Earlier this week, the New York Times published an interview with Kanye West, his first of significance in more than three years. It was conducted by my dear friend Jon Caramanica. It’s truly great, you’ve read it. After the interview gained an uncommon and deserved amount of attention, several outlets started compiling their “Best Kanye Quotes Ever OMG” posts. This got me thinking of the handful of times I’ve interviewed Kanye. The lengthiest and most rewarding time was also one of the last interviews he gave before he broke his silence last week. It was nearly five years ago, on Thanksgiving morning in 2008. It was published in the January 2009 issue of Vibe magazine, where I was the Music Editor. For our conversation, which clocked in around three hours, Kanye was in Germany, I was in my mom’s basement. Three days prior we’d spent the day together in New York City hopping from media affair to photo shoot and back to media affair promoting his then just released fourth album, 808s and Heartbreaks. We talked a bit that day, about this and that. Mostly fashion and DJ Premier. I seem to recall complimenting each other’s socks. It was a fascinating, strange day that ended not exactly as I’d hoped. Fortunately, we did eventually speak at length. You’ll see what I mean.
When I went hunting online for the Q&A, I couldn’t find it. Not on a message board, not on the Wayback Machine, not on Google Books. It had vanished. This is largely because Vibe has gone through some, well, management changes over the years and the web infrastructure at the magazine has always been a nightmare. I groused about it on Twitter. Then my former colleague and one of Vibe's true editing warriors, the great Rob Kenner, reached out. He still had the raw text. We connected, and now I have the extended version of the Q&A, which I don't believe has ever been published anywhere in full. (While rereading this, and crafting a very mild edit, I really felt the power of time passed. Fifty or so months is far longer than it sounds. Remember when Kanye had a regularly updated blog? Apparently this was worthy of a question. I also realized that there was a time when I wrote and submitted stories in Helvetica font. This is pure madness.) Anyhow, I’ve always loved talking with Kanye. His contradictions are his art. Smart-dumb. Gauche-elegant. Inventive-reductive. Rap-pop. That’s true in Jon’s piece and I think it’s true here as well. So, on the eve of Yeezus, enjoy another long dose of Kanye West talking.
Kanye West shocked fans with his new album, 808s and Heartbreak. But he says the shocking has only just begun. In a candid one-on-one interview with SEAN FENNESSEY at the end of a grueling media blitzkrieg, West unleashes on the perils of fame, the problems of love and his latest moniker: the Human Hypebeast. Welcome to heartbreak.
KANYE WEST IS SO TIRED OF BEING KANYE WEST. His chauffeured black Chevy Tahoe is bombing down 5th Ave. on November 26, exiting a taping of Late Night With Conan O’Brien—his fourth media event of the day—dodging a swarm of fans chasing the vehicle, Beatles-style. Everyone inside the car—including West’s publicist, a bodyguard and this reporter—is trying to ignore the paparazzi riding alongside on a bicycle snapping photos on a small digital camera. And Mr. West is shot. Rings around his eyes are fully-formed. Lids falling. Full-bellied yawns slipping out. A whirlwind 48-hour tour, from the American Music Awards in L.A. to Good Morning America in New York, is finally coming to a close and as he sits slumped in a captain’s seat, silver MacBook sitting on his lap, he is doing something that relaxes him: blogging. There are pictures of beautiful women on the screen, just waiting for his signature WHERE ARE YOU YEEZY??? word bubble to be slapped on. He looks sleepily content.
Once the paparazzi has been thwarted (“I actually do like his music,” the pap blurts before politely being asked to bounce by his bodyguard) and the fans outrun—but not before he grants just one particularly vociferous fan an autograph while stopped at a red light—the Tahoe will take him to John F. Kennedy Airport to board a Netherlands-bound plane, where he’ll continue his acclaimed Glow In The Dark tour. This is his final interview before the trip. And he can’t finish it.
“There’s a balance in a great Kanye West interview,” he says, sliding the laptop into a camouflage Louis Vuitton carry-on before leaning back in his seat. “Politically incorrect shit that’s obvious that no ones speaks on. Bold statements. A bit of heart. Inspiration. And aspiration. A bit of humor, in my opinion…”
He trails off. Kanye West has just fallen asleep. Mid-sentence.
