say, always will.
I can safely say this is and will be one of my lifelong favorite things.
– Oprah
Maya Angelou slams her open palms onto the dusty keyboard.
The ever-loose End key flies off, and Maya Angelou nods. There
will never be an end to this, there’s no way to reach it. Kanye
West’s slow takeover of every facet of life had begun slowly,
worming its way into the ears of the people of the world. Then
the shoe and clothing lines; the high-end pocket squares; then
the housewares: hand-painted Tunisian dishware, Turkish
rugs, faucets, end tables, soap caddies, desk set organizers,
finials made from Venetian glass, even toilet brushes all bear
his initials. For the rich folks, he breeds Arabian horses. For
the kids, he created Cheesy Yeezy Curls and then produced,
directed, wrote, and starred in the ensuing and inevitable
Cheesy Yeezy Children’s Play Hour on television, and on and
on and on and on.
Maya Angelou knows this latest encroachment could erase
any contribution she has made to this world, could undo any
good she has done in telling her story and living her life. She
runs her fingers over her face: wide mouth, deep wrinkles
between brows, cheeks full, chin strong. Maya Angelou likes
her weatherbeaten face: it’s a privilege to grow old. No one
knows who she is anymore, but she is still here, still writing,
cooking, creating, living, doing. There was a time in her life
when she didn’t speak, but when she regained her voice, she
put it to use. Her voice adds flavor to the world, but a world
dominated by one voice is no world at all.
“When will it end, Pookie?” Maya Angelou asks her corgi.
Pookie cocks his head and keeps that dumb dog smile plastered
on his face. “It must end.”
Maya Angelou walks between the football-goal-post-tall
golden statues of Kanye West and Jay-Z that flank the entrance
to Yeezy & Hova Booksellers. The store is cavernous, literally.
It is carved into the side of a mountain, and the smooth stone
walls drip, forming knife-sharp stalactites that look like they
may fall any second. Recessed lighting glitters from the ceiling
many yards above. It’s dark up there, and Maya Angelou feels
as though everyone in the store is buying books in the middle
of the night, in secret, hiding from watchful eyes. And there are
plenty of places to hide. Terraces and balconies overlook the
main floor, and Maya Angelou knows the paths to those aeries
are dark, twisting, switchbacking, designed to confuse. When
he’s not staying in one of his other 497 homes, Kanye West
takes up residence somewhere in the heart of the mountain.
Maya Angelou pictures that windowless maze of rooms and
corridors that is his home here in this book-cave. You can
decorate stone all you want, she thinks, but living underground
is living underground, and living underground is death.
Kanye West will emerge from that sanctum this very
evening to read from his autobiography, and Maya Angelou
will be there. She will sit in the event space, which looks much
like an altar, sit under the mosaic of Kanye West’s face that
covers the ceiling and looks down on them all, the lenses of his
tiled sunglasses gleaming: ebony and onyx and jet, glittering
like forbidding stars. In the meantime, Maya Angelou browses.
There’s nowhere else to buy books these days.
In an hour, chimes sound. The faithful assemble beneath
that mosaic, and the music in the store—which up until that
point had pulsed and vibrated, had had Kanye whispering
“books” at various intervals—changes now. Lush strings swell
from nowhere anyone can see, as if Kanye West had gathered
the finest quartets in the world, imprisoned them in a secret
cave chamber, and engineered audio equipment to pipe their
music into the cavern at the perfect balance. Maya Angelou
closes her eyes to find the deep, mournful voice of the cello.
When she sang, people said her voice was like a cello, delicate
and strong.
“Oh! Look!” someone in the crowd gasps. Maya Angelou
keeps her eyes screwed shut but feels the hot press of bodies
around her, feels the change in the air the way she does before
a thunderstorm: the air electric, thrumming, waiting. She
opens her eyes when something brushes against her cheek.
Rose petals. Golden confetti. The soft rain continues, and Maya
Angelou shifts her shoulders and looks up as the vibrato of the
strings needles into her.
Through a haze of multi-colored parrots flapping against
the ceiling, she can just see the speck above the crowd that is
Kanye West. The mouth of the mosaic has opened, revealing
straight, white mosaic teeth, and now he descends in a personal
hot air balloon, no doubt designed by the man himself. The
crimson of the balloon flares against the sedate tones of the
mountain walls around them, and the parrots squawk away
into the mosaic’s mouth, back to whatever subterranean pit
they call home. As Kanye West lowers further, the crowd shoves
to reach his landing pad, penknives and ink at the ready for
him to—they hope—tattoo his name into their quivering arms,
bared chests, proffered babies.
Kanye West’s face might be carved from stone, another
part of the store’s walls. He does not smile, he does not frown,
he may not even blink. No one has seen Kanye West without
his sunglasses for over a decade. Every press release and
staged paparazzi photo depicts Kanye West as stoic and besunglassed, whether it’s eating a hamburger, leaving a spa,
or test-flying a fighter jet he’d designed one day. Kanye West
lives alongside every person on the planet in the form of his
products and music—he makes toilet paper, for God’s sake—
but no one knows which flavor lollipop he likes best, or if he
still struggles with his mother’s early death, or what he’d name
a gerbil if he had one. Those little private things. He used to
broadcast all of his feelings and communicate every single one
of his personal thoughts, but increasing busyness and devotion
to his designing and music-mixing left him little time for such
The hot air balloon touches down, its gilded basket shining
in the candlelight that has emerged from openings in the
cave walls, and the strings quiver, bows sawing at strings.
