From The Archives: Kanye West, “Kanye West’s La Dolce Vita” [Originally Published October 2010]
Over the past two weeks, rumors have been swirling that Kanye West is preparing the release of his highly anticipated sixth solo album. Although the album's release has yet to be confirmed, Yeezy has been regularly teasing new music at live shows and even hosted a hush-hush listening session, which points to the fact that there's definitely something going on in Ye's camp. That being said, XXL decided to look bat at our October 2010 cover story written by Mr. West himself, in which he introduced fans to the Rosewood Movement and addresses the controversy surrounding his career at that time.
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.
Yes, I’ve been an asshole. Because I’m impatient. I was impatient, but now I realize that there are so many things that I want to change, that I need to change. It was a shell shocker becoming a celebrity and having things go my way all the time. To go from people not wanting to sign me to ending up at the Grammys completely annihilating shit. No one man should have all that power. No human being should be given that, especially because I had to put on this asshole armor. I had to be borderline delusional in my own head to think that I could make it this far.
We’ve come to know celebrities as assholes sometimes. And I’m just the most blaring one, the pinnacle of it. I just don’t want people to be or try to jump to their own conclusions of why they think it might be.
A lot of times, my ego is the armor, but the key is to make the armor a little bit less heavy. What if the ego is the armor, and you’re riding on a horse, crusading, taking over all these villages? You’re not going to be able to ride as far if that armor is weighing you down. I could do something extremely good, and every time there’s an ego-filled statement, it pushes it back, like, 20 percent.
So how do you flip the ego into a sense of humor? People are so ready for me to say a really egotistical statement that has no humor. I can’t even joke ￼￼￼￼in a humorous way about ego. I have to understand where I’m at right now. How do you play off of it? That’s the challenge.
When Obama called me “jackass,” after the Taylor incident, I thought that the person who taped that wasn’t supposed to tape it. Obama was sup- posed to be speaking off the record. Obama has way more important stuff to worry about than my public perception. He was trying to pass the health- care bill. And if he said that to relate to the room or lighten the room up and the whole mood, then I’d be more than happy to be the butt of all of his jokes if it in some way helps his overall mission. I’m a soldier of culture. I’m resilient. I’m sure I’ll still beat him in basketball.
The interview with Jay Leno, that would definitely make it into the movie. It gave people just a bit of humanity to the perception of insanity. But the reason I choked up is ’cause, when Jay said, “What would your mother say?” My mother would have defended me. I could do no wrong in her eyes. Jay Leno took a hit on my behalf...even though it didn’t seem like it. Jay threw me a lifeline at the risk of his own image and allowed me the chance to humanize the new-media monster that I had become. But I didn’t express exactly what I was feeling. I felt like I wasn’t being
me, like for the first time the media, the system, won. They finally shut me up. I think people’s greatest apprehension in liking me is, to the public, my perception is like a nagging, whining bitch.
Almost like a person who wakes up and looks at you while you’re, like, brush- ing your teeth, and looks at your stomach and says, “You need to jog right now.” That’s like what I was to society. And I felt like it was my responsibility to be that way. It’s not my responsibility to crash awards shows, because I’m not adding to the quali- ty of life by crashing them. My job is for me to just look good, to be in the studio until real late, and come up with new, innova- tive ways for people to hear my music. You know what...I need to jog right now. I can’t control anyone but myself, and I haven’t done a good job of even doing that.
I do care about rappers and the rap industry. I’m never above it. I’m never past it. I’m never too good. My chain heavy too. When people say, “Kanye West is a rapper,” whatever people think I am, that’s what I am. Perception is reality, but that’s not all of who I am. I feel belittled to be classified as just a musician. I am where art meets commercial. The sweet spot between the hood and Hollywood. Having a conversation with Karl Lagerfeld and Jay-Z within the same hour. When we’re in Paris dressing all crazy at fashion shows, we listening to Jeezy. Jeezy in Paris, that’s what it is.
Everything I do has to have a certain level of quality, but it can never be truly donned as great until it’s widely accepted. If you don’t like something, and you don’t realize that it’s great, then it’s not great. Once again, perception is reality. These Brussels sprouts are amazing. Well, I don’t like them. They’re not great to me. Agree to disagree. Entertainment is one percent what you create and 99 percent how it’s received, if you’re on a mission
to be great. You can’t be great if no one hears what you’re saying or likes it. And when it’s all said and done, if it wasn’t appreciated for 10 years, but then it was appreciated in that 10 years, then that’s the point where it became great. That means that you might be putting things out that won’t even be received for 10 years.
With my Rosewood aesthetic, which people can see in the rest of the magazine, I kind of got that idea from the movie Rosewood— the affluent businessman. That’s what it is right now. We want to be the affluent busi- nessmen. And everything that I want to represent: taste, culture. We want to be tasteful. We want to be dope.
Everything in your life completely parallels who you are as a character and where you are in your life. From the person that you are with, to the way you dress, to your religion, to the music you create if you are a creator, to the art you make if you are an artist. It just reflects everything from your childhood, and your take on the world, and your basic aesthetics. The great- est thing an artist can have is people’s attention and for people to believe the artist. To believe what they are saying. To believe what they are painting.
It seems like the only thing people don’t believe is that I have goodwill in my heart and the intention to only do good. I completely believe in karma and being honest with myself. How can you expect someone to be honest with you who is not even honest with themselves? Ask anyone who knows me, “Who is the most honest person that you know, but honest to a fault? Who is the most giving person that you know, but giving to a fault?”
I’ve been giving of my stamp, giving of my co-sign, giving of my energy to a fault, and now, at this point, I’m a much nicer person, but a way stricter person in what I do with my energy and business. I’m more harsh with my team, in terms of delegation, but in a good way. And because my team is doing their jobs so well, I have the opportunity to actually smile and take a picture when I get out the car. If a fan comes up to me and says, “Can you take a picture?” and I’m arguing with my team, then I’m focused on all the wrong things. I need to be Kanye West. When people meet me, they need to see me and say, “Wow, he’s extremely nice. He’s dressed beautifully. He smiled. He asked me questions. He cared about my opinion.” These are the things that I want people to walk away with when they meet me.
I want to reeducate the culture. I was talking to Phillip Lim about the limitations of Black men in general, and our fight for masculinity and ac- ceptance in our own hood and own space. How many times have people taunted me because of a color that I had on or how tight my pants were? It’s nothing. I’m at the point now where I can go to ABC Carpet and spend five hours picking out sheets, ’cause I love the fabrics, and I love colors, like teal and taupe and salmon, and I can be a man doing it.
I slowed down on wearing denim recently. Sometimes I even do the ultimate taboo of hip-hop and actually wear my pants on my waist, what- ever fit is appropriate for the clothing. And I know I’m a man, so I really got to the point where can’t nobody tell me nothing. I will wear this exact same thing no matter where I’m at. When I visited Wayne at Rikers Island, I had a suit on with some slippers, and the guard said, “Man, those shoes are amazing.” And I said, “Yes, they are. I’m Kanye West.”
Ultimately, we as a generation are indefinable, because even if you define us today, where are we tomorrow? I am one with the people, and as I change, the people change with me. I am one of the faces of the zeitgeist. I’m one
of the few celebrities that are on the same wave of consciousness as all the behind-the-scenes journalists, photographers, stylists, publicists, filmmak- ers, poets, painters, graphics artists and so on. I am the voice of the dream- ers. I am the creative dream come true, and I refuse to wake up.