It’s hard to blame him. He has hurtled himself across the globe, literally, to deliver his fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), to the world. And his body can’t take it anymore. It’s a not uncommon feeling for the 31-year-old Chicago native. Since his debut album, 2004’s The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), West has been a relentless self-promoter, a fascinating and dogged media personality, a style icon and an honest-to-goodness millennial superstar. He has grown exponentially in fame, culminating in the pop extravaganza, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), which sold one million copies in its first week of release in 2007.
But 808s is something different, a sharp left turn in the producer-cum-rapper’s expansive oeuvre. Recorded over three weeks in Hawaii in the aftermath of his mother Donda West’s 2007 death from surgical complications and last year’s break-up of his engagement to fashion designer Alexis Phifer, the album is a broken man’s denouement, wringing loose emotional demons while coming to terms with his own decisions. He is singing throughout, mostly with the aid of auto-tune technology, something that has polarized his fans into virulent debate. And he sounds bitter. It’s a gutsy, gutty, if not perfect piece of art. But he will not back down from his decisions. He says this is just the beginning of a new journey, “the blueprint” for his musical future.
Kanye did finally complete this interview, from Hamburg, Germany, three days later. He was wide awake and vibrant, riffing on fame, love, women, God and his desire to pose naked with typically perceptive, sometimes outrageous verve. He did not fall asleep once.
VIBE: Do you remember the exact moment that you knew you needed to do this project?
Kanye West: About three songs in, I said “I’m gonna do this.”
V: Which three?
KW: “Heartless,” “Love Lockdown” and we had the rough beat for “Bad News,” that was the third one.
V: Were you just doing it to do it?
KW: Yeah, I was just working on Jay’s album [Blueprint III] and I was OK, I’m gonna work on some shit for me and I did the “In the night I hear ‘em talk, the coldest story ever told…”
V: Was there ever any thought about giving something like “Heartless” to Jay?
KW: Well, Jay’s got shit that no one’s heard. We went back and forth on who’s gonna take which songs.
V: So he heard something like “Heartless” early on?
KW: Well I don’t have anything like anything. I never made anything like anything. That’s been my goal. You may find a few exceptions in my seven year, eight year producing career. “Takeover” and “The Truth” sound kind of similar. That’s what’s so weird. When you hear people that make tracks that sound exactly alike and every album I make tracks that don’t sound like anything else out there. But they don’t sound like themselves. It’s not like they go together.
V: This album sounds the most thematically-bound and musically-bound. “Say You Will” sounds similar to “Love Lockdown.” Would you agree?
KW: You could say that they’re in the same family. One might be a boy, one might be a girl, but they definitely have the same father. Maybe different mothers. They all have the same mothers, but different fathers. Either way it could work. They’re all related.
V: Did you create this album as a form of therapy?
KW: I’ve heard that word a lot. That therapy word. It wasn’t done as therapy. I guess it was done as therapy in the way anything is done as therapy. Playing basketball is therapy. Design is therapy, it’s being creative. Performing can be therapy. I just did these songs just to be doing good music. So I don’t think it was any more therapeutic than playing basketball. But was it therapeutic? Yeah.
V: Was there a long period of time when you weren’t making music?
KW: Nah, the first rap in months and months and months that I wrote was for the Teriyaki Boyz. The second rap I wrote in months and months was [Young Jeezy’s] “Put On.” V: A lot of people connected with the “Put On” verse. Did you know that was something people wanted to hear you rap and sing about?
KW: I did know that. It was overwhelming when I went down to the Birthday Bash with Jeezy in Atlanta. Just to be able to perform with him was an honor, because I really look up to him, I look up to his music. There’s an authenticity behind the lyrics and the whole sound and for me to have pop hits and be able and come back and do a song with Jeezy is a great feeling, to basically be on a different planet and just come back home.
V: You talked quite a bit in the early part of your career about being on a path, knowing the titles of your albums in advance and when you’re going to release them out. Do you feel like you’re still on that path?