Maya Angelou wishes she could feel the blind devotion and
excitement of the people around her, wishes she could believe
in this man that promises to save everyone from poor taste
and low quality goods. She wants to let go and float in the
welcoming tide of his loving followers. To chant along:
At the end of the day goddamn it he’s killin’ this shit.
At the end of the day goddamn it he’s killin’ this shit.
At the end of the day goddamn it he’s killin’ this shit.
They say it like a rosary, like so many beads strung together
that are supposed to mean something but in repetition don’t.
The crowd stops its chanting and falls silent as a diamondencrusted podium rises from the floor. Kanye West steps up
to it. Roman candles explode behind him. People jostle around
her, and when Maya Angelou tries to stay in the podium’s
line of vision, someone behind her jabs a finger into her side,
hissing, “Watch it, lady.”
When Kanye West grasps the podium’s edges, light pulses
within it, and it continues to pulse with him as he drums his
fingers and prepares for the reading. “I wanna thank everyone
for coming out tonight,” Kanye West says. He doesn’t need a
microphone. Surgery has amplified his voice to flow out at
the perfect decibel, so everyone can hear him whenever he
speaks. “This book has taken a lotta work, a lotta struggle,
a lotta heart, and I owe a lotta people for it. Some of them
in this crowd tonight.” Maya Angelou’s eyes narrow on Kanye
West’s face. What’s behind those sunglasses of his? Are his
eyes honest, will they tell the crowd that a component of his
inspiration is standing in their midst? That that component
wears a headscarf, has traveled the world, and can whip up a
French dinner like they wouldn’t believe? “My main man, Hova,
over there. Don’t be shy, wave your hand so the folks can see
you.” The crowd turns as one to glimpse their demi-god. “And I
can’t forget WEBby,” Kanye West continues, pointing to another
figure that the crowd cranes its collective neck to see. They
even brought DuBois to the reading. Maya Angelou locks her
eyes on Kanye’s sunglasses. Now.
“You, Mr. West, are a thief. There is still such a thing as
intellectual property in this day and age, and I demand
restitution for your use of my title for your book.” Maya
Angelou’s body hums. Crackles of tiny lightning skid through
her veins, and she feels as glittering as Kanye West’s podium.
Light growing, warming her from within.
Kanye West leans over the podium, diamond-light thrown
onto his face. “What do you want?”
“The title of your book, Mr. West, is more than eerily similar
to the title of one of my books. One of my most famous books.”
The crowd’s eyes dart back and forth between the impeccablysuited man at the diamond altar and the stocky old woman with
fabric on her head. Who is she? whispers reach Maya Angelou’s
ears, but she does not care. Kanye West doesn’t control the
Library of Congress, and she will take this that far if she needs
to. “I Know Why the Caged Trilla Sings is my book’s title with
the difference of one word, Mr. West, and all I’m asking is for
a little recognition.”
“Listen, I’m not saying your book isn’t good. I just don’t
know what it is. And if I did…Isn’t art about building off of
what’s come before? This book, my book, is about my life, but
my life is built off of the lives of many people.” Here, Kanye
West gestures to the crowd, sweeping his arms, pointing at a
few people who promptly faint. “I couldn’t be what I am without
these people.”
“You’ve made your fame by putting other people down, Mr.
West! You are a discredit to the nature of humanity!”
“The nature of humanity? And what is that?” His voice
tightens, squeezed like a wrench around a rusty bolt. “People
are out for one thing: their safety, their well-being—” The
crowd gets into it, shouts of “yes!” rise up and float to Kanye
West’s mosaic above. “Comfort, food, home, love. Is this not
the dream? Huh? Is this not the dream? I am living the dream! I
have it! Do you have it?” Members of the crowd yell, “I have it!”
But Kanye West and Maya Angelou are locked, bound together.
Maya Angelou has come up against some tough, unpleasant,
and downright nasty characters in her life, but she knew where
she stood with them. Most of the time. But Kanye West lives
shrouded, a life wrapped in dark velvet, tucked away in a handcarved hutch of walnut with inlaid woodwork. Polished smooth.
Waxed. Without dust. He is a public man and a private man,
leading simultaneous separate linked lives. Maya Angelou runs
her eyes over Kanye West’s lapels, his fingernails, his closecropped hair, all those details that make a man. She cannot
stop gazing at his sunglasses.
“I’ve lived a hard life, Mr. West. Plenty of obstacles in my
path. But I danced by them, and I traveled around them, wrote
about them, told about them, sang about them, poemed about
“That’s it! That’s all I’m doing with my life, ma’am.” Maya
Angelou raises her chin. He has some manners. “I consider it
a challenge for an artist like me to branch out and make more
than music.” His voice rings against the dark vault above and
reverberates around the miles of bookcases and winds its way
into the five-story café transferred from sidewalks in Venice,
Paris, Rome. “You left the world a book? Some songs? This is
what I leave you.” He opens his arms. Twenty more Roman
candles pop toward the ceiling. Rose petals still rain behind
him, and in the candlelight they glow. Everything is aglow in
that deep womb of a cave. “I have led my life to share my unique
vision of the world. If it weren’t for me, all of you would still
be wearing hoodies with sport coats. Or khaki cargo shorts.”
