From The Archives: Kanye West, “Kanye West’s La Dolce Vita” [Originally Published October 2010]
What is the definition of cool.
Michael Jackson made “Heal the World.” He could do that because he was golden. He was himself. He didn’t have to try to be cool. Think about a lot of your favorite bands and groups. Would they make a song called “Heal the World”? No, because they are too concerned about their leather jackets. Ironically, they are probably wearing leather jackets because of Michael Jackson. Once you’re put in power, you have to take advantage of the position you’re in to make the world better. There were times when I thought I was making the world better, or maybe I just wasn’t thinking at all.
I’ve been dealing with the MTV incident every day of my life since it happened. The single thing that hurt me the most is when I found out how much Taylor Swift wanted to work with me. It wasn’t about Black or White, it wasn’t about wrong or right, it wasn’t about real or fake. It was about humanity, and at no point in life can you think that you’re such a god that you do not have to deal with humanity.
My biggest goal is to be anchored in taste and beauty, and there are some things that I’ve done that are just blatantly distasteful. As I grow up, I want to be able to apply good taste at all times. Knowing the audience, knowing who you’re talking to and how to be expressive and get your point across without being offensive is the key. It’s not about, Hey, I’m going to be offensive, and I’m going to be difficult. It’s like, No, I’m not going to be difficult.
Timing is everything. Good timing is a sign of good taste. I’ve heard people say, “Kanye told the truth. Beyoncé should’ve won.” But that doesn’t mean it was the right moment for me to express those feelings. There are certain people that know how to tell you things at the perfect time for you to be able to accept them properly. I wasn’t that person then.
I stress that the incident wasn’t about Taylor personally. And it defi- nitely wasn’t about race. Where I messed up is, at the end of the day, it’s your show, Taylor. It’s your show, MTV. The relationship with the public and with your fans is like the relationship with your girlfriend. How could I not, at a certain point, be like, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been at the awards show. I’m sorry.” Not that I don’t deserve to get beat up or change who I am inside, to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. But damn, it was, like, a neo–Emmett Till. A media massacre. I was neo–Emmett Till’d, if I could turn Emmett Till into a verb.
I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got. When I did things like that or the “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” moment, it wasn’t a matter of being selfish, from where I stood. It’s more like I was being selfless—that I would risk everything to express what I felt was the truth. In this case, it was like I was driving a car and I needed to run this red light to make it to the airport, but by me running this red light, I ran someone over in the process, and that’s what people saw from a distance. Now I’m the biggest jerk in the world. Good morning, Kanye West, this is your life.
I knew I wasn’t in a great spot publicly after the incident, but I would just block it out and work as hard as possible and let my work be my sav- ing grace. In a way, I had thrown a Molotov cocktail at my own career, and it gave me an opportunity, for the first time, to go away and find out who I was. Because I felt very alone. The only person that came to visit me the night it happened was Mos Def. He came to my house right afterward and said, “Move. You’re not going to be able to make it out here. You can’t make it in America right now. You have to move.”
And that’s what I did. I went to Japan for three weeks, then moved to Rome for the rest of the year. I worked as an intern at Fendi. On weekends, I would fly to Paris and sometimes take off for days just to be in Stockholm, Sweden, just to meet with Johnny who runs Acne, or the Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, to find the perfect pair of jeans.
People asked Miles Davis, “What do you want to be remembered for?” He said, “That I’m Black.” People know Kanye West is Black, if they never did before. That’s one good thing, that when that house burned down and it was just the base, they saw that base was Black. Regardless of whatever Polo shirts or tight jeans or suits were worn, whatever complexion of whoever I was dating, whoever my friends were, you saw that the base was Black.
I spent the last year improving every element of myself as a person. By default, my raps are way better now, because I’m at a point where I don’t have to come up with lines—I just think of what I’m really doing and make it rhyme. January first of this year, I started back in the studio. I knew for a while I was going to start that day. I still had a lot of pain, and I needed to write that pain out, and it’s on my new album. But toward the end is when the Kanye West music really came. Everything is a form of my music, but the style of 808s & Heartbreak is better served by Drake and Kid Cudi than it is by me. I think they could both carry that sound better than I could, and also being that Cudi helped design that sound. That style of music is very nighttime, very streetlights. It’s, like, “streetlights glowing.” All that. It’s so funny, in a way. On one end, Drake probably sits and thinks, Wow, I want to make a song like “Power.” And I’ll sit around and be like, Man, I want to make a song like “Say Something.”
Drake was the first thing that actually scared me and put pressure on me, because it was the first thing that was blatantly from a similar perspec- tive and lane. When I feel pressure, I step my game up. So I believe that Drake made great music for people to love and enjoy, but he also forced me to step my game up, because I have to be Kanye West.
I feel like that is what I’m all about—a culmination of the best things possible in every single field that you’re in. I always say, Genius is some- thing you can have at a certain time. You can have genius moments, but you can lose the genius, too.
Before my mom passed, I used to always say there was no other 30-year-olds I knew that had all six parents still alive and knew them. My parents and my grandparents—it was amazing, all six. Now I have two: my father and my grandfather. See, everyone looks at you, and they focus on the idea of, Aw, he lost his mom. No, I lost, like, four parents, and then one of my closest aunts.
After my mother passed, I didn’t want to deal with the reality that that had happened. I was just a shell of a man. I was in a position where I was bound to crack.
I’ve always been pretty good at accepting blame. There are a few things I take blame on. There were times when my mom was coming over, and she would say, “Let’s talk about this business,” and she would start segue- ing into personal things. We never really dialed all the way into it, because
I was in such a spoiled place in my life, and my mom was always there to help me out. So how much stuff did I do to help her out? Like, really help her out. Not just buy her a car, but really be there to talk to her. Times when we would talk and get mad at each other, she’d come back over and just sleep at my house. And even when I moved to L.A., I was all she had. With the divorce, she never got married again. When I moved to L.A, she moved to L.A. Just for her, she had to be close to me. And she wound up in a place that would eat her alive. Even if I stayed in New York, it wouldn’t have been like that. If I had lived in New York, she’d still be here. That’s how I really feel. A lot of my apprehension toward celebrity and pop culture comes from the concept of real versus fake.
I used to have this really selfish prayer where I would say, “God, deliver me from pain, pain of any sort.” I’m a smart aleck. Like, Hey, what you going to pray for? How about no pain? I’ll never get cut, I’ll never get hurt, my heart will never hurt. No pain. And in a way, God delivered that to me, because there is nothing that can hurt me the way that things have hurt me in the recent past. Physically, I can’t be in more pain than when my jaw was broken. Relationship-wise, I can’t be in more pain than I was in my past relationships.
The thing is, when I say I feel like God answered that prayer for me, to deliver me from pain, it’s because he put me through so much that he helped turn me into this soldier. Every day he’s turning me more and more into the soldier that he needs me to be. And I say, creatively, my heart is open. It can be a vessel for positive energy, goodwill, and I can use the magnetic personality that he gave me from when I was in preschool and kids would just follow me around, all the way up to now.
My fans, they love me, and they’ve dealt with the concept of me being an asshole, or they’ve seen me do crazy things, but they still love me. Still, I want to change that perception about me, but the key to changing that perception is just changing it for real.