KW: I knew that path, but I guess the obvious answer is no because I didn’t roll with original fourth album title [Good Ass Job]. Life sometimes changes. I’m on a path that God puts me on. I don’t believe that all of this happened by chance. I’m in the position that I’m in due to who my parents were, due to my attitude and my taste and my opinion. But I knew I was trying to produce something with my creative ideas, when I was playing something that didn’t sound as good as what Puff was doing I could tell the difference. And that’s the biggest difference. When I see Beyoncé or Amy Winehouse perform. Or any of those artists with great vocals, I could tell the difference between theirs and mine. And I could improve. I used to drop albums and there was this big thing with me and the critics. I’m my own worst critic. You can’t find anything else wrong.
V: Did you respond so negatively to critics because you were so hard on yourself?
KW: Yeah, that’s why. And also, I didn’t realize at the time that my albums are open to criticism, which, at the end of the day, they are. These are gifts that I’m delivering the world. These aren’t term papers. These aren’t tests. With a song like “Diamonds” it’s almost like I was trying to pass a test. Look how good I could rap, look how many instruments I could put on this, look at me and Jon Brion, watch us show off. And it’s not that the record wasn’t good, but when you make a record like “Love Lockdown” it’s like you’re not even trying to pass a test. You just do a Basquiat painting over the whole test. You made it multiple choice. And sure, every answer is wrong, but look, it makes a beautiful picture. That’s what I need.
V: Do you feel like you grew up and there are no more tests?
KW: Yeah. But you never have to take a test. That’s what other people need to realize about themselves. They’re not at the mercy of other people’s opinions. It’s all what you believe in yourself. Your attitude determines your latitude. Because a lot of people are gonna thought project. They’re gonna tell you what you can and cannot do. Like “Aw, man, I wouldn’t be doing that.” Well, that’s you.
V: You sound very Zen. Maybe in a way you haven’t been before. Was there a moment when things began to feel different?
KW: I just think God has put me in a really good space. And I think he has a mission for me. There’s gonna be ups and downs. But it’s something that he wants me to deliver to the world. And he knows that I was going through some dark times, even in doing this album. And he shed some light in my life. From the people that are around, to the opportunities, to the confidence I feel in myself. Getting to that point where I really believe whether I bite the bullet on whether it does good or not, I did good and I can appreciate that.
V: When you’re dealing with the paparazzi do you feel like a violent person?
KW: I haven’t done anything violent. I never done anything violent. They make it seem like I actually went and hit a paparazzi. And I haven’t. I was restrained. I’m good at restraining myself from committing violent acts. I really know how to control my temper. That one paparazzi made it a bigger deal. [ED: West was arrested and quickly released in England after a November 2008 tussle with a photographer]. I just put my hand up and he felt like he had more right to my personal space than I did. I just put my hand up to stop him from shooting me.
V: Is that the number one thing that bothers you about stardom?
KW: The paparazzi? Even when I first dropped paparazzi wasn’t as crazy [as it is now.]
V: Do you chalk that up to where the Internet is going?
KW: The law hasn’t caught up with the Internet. People are just taking advantage. People don’t realize we’re completely intruding on these people’s spaces and nobody’s saying anything so let’s keep doing it. Back when smoking was killing people they didn’t have a Surgeon General’s warning on it. We need a Surgeon General’s warning on some of those lens caps. Warning: Might completely intrude on your space, sabotage your image.
V: But it’s a double-edged sword. The Internet has been instrumental in your career. Some people know you more for your blog than your music.
KW: I wish.
V: Would that be more valuable?
KW: In the future it could be. I wouldn’t doubt it. It’s the best real estate I have going.
V: You’re also on Twitter. Is there ever a time when you feel too connected?
KW: There’s times as person when I’ll feel frustrated or upset about something and I’ll just need a break or take a day off but I’ll still put up some posts. And I’ll do my little rants. But on tour it just gives me something to do because it’s boring on tour.
V: Do you feel like music has become easy for you?
KW: Music is really easy for me and it should be. I’m a professional now. Sometimes I zone out, completely Jordan out on a track. Like “Say You Will,” I did the beat in 10 minutes.
V: What can be done next then? What are the limitations?
KW: One of the hardest things about art is getting it paid for. When you have crazy ideas that are over the top installation ideas. It didn’t click in my mind until about a month ago that this whole time I’ve been releasing hit records to pay for art. You’re releasing hit records so the label believes in you enough to pay for the “Touch the Sky” video.