All of the men in the crowd nod. “All I’m trying to do is make
a difference. All I’m trying to do is create. Because creating is
the closest thing to being God. To immortality.” Kanye West’s
hands rise to his sunglasses and remove them from his face.
The crowd cannot believe it.
Wait ‘til we go home and tell the babysitter!
Wait ‘til Marv at work hears how he missed this!
This is the story I’m telling our children, honey.
I want to remember this moment forever.
And his eyes are warm, dark, kind. Tired. “Can we be quiet
for a second?” Silence. “Honestly,” he says, folding the arms
of his sunglasses back and forth, “my child-like creativity,
purity, honesty, they’re being crowded by these accusations,
your finger-pointing.” And he pinches the bridge of his nose
between his thumb and forefinger, a gesture Maya Angelou
knows, a gesture every adult in that crowd knows, a gesture
someone knows when they can’t pay rent that month or can’t
meet the deadline or can’t work with the boss or can’t calm the
baby. “Folks,” and he turns those eyes on each person there,
“my book is in these boxes here.” He waves an arm toward a
Mayan pyramid of teak boxes to his right. “I want to express
where I am and what I’m doing now when I write my music, but
this book is about everything that’s come before. Maybe it’s the
same title as the book by that woman there, maybe it’s not. I
don’t know. Ask her. I’m going.” He slides the sunglasses back
into place. The podium descends into the floor. Kanye West
climbs into the hot air balloon’s basket and fires it up. Maya
Angelou watches the crimson silk glow, watches the balloon
rise and rise. When he floats into the darkness beyond the
ceiling, the mosaic mouth glides closed. But the crowd doesn’t
move, doesn’t tear its eyes from the tiled face. Maya Angelou
imagines Kanye West stepping up of his balloon, returning to
his stony chambers, and pouring himself a finger of whiskey,
alone. She turns and weaves her way through the crowd. Maya
Angelou can hear the guttering candles flicker.
Kanye West’s greatest disappointment in life is that he will
never be able to see himself perform on stage. He is, after all,
one of his own favorite rappers. In fact, he is the number one
human being in music right now. We are all in the presence of
a champion.
He is the first to admit that he is a flawed man—he’s real,
he’s a human, he bleeds—but, like Orpheus before him, his
music is perfect.
He likes the spotlight; he likes to stand alone on the stage,
likes to get all the shine. He already knows it will be his words
that spark a generation of thinkers to discover the ultimate
truth. For verily, Kanye West is the voice of the people. He
lives within the shared wavelength of the world. He is the
voice of the creative dream come true, and he refuses to let
the rest of us wake up.
Kanye wasn’t put on the earth to make money; he’s here to
make magic.
Paparazzi and Interviews
Kanye feels limited when people classify him as a musician
because he is so much more than that. He’s not just some
celebrity asshole; he’s the pinnacle of celebrity assholes. He
doesn’t aim for the middle of anything. No one wants to be
the middle asshole.
Kanye already knows his place in history. He will be the
voice of this generation, and if not, at least he’ll be the loudest.
He’s already decided to become the best rapper of all time.
It’s on his life’s to-do list, so this shit is real.
If the Bible were set in modern times, Kanye West would
totally be in it. The original Bible had, what, 40, 50 characters
in it? Yeah, he’d be one of them.
How is Kanye supposed to talk when you keep interrupting
him with video clips of himself?
Kanye only takes life pass or fail. But who are you? Fuck
you for imposing this rubric. Whenever people ask him about
his greatest accomplishments, he tells them it’s whatever he’s
going to work on next. The cup isn’t half-empty or half-full.
From his view, it’s overflowing.
What kind of car is Kanye? He’s not. He’s an airplane. He
wants to take up all the lanes.
The Times and Trials of Kanye West
Kanye likes to rap. Before he recorded his own, he produced
others, playing and replaying their tracks in the studio until
it sounded ill. But he won’t listen to it in his apartment now.
His apartment is too nice for rap music. It’s so dope, he
requires all of his Persian rugs to have cherub imagery. At
night in his luxury apartment, he has trouble sleeping on his
fur pillows. Often, in those midnight hours when sleep won’t
come, he’ll turn on porn. Who is he kidding? He always turns
on porn. Sometimes he can’t sleep for wondering if he has a
sex addiction.
When he flies, the stewardesses are always waking him
up to ask him if he wants some juice. Even when he’s clearly
pressed the do-not-disturb button. He enjoys the in-flight
movies with mind-blowing special effects, but Kanye doesn’t
like watching dramas. He doesn’t like to reflect, he reflects. If
only the airline had porn.
The best hotel Kanye ever stayed at was so dope. They let
him lay out on the beach while they brought him popsicles
and shit. However, he hates room service. Every place he goes,
they always cut everything with the same knife. His sensitive
palate detects everything the blade touched. Beer flavored
pineapple. Kanye’s misery is our pleasure.
Truly, the bane of Kanye’s existence is when people bring
him a bottle of water. Now he’s gotta be responsible for that
bottle of water. And that’s a lot of responsibility. Like a kid.
Abortions cost 50gs, and those gold digging bitches always
be getting pregnant. Strap up, Kanye says. Strap up.
Award Show Remix
Kanye knows he can say anything he wants in an email
or a text as long—as it ends with LOL or a smiley emoticon.
Too bad he didn’t try that on the Hurricane Katrina special.
“George Bush hates black people. LOL”
Or at the VMA Awards. “I’m really happy for you, and I’m
gonna let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best music
videos of all time. ”
Kanye is sorry, Taylor. He empathizes with George Bush. He
has apologized for acting like a bitch at the award show, but,
come on, it’s not like he killed anybody. People look at him
like he’s a monster, like he’s insane, like he’s fucking Hitler.
Kanye wants you to give him a break. He doesn’t understand
who he hurt so bad that we want to destroy him. Just two
days ago he was talking to the President, and now this.
Seriously though, if Kanye doesn’t win, then the award
show loses credibility.
Kanye, the Man, the Machine
Kanye identifies with Braveheart. He, too, is a warrior king.
He’s a bright red in a world of grey. He’s a nuclear energy.
He has no time for reading. He’s too busy making history
to read it. Besides, novels are wordy and self-absorbed. And
who would ever want a book’s autograph? Sometimes, he gets
emotional over fonts. Gothic or Helvetica fonts only. None of
that serif shit for Kanye.
From time to time, Kanye closes the elevator doors even
when he sees people running toward them, wanting to go
somewhere. He just needs his own space, you know?
He won’t assume the devil is a man; Kanye’d hate to be
sexist. And he could never do stand-up comedy. He’s much
funnier when he’s sitting down. He’s been trying out some
new things. He’s designed Louis Vuitton shoes and his own
clothing line. When Kanye feels uncertain at an art or fashion
show, he uses profanity so it sounds like he knows what he’s
talking about. Profanity equals knowledge, motherfucker. Or
at least confidence.
And Kanye is all ego. Ego is his shield. With his ego, he’s
Kanye is a machine, a robot, and he’s been programmed to
make music. Nothing you do or say will sway his robot heart.
The Man They Called West
They called him West, as in the setting sun, as in the end
of empire. They called him Ye, and Louis Vuitton Don, and
Young Yeezy, and later Old Yeezy, and then they called him
nothing. His golden pyramid consumes the Loop. That is
where you are. You have come to get your brother’s body.
You descend from the bitter remains of the L, disintegrating
wood shimmering down upon you, coating your skin, filling
your taste. The last time you were here you watched your
brother walk away. Since then you’ve stayed to the small town
where you grew up, a few hundred survivors, pressed together
for the warmth of civilization in the chilled atmosphere that
came after the collapse.
The far side of the pyramid contains the way in, a small
crack to offer purchase in this monument to ego. Between the
pyramid and the long crater of what used to be a lake rise the
skeletal remains of skyscrapers, tips clawing at the passing
clouds, doing as their name demands, the fingers of some
buried god waking once more. This is where you stopped, last
time, while your brother continued on. Where you waved and
you cried but he would not stop for you. “I’ll be back,” the last
words he ever said, the worst sort to leave behind. Years later
you now stand where he stood, on the cusp.
The entrance is carved into a grinning face. A reflective
mask covers his eyes and diamonds dot his teeth beneath
your feet. You enter through the mouth, where once his
genius flowed, or so the stories go. Above his head the words
“WHAT IS A KING TO A GOD?” carved into the rough incline,
barely worn by the intervening years. As you pass through
you glance behind and see on the inside the answer: “WHAT
You imagine your brother walking these halls, reading the
words of the man they called West, his Twitter feed scrawling
across the walls, looping over and over so that his words never
end. Your brother who came here looking for his fortune,
to prove himself. You wish that you could have told him it
wasn’t necessary. He didn’t have to compare to the myths of
men long dead. He just had to be your brother.
At the end of the meandering hallway, the last door,
emblazoned with the face of a man who supposedly once
lived, above it written in the same angular letters, “No One
Man Should Have All That Power.” You open the doors.
Inside there is nothing. No gold, no jewels, no body of
West interred. A barren brick room. There are footprints in
the dust, your brother’s Timberlands, size infinity. Your own
boots cover them up and erase their passage. Your brother
came and found nothing and then could not come home. He
could not face a world without Ye, without the possibility of
a man called West existing. Such a man, with his gold and
diamond teeth, his genius, his ego, no, it is safer to believe
that your brother will come back one day than to believe in
the man they called West.
Who Does Not Fear the Avalanche
It is a cold and desolate peak. Every exhaled breath is
doomed to freeze. Ye chops another log of wood. Sweat pours
from his topknot, across his broad back, over the scars of
a thousand fights. The soaked kimono clings to his heaving
sides. The wood cracks open. The sound echoes down the
mountainside. Ye laughs. He does not fear the avalanche. He
is alone here on the peak surrounded by snows, the nearest
hamlet three days’ journey down. Apprentices and challengers
used to travel to speak to him but they have learned to leave
him be. He spends his time crafting furniture: jewel chests,
scholar desks, tanso, tsukue. His samurai sword is hung up
for good.
Ye has heard of writers who burned their pages on their
death bed, or locked them away far from others. As a young man
he did not understand. But now that he is broad-shouldered
and graying at the temples, he follows in their steps. Better to
be in a forgotten corner of the world and true than live such
Another log of wood splits apart. An answering rumble
from above. Further up the mountain something is changing.