V: The Glow In The Dark tour was incredibly extravagant. Are you still touring to make money or are you content spending the gate on the tour itself? And maybe taking a loss on it?
KW: I don’t want to take a loss because touring is my livelihood. But I’ll definitely sacrifice. Maybe I’ll make half of what someone else will make. But I think I’ll make history at the same time. Or change people’s minds about hip-hop culture, about black culture. And do something that people will remember for the rest of their lives. And that’s more important than money. Of course I want to be able to support myself but maybe you know, maybe I’ll buy a little less jewelry, a few less cars, one less crib or any of these things that celebrities buy, in hopes of giving the fans the greatest experience possible. It’s so weird, I get a lot of flack. There’s people who honestly don’t like me. This is well known right? I just sit back and look at it like, Why? What did I actually do, did I do something negative towards someone? If I made a mistake did I not apologize for it and take it like a man and take it on the chin? When I said “I don’t listen to rap in my apartment” the press took that comment and ran with it. Think about this: If that was the most negative comment that they could find, imagine how positive the whole rest of the interview was. That’s not even a negative comment. That’s just saying in my apartment now I listen to Thom Yorke. Or I like Roisin Murphy.
V: Well, you have an album in which there’s less rapping than ever before. Some people took that comment to mean you don’t listen to rap at all and they felt betrayed by that. Do you worry about offending an original fanbase that was with you very early on?
KW: Well, I’ll tell you this, when I worked on College Dropout rap was way more exciting than it is now. At the end of the day I’m a designer, I move with the sign of times. It doesn’t mean I could rap any better or any less. I didn’t listen to any more rap when I was doing Graduation than I do now. It’s just kinda out the closet that I don’t really listen to rap like that now. It’s a closet secret that I don’t listen to a lot of rap. I listen to it and I hear it but another thing is I don’t have time to listen to it over and over. I couldn’t recite any rap. I can barely recite “A Milli” and I’ve heard that a lot.
V: That’s what’s offending people. There’s this idea in hip-hop that “It’s ours and we have to protect it and we have to be safe.” The thing that you’re saying is “I’m pop and I don’t want to be part of this bubble, I want to be everything.” Has it crossed your mind that that might piss people off?
KW: You know, I’d rather piss a bunch of people off and make myself happy than make everyone else happy and be pissed off inside. I’m not a politician. I’m a musician, I’m an artist. At any given time I’m gonna do what I wanna do when I wanna do it and people can have their reasons why they don’t like something or why they’re offended by something. But if they open their mind up for one second like “Wow, when I was three years old did I have a problem with music that wasn’t rap music? Or did I just like it? Did I have a problem with a song by Boy George? Did I even know if Boy George is gay or not or do I just like his song?” But in hip-hop you say “Man, I think this dude is gay so I’m not gonna like his song.” People always don’t like something for a reason for some type of stupid reason. I was really inspired when I saw the movie The Da Vinci Code. At the beginning they show the swastika sign and it says “What does this mean to you.” People put meanings on different things. [French electronic act] Justice took the cross, the most iconic logo in history, and said “This our logo now.” That’s the most genius thing to do. The world is life, death, traditions, icons and perception. And that’s what everything falls under.
V: How long did it take you to get to that realization?
KW: I just came up with that right now. I just freestyled that! I wanna see it back in print just so I can remember it. [Sounds of writing] I don’t have to listen to rap. I am rap. I AM RAP! I am what people rap about. I actually really do and embody the lifestyle. I actually am a full-on rapper. I actually rap for 30,000 people a night. I am a walking Hypebeast. I am like Hypebeast, the guy. The actual human being. People always talk about exclusive shit, colorways this and blah blah blah. I’m actually the human being version of a brand. I’m like Nike, the human being.
V: You’ve got people scared though.
KW: Think about a designer. What if Raf Simmons told you “I don’t even look at fashion shows”? You wouldn’t wear a Raf Simmons suit if he told he didn’t look at fashion shows? That’s the stupidest fucking thing ever! So if anybody said I don’t wanna listen to Kanye because even though he’s one of the best artists of our time and one of the best rappers of our time and one of the best musicians and entertainers of our time, I don’t wanna listen to Kanye because he said he doesn’t listen to rap in his apartment. I can’t be responsible for other people’s stupidity.