Storm clouds flung from the incline. It is coming for him. Like
time itself coming to eat him up. Ye smiles again. He puts
down the ax and faces the mountain. Since leaving the world
he has waited for this. He is ready for fate, to be measured
against others and found either a good man or else wanting.
His gold-and-diamond laced teeth glint in the cold air, lips
spread far apart. The snow hurtles down the mountain and Ye
spreads his arms. He who does not fear the avalanche, does
not fear eternity.
A G.O.O.D. Man Hard Found
Kanye hit play on the video for a thousandth time. Nothing
changed. Kim took another man’s dick in her mouth, eyes
wide, fingers moving. Small moans from her mouth, louder
ones from Ray-J, the dumbass almost ruining the whole thing.
A year ago Kanye would have forgiven the so-called singer but
now the sounds just distracted further.
Once upon a time Kanye would watch Kim Kardashian’s
sex tape before going to town on any woman, the sight of her
curves, those hips, that ass, and he was ready to go again.
No need for any stimulant with that video on hand. But since
they’d begun dating, since he’d had access to that Eden body
every night, the video no longer did its job, did the opposite,
killed every erotic impulse in his body.
Many women had climbed out of his bed, beautiful women,
models and fashionistas. Occasionally Kanye had been in love,
or thought he was. They’d all since gone on to date other
people. But if he was all right occasionally thinking of them
having sex with other men, with other celebrities or mere
mortals, a thought that could arrive and then be shrugged
off, it was a different thing to watch another man put his dick
inside your woman.
Kanye shut the laptop, but this didn’t mean much. His
computer familiar could summon the images on any of a
thousand screens in his penthouse, the curving ass, the
endless “baby”s. Or he could simply close his eyes and drag
every memorized frame across his thoughts, now a constant
torment. Instead he stalked to the windows, pressed his
hands against the glass, and took in the city. Somewhere
within view, someone listened to his music. Simple statistics.
He was everywhere. He did not have to be here. But he could
not escape the tape.
Too much bragging. Too many times calling women bitches.
Too proud, ego always the solution. He shouted to the world
he was happy to be with the woman everyone had seen fucking
Ray-J, what else could be said? And now he must live with it.
Her body was a secret that everyone knew. When they were out
other men did not have to imagine her naked, they had seen it
for themselves, jacked off to it, pictured it while fucking their
wives girlfriends women. And after everything he’s said, no
one would listen to him if he ripped off the sunglasses and
shouted, “This has gone too far, we do not treat women right,
like the mothers sisters daughters they are!” They would
laugh in his face as they took away his money and his music
and his legacy. And so Kanye must smile and say that he is
glad everyone knows well the body that he enjoys every night.
Sometimes he’s glad his mother did not live to see this.
On November 10th, 2007, Donda West Died
On November 10th, 2008, you were between shows. November
9th, Dublin, Ireland. November 11th, London, England.
By ferry and car, the journey from Dublin to London takes about
eight hours.
By plane, about an hour.
I have to imagine you flew. But maybe not. Maybe you spent two
hours, three hours, on a ferry.
The journey between two points is such a straight line.
Maybe you needed to be on the Irish Sea. The blue of it. The blue
looks miserable.
The very shape of the sea is like a face, mourning, gagging on a
And it must be salty. Like all seas.
Though for a sea to leave cliffs instead of beaches.
That tells me it’s killed its fair share of mothers.
The Irish stop clocks at the time of death. They stay with the
body day and night until the burial. They recite poems. They
sing. They cry and drink. They kiss the dead body.
Given the autopsy, at least some of these, you were unable to
But the first anniversary of a death. I know it.
We sometimes burn a yahrzeit candle. It burns for 24 hours, or
26, or 3 days, more. It’s white and burns in a tall glass so you
don’t have to worry about leaving an open flame over night.
Do you worry about your house burning down?
You spent the nights around the anniversary of your mother’s
death on a stage that looked like the universe.
Planets. Shooting stars. A Galaxy—pink and perfect.
You were glowing in the dark. And you were black in the dark.
And a monster came on stage to eat you.
To gobble you up. As mothers say.
In Song
After the accident, Kanye West wrote, produced, and recorded
a song.
“Through the Wire.”
As the title suggests, Kanye rapped every word through his
wired-shut jaw.
The first verse begins:
I drink a boost for breakfast, and ensure for dizzert
Somebody ordered pancakes I just sip the sizzurp
That right there could drive a sane man bizzerk
Not to worry y’ll Mr. H 2 the Izzo’s back to wizzerk
How do you console my mom or give her light support
When you telling her your son’s on life support
And just imagine how my girl feel
On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till
Recently, Kanye compared himself to Emmett Till again.
On one website, they explain: “discussing the VMA incident... he
compared the backlash he faced to the murder of Emmett Till,
the Chicago teenager who was killed for whistling at a white
woman in Money, Mississippi.”
People have been outraged, but Kanye must
feel a connection to this boy. And because of Kanye,
Emmett’s story is on the internet again and again. 65 years later.
Kanye knows what appropriation is.
Con Moto
While swallowing a prenatal vitamin before bed, I’m watching an
MTV interview
with Rick Ross about how
you taught him to see music in colors.
He calls you Ye, pronounced yay, dropping Kan.
Musical terms, held onto from Italian, found on printed music,
begin with con
because they begin with
Con espressione, con moto, become, informally,
espressione, moto, spirito, affetto, dolore, forza, gran, molto,
larghezza, slancio, sordino, anima, brio, amore. Shook free.
And we should love our own sounds.
Feeling, movement, spirit, affect, sadness, force, great feeling,
much feeling, fire,
broadness, enthusiasm, muted tone, feeling again, and vigour,
and tenderness
or love.
Another connection between you and Italy, between you and
music. Another
way to say beautiful things that I have learned tonight.
If bellies stirred before babies were big enough, mine’d be
God’s Face Over Gold
Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.
But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.
So it must be his mouth, his tongue unrolled.
Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.
I think he hears prayers when nights are cold.
He can’t be a man when his heart’s a rose.
Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.
But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.
Last night, as I walking home in -9 without wind chill
temperatures (Celsius) and foot upon feet of snow, I heard
the most fantastic (ironic) thing. Granted, I was mad at the
weather, and because my anger would be futile against snow
and cold, I steered my aggression onto three darling little
Here is the conversation I overheard:
Guy 1: You know, dudes, I only have one problem.
Guy 2: Not enough pussy?
Guy 1: Yeah.
Guy 3: (With a hint of jealousy and maybe irony) Fuck you.
Guy 1: Nah, really, dudes, my only problem is that I fucking
hate fat. Like I can’t stand it if a girl’s fat.
Guy 3: Fuck, dude, like who likes fat chicks?
Then, they turned onto Princess Street (our main “drag”)
and I had to turn a different way to go home. Needless to say,
I wanted to hear more! But given only the brief bit of friendly
banter I witnessed, I dedicate Kanye West’s “Runaway” to
There was something profound in what they were saying
though. In the many conversations about gender and race
we’ve had here and the once ground-breaking theory on
intersectionality, what people fail to acknowledge—time and
time again—is the power of attractiveness.
We talk about gender and publishing or race and publishing,
but we just don’t talk about hotness, unless it’s a flippant
kind of “what writer would you most like to fuck?” post.
And yet, it’s impossible to separate the degree to which the
attractiveness of a writer relates to his/her success.
Yes, this is a conversation about superficialities. But it
is one that has relevance. With AWP around the corner, be
honest: As an editor, if you met a hot writer you wanted to
bed, wouldn’t you be more likely to read his/her writing with
a kinder eye? (I’m not saying you’d publish, but you’d likely
be more generous, no? Or maybe I’m the only superficial one.
Hey, I can admit it.)
All of this ignores the inherent privilege that comes with
being attractive. In my grad student/young professor milieu,
the buzzword—almost to a fault—is positionality. Jesus,
everyone wants to talk about the position they occupy, as
a “white settler” (another hot buzzword here in Canada) or
woman of color or whatever. People pay attention to their
positionality. It changes the way they speak, depending on
who their audience is. I don’t know. It’s like a hyper-politicalcorrectness, a hyper-self-awareness, which is not to say
racism/sexism/etc. does not exist. (Canadians are notoriously
polite. Their politeness, in my opinion, obscures an obvious
prejudice. In many ways, I would rather experience the blatant
racism/sexism I’ve endured in places like Texas or Indiana
than be greeted with a plastic smile hiding something far more
sinister. Or, maybe Canadians are truly more enlightened
than Americans, and because of my unwavering disaffection,
I assume the worst about people.) We talk about positionality,
eagerly, too eagerly maybe. We ignore attractiveness.
I mean, I get it. Attractiveness isn’t discussed in feminist
academic writing because it’s so “subjective.” Yes, obviously,
we have a Western standard of beauty: “fair” skin, thin, etc.
(All this ignores the “exotic.” Asian women, after all, occupy a
stunning #11 on Stuff White People Like. I remember having a
conversation with some writer—I can’t remember who—who
said that all the male writers he knows living in Brooklyn have
Asian girlfriends, except for the Asian male writers, who have
white girlfriends.) Nonetheless, the subjectivity of whom or
what is deemed attractive shouldn’t detract from its obvious
impact on our daily interactions with people. It is as much
a form of discrimination or privilege—depending—as race,
class, gender, able-bodiedness, weight, etc.
A brief detour: This past summer, I did research for a
professor on Citizenship and Disability. I read a jarring
article on fatness and disability by Nathan Kai-Cheong Chan
and Allison Gillick based on a series of interviews. In each
circumstance, the respondent—all morbidly obese by medical
standards—made the argument that they were on the cusp
of being fat enough to have a disability, but they were a few
pounds shy. That is, if the respondent was 350 pounds, she’d
say disability meant 360 pounds. What remains is the obvious
truth that all these people who experience discrimination
based on their weight, which is to say, they experience
discrimination based on their attractiveness. This takes me
back to the dear little undergrads gleefully talking about
fat chicks, who certainly can’t come close to the obese line.
Chances are, they were talking about girls who have a little
belly, stress on the little.
But weight matters. Attractiveness matters. Size matters.
I hate to admit this. I feel like I ought to be more enlightened
than to care. I used to be a gender studies professor for gawd’s
sake! But it does. When I visited my family for winter break, I
got some new pants. They used a different sizing system, one
I was unfamiliar with, and so, being vain, I looked it up on the
internet. And I’m ashamed about how happy I was that they
translated to a size zero, a size I haven’t been in a very long
time. What should size matter? What should attractiveness
matter? But, but, it does! It does!