V: What if somebody said I don’t want to hear Kanye sing?
KW: OK, cool.
V: You’re fine with that?
KW: What am I supposed to do about that? Change what I wanna do?
V: Do you get nervous about having to win people over? Are you concerned about the perception of this album once it’s over and it’s out of your system?
KW: What do you mean “Out of my system”? This is the beginning of my system.
V: What does that mean?
KW: What is in my system? Did you think it’s like “Well, Kanye’s got that out of his system, now he’s gonna go back to making songs that sound like some shit he made from seven years ago.”
V: Not necessarily, but you’re the kind of artist who’s always trying to change up. And maybe you’ll be onto something new.
KW: No, I don’t try. I just do. There’s some people that try and then they get scared and then their shit ends up sounding like it sounded before. I’m the dude that says “Bam, 808s, tyco drums and a whole bunch of lasers. You haven’t even heard the song before and this is what I’m going with.” And I’m not waiting to see if someone likes it or not. This is what I’m putting out. I like it, it’s good and it’s on you. If you think I’m gonna get play in your ride or not. [I realized it was] a triumph at the photo shoot. I never had an album that plays as well as this album at a photo shoot. You don’t have to fast-forward. Like “Oh, this record is for if we were in D&D Studio.” D&D Studio is not open anymore. What the hell? I’m not a museum. I’m not here to be an archive of old concepts. I’m new. For all the kids who wear lumberjack shirts now and used to wear neon last year, this is the music they listen to. I make the soundtrack of our lives and who we are and who I am as a person.
V: Do you think that no matter what decisions you make with music that those kids wearing lumberjacks will roll with you?
KW: I can’t say what they would do. My end goal is actually to make popular music though. I could state all day long “I’m an artist.” But still, it’s a certain level of how popular the songs were at the end of the day, to say how successful it was in the attempt to make something popular, that penetrates culture. Take a song like “Flashing Lights.” It didn’t do at radio what we thought it should have done, but then you see it on TV shows a year later. It’s like a pastor says something and then two years later you apply it to your life. Somehow it penetrated culture. And for all hip-hop lovers and haters, anyone [concerned with] the autotune conversation, are you really telling me “Love Lockdown” did not already penetrate culture and won’t be around 10 years from now, 20 years from now? It’s not gonna be on movie soundtracks and playing out of radios and stores and when people gonna see it two years from now in concert it’s not gonna be festival killer. Is someone telling me that “Love Lockdown” doesn’t actually sound like the music we sample? I feel like on this album I reached another level of musical ability that can only be held back by samples. There’s an art to sampling. I’m not speaking on J. Dilla and Q-Tip and Preemo and other musical geniuses—I’m talking about random people who sample shit. For free you’re basically taking the guitar player’s 20 years of experience, the bass player’s 20 years of experience, drummer, producer, keyboard player, singer, tambourine player, shaker, string quartet. Whatever type of instruments are in that sample, you take and in three minutes you embody all of that. On this album, it’s just straight made from scratch.
V: Is that somehow more authentic?
KW: What I’m saying is it doesn’t feel any less authentic than if I was to sample. “Love Lockdown” is a triumph. It’s a musical triumph for me. It’s like a song that plays on radio that has 72 bars of lyrics. It’s lyrics with melodies. I don’t think it’s any less hip-hop than hip-hop songs that have rapping on them. Why would people be so mad at my songs but be accepting of Mary J. Blige records back in the day. Is it the way it’s packaged? Is it too much of a cold water splash on people? Are they not ready for it? Were people just ready to dis autotune? A lot of people think I’ve changed my songs because of things I’ve heard or read on the blog. But that’s a misconception. I didn’t change them for that reason. The reason I changed “Love Lockdown”…I put it out originally off-pitch to prove a point about life. About religion, about relationships. People always try to be so fucking perfect and I think that there’s some beauty in imperfection. People should embrace their flaws. Right now it’s all about the perfect six-pack. The perfect outfit. The perfect pitch. The perfect everything. And it’s like Damn, your gramndmother wasn’t perfect, but you still love her. There’s something special about that. I re-sang [“Love Lockdown”] because I heard this parody that this guy did where he was like “Scooby dooby doo, step in doggy poo, you lose.” And the recording and the mix sounded better, it was fuller than mine. I was like “Damn, dude sounds better than me. Let me do it again.” That was the deciding factor.