Size zero: the non-existent size. Website after website with
women harking on each other about how they want to be a
size zero. You skinny little bitch, they say, with humour, with
I don’t know where I’m going with this. Mostly, I am
disappointed with those boys last night, almost as much as I’m
disappointed in myself for buying into a system that rewards
attractiveness and thinness. If I can be a critical feminist and
anti-racist, how can I simultaneously place so much value and
weight (pun intended) in attractiveness and thinness?
First Appeared on HTMLGIANT
Act One: “this being his first adventure into Negro Opera”
Say he didn’t drop out. Say he didn’t almost pay the cost.
Say that nothing was lost because nothing was ever found.
Say he stayed in school. Say he kept those books rolling.
Say he got his associate’s, then his master’s, then his master’s
master’s, then his doctorate. Say that he specializes in that
black music, that crack music, his life the quiet opposite of
the braggadocio, where the self-doubt goes is not into rugs
with cherubs but dissertations, conference presentations. A
GTA instead of Kim K.
What does he want most now? To find the missing. And
what is missing? Black history. The idea lost that in the 20th
century, their music was always the music that drove (white)
culture. Go back, Dr. West. Go back from papers like “GoalDirected Soul? Analyzing Rhythmic Teleology in African
American Popular Music” and “No Boundary Line to Art:
‘Bebop’ as Afro-Modernist Discourse” to the past. Go back
past the samplers and turntables to piano rolls, the original
digital format, punching holes to make sound. Go back to the
stage, the opera house, the whitest place you know.
Go back to Scott Joplin, Dr. West.
Act Two: “entirely his original composition”
How quickly this happens for an age before file sharing: the
President, Theodore Roosevelt, invites Booker T. Washington
to dinner at the White House. No black man has ever dined
there before as guest of the Chief Executive. It’s a scandal
for Roosevelt’s enemies. “Our Coon-Flavored President” and
“Roosevelt Dines a Darkie” are the headlines in the South. “The
most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by
any citizen of the United States,” says the Memphis Scimitar.
That’s the 16th of October, 1901. Within two years,
Scott Joplin is touring his opera A Guest of Honor around
the country. In August of 1903, the company is in Sedalia,
Missouri, performing at Crawford’s Theater. Joplin files a
letter with the Library of Congress announcing his intention
to apply for copyright on the work—a copy of the score will
follow soon.
But then: somewhere in the Midwest (Kansas? Illinois?)
someone makes off with the box office proceeds. Joplin can’t
pay the bills, so his possessions, including, likely, the score
for A Guest of Honor, are seized. Gone. Vanished. Joplin moves
on, writes other works, dies insane and unknown, buried in a
pauper’s grave.
It’s tragic, right, Dr. West? You could undo it.
Act Three: “he has just received the book of the play
from the publisher’s hand”
The impossible 2012: Dr. Kanye Omari West, Ph.D., opens,
say, a box in the Library of Congress, or, say, the locked drawer
of a rolltop desk in Warrensburg, Missouri, or, say, the justdiscovered wall safe of a closed-up theater in East Saint Louis,
Say he opens up whatever you would like him to open up,
and there it is, once lost but now found: A Guest of Honor, an
Opera by Scott Joplin, curled yellow pages, black ink faded to
brown. Score and libretto. It’s all there.
What changes in our lives? Already, we’ve established a
universe in which the College Dropout is summa cum laude,
where Taylor Swift speaks her piece, where Jay-Z makes
“Watch the Throne” with someone else (Nas? Lil Wayne?). How
much does the world shift because an academic has found
a missing manuscript? How exciting could it be, beyond a
few revival performances, beyond extra chapters in Joplin
biographies, beyond Dr. West getting tenure, a nice article in
the Chronicle of Higher Education, if he’s lucky? It won’t even
bring in enough to get another Camry, much less his other
other Camry.
America, and America’s Kanye West, are the ideals of selfreinvention. You can be someone new here. You are not bound
by the old ideals. You can stay in school. You can drop out of
school. You can be Kanye. You can be Mr. West. You can be
Yeezy, Ye, Dr. West, the Louis Vuitton Don, Martin Louis the
King, Jr. Speak it into existence from the stage. Everything is
the stage.
In America, a white man invites a black man to dinner,
and another black man writes an opera about it, which is
in turn produced by a white man (“his first adventure into
Negro Opera,” reports the Sedalia Weekly Conservator). The
score is seized and lost, and our imaginary Dr. West, finds it/
does not find it. Nothing changes. We still have no cherubs on
these Persian rugs. We still have no goblets. We still do not
understand exactly the scope of 200,000 thousand trillion,
which is technically two hundred quintillion, a number we
still cannot understand.
Wake up, Dr. West. The missing opera is your own guest
of honor, your missing self the opera recited from the stages
of the Midwest. It is lonely to pretend. It is better to speak it
into existence.
Theresa J. Beckhusen is the Artistic Fellow at the
Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Her work
has previously appeared in Plain China and RiverCraft. She
knows “Monster” by heart as well as one of Constance’s
monologues from The Life and Death of King John.
Sarah Blake is at work on a collection of poetry about
Kanye West. Some of the poems appear in Boston Review, The
Awl, Sentence, Witness, and soon in Drunken Boat. Blake lives
outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son.
Kait Burrier writes poetry, drama, and music journalism.
Her poetry appears in the anthologies Voices from the Attic
and Dionne’s Story. Recent productions include her ten-minute
Patient/Fx at the Jason Miller Playwrights Project Invitational
and site-specific monologues at Scranton’s Bonfire at the Iron
Furnaces. Kait is currently a candidate in Wilkes University’s
Creative Writing M.F.A. program. She is a member of the
Dramatists Guild, AWP, and NWA.
Evan Robert Chen studies creative writing and literature
in the PhD program at SUNY Albany. His work has appeared.
You can listen to his poems and drones at www.soundcloud.
Barry Grass earned his MFA from that Ghetto University.
He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is the current
Nonfiction Editor of Black Warrior Review. Recent work
appears/is forthcoming in Sonora Review, Hobart, Annalemma,
and Stymie, among others. Send leads on where to find Kanye’s
peacoat from the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” video to
[email protected]
Robert Helfst is an aspiring author and bad karaoke singer.
The University of Indianapolis graduate lives and writes in
Indianapolis, where he spends too much time thinking and not
enough writing. His work has previously appeared in Etchings.
He enjoys telling stories, just not about himself. This is his
fourteenth attempt at writing his contributor’s biography.
Lily Hoang is the author of the books Unfinished, The
Evolutionary Revolution, Changing (recipient of a PEN Beyond
Margins Award), and Parabola (winner of the 2006 Chiasmus
Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest). She serves as an Associate
Editor at Starcherone Books and Editor at Tarpaulin Sky. With
Blake Butler, she co-edited the anthology 30 under 30.
Sam Martone lives in Tempe, Arizona, but he spent his
high school years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. During ninth and
tenth grade, while beats were beaten out of lunch tables, he
freestyled under the rap moniker 2can Sam. In later years, he
and his crew beefed with a group of Danish rappers on a hiphop message board. Sam Martone is no longer much of an ill
rhyme-sayer. Now, when he comes up with a clever couplet,
he copies it down in a notebook. He imagines running into the
targets of these punchlines. He imagines the battles that will
begin when he flips to the right page and points: this diss, it
was meant for you.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives
in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His collection of Missed Connections,
So You Know It’s Me, was released in 2011 by Tiny Hardcore
Press. His series of lyric essays based on video game boss
battles, Level End, was released in 2012 by Origami Zoo Press.
He is working on a series of lyric essays about dance songs.
Salvatore Pane is the author of the novel, Last Call in the City
of Bridges, and the chapbook, #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning.
His work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, The
American Book Review, The Rumpus, and many other venues.
His graphic novel, The Black List, is forthcoming in 2013.
He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of
Indianapolis and can be reached at www.salvatore-pane.com.
Joshua M. Patton was a finalist for Illest White-Boy Alive
in 2000 by some trill cats from the US Army while serving
in Bosnia and again in 2005 while serving in Iraq. If he
doesn’t know how you’re stepping to him, he will take that as
disrespect. He will tell you about yourself and he’ll punctuate
it with a roundhouse kick to your domepiece. Since you don’t
need that kind of drama, check out Veteran Journal, where he
is a regular contributor. Or you could peep his articles for
AND Magazine, where he lays his game down quite flat. Like
the RZA, who brought the world Bobby Digitial, JMPimpin’s
science fiction series Singularity War gets all up in your mindguts. Ebook installments are available on Amazon, Barnes &
Noble, and Smashwords. The Sci-Fi Podcast Smoke and Mirrors’
episode 89 features the audiobook version of the first two
installments. If you pass him in the streets, give a player a
nod and let him know you’re down for cause. Or you might
get dealt with.
Fred Pelzer (@fredpelzer): Margarita bright, meanin’
limelight / Readers losin’ their shit like prom night / Words
like my budget- it can never be too tight / Let me guess, you
know a better writer - you, right?
Colin Rafferty lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches
nonfiction writing at the University of Mary Washington.
The article titles in “Wake Up, Doctor West” are real, and he
apologizes to the authors of those articles for pulling them
into this whole sorry mess. He wishes that Kanye and Jay-Z
would produce an animated Saturday morning cartoon that
featured them solving crimes in a time traveling car called
“The Waybach Machine.”
Ian Riggins is a fictioneer and teaching fellow at Chatham
University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. His work has
appeared in Collision and Places to do Business, a blog of men’s
public restroom reviews. He teaches at Earth INK, an afterschool nature writing program, and Words Without Walls,
a writing program at the Allegheny County Jail. He lives in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mike Rosenthal is the swell cartoonist behind VectorBelly.
com. When he isn’t drawing Adventure Time fan art or being
sued by French playwrights, Mike’s generally not doing
anything because people don’t invite him to parties. His first
animated cartoon Our New Electrical Morals premiers early
2013 on Cartoon Hangover.
Gregory Sherl just wants an easy life, not a Yeezy life.
He just wants to write books you like. His newest collection,
Monogamy Songs, is out now (or will be soon) from Future
Tense Books. He is also the author of The Oregon Trail is the
Oregon Trail (Mud Luscious Press, 2012) and Heavy Petting
(YesYes Books, 2011). If Yeezy reupholstered this contributor
bio, he’d be like MIDDLE FINGER TO MY OLD LIFE, you know?
Go here: http://gregorysherlisgregorysherl.com/