V: Was putting the album out so quickly was another strand of that concept of imperfection?
KW: I had a choice. I could have put it out as a mixtape. I always wanted to do a mixtape called T-Pain-Style. It’s something I always wanted to do as an artist. And I was like, if these songs are good as hell, why not put it out as real album. You don’t think Kid Cudi’s mixtape should have been a real album. And who’s to say what’s a mixtape, what’s an album? Cudi’s blatantly got songs on there that should be on a real album. I ain’t have to drop an album either. What I do at this point is a gift. And I think people are complaining about their gift. And they’ve got a choice: They can either play with it or not! But don’t complain to me about the gift. There’s only a few people on this earth that can deliver in a pure form. In no way was I delivering this for more money. I released the album without even finishing my contract. There are people I know—I won’t say any names—that won’t release shit because they don’t have the proper money. It’s not even about money. I beat myself up to be able to do press in the midst of having to do a tour that wasn’t even finished. Because I wanted people to have this album. That’s a parent that fucking fought to get an Elmo the day before Christmas so someone could have it, so they could give it to ’em. I could have just waited an extra two weeks and put it out like a normal person, but I wanted them to have it. Because I was excited about it. There’s people out there…there’s guys out there, nobody spoke on our behalf before. Whatever about the singing, fuck all the singing, fuck the auto-tune, fuck the “He’s a rapper/He’s not a rapper,” he’s going through something, he has to get this out of his system, he’s crazy. Fuck all that. It’s men out there who have never had anyone to speak on they behalf on the way they feel in a relationship. We don’t feel like “Fuck you, bitch, I’m gonna just fuck a whole bunch a girls.” No! We feel hurt. We feel pain. Like “Damn, why would you say something like that to me? Damn, I LOVE YOU. Damn I want to have a family. Damn, I want to find someone to raise my kids. Damn my baby momma’s a bitch. Or she’s not a bitch.” That more than anything, more than the way I wanted to deliver this art, is the message behind it. The words behind it. Before people used to complain that I had all this, like, materialistic shit in my lyrics. There’s absolutely no materialism [on 808s]. The fact that [“Welcome To Heartbreak”] says “My friends show me pictures of his kids and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs”…and people are like “But you used auto-tune.” “Coldest Winter” doesn’t have autotune on it! I used it because I felt like using it. People are so caught up in the packaging. If I had given this album to a “singer” there wouldn’t have been any complaints about it. It’s not too different than the complaints people had about my rapping. And I blatantly rap better now than on The College Dropout. I am arguably one of the best rappers in the world.
V: Why do you feel persecuted by this right now?
KW: Because I am. Why do I feel like what’s happening is really happening?
V: But where is this persecution really coming from?
KW: People will say it or I’ll read it. They’ll say I wish it was rap. But I told you it wasn’t. I braced myself for the backlash of people who are not ready for change. If you look at where these people are at in their own lives, you might look at where they were five years ago and where they are today and they might be in the same spot. And they wanna complain about somebody’s who’s making moves. How much backlash you think I got for “Stronger”? “Diamonds” only did like 2,400 spins at radio. And now I read stuff like “Do more records like ‘Diamonds.’” And people dissed “Diamonds.” How could you possibly diss that? Listen to the rap, listen to the musicality of that. Why do you think “Diamonds” has never been performed at an awards show? You don’t think I wanna perform that song at an awards show? Like, the people who run the awards show are like “We don’t want you to perform that song, we don’t like it. We don’t like that SONG.” The heads of all the TV stations are like “We don’t like ‘Diamonds.’”
V: Is this your best album?
KW: Yeah, I actually do think is my best album to date. No, I actually know this is my best album to date. Do I think it will be my best album ever? No. I think that I’ll improve. Do I think there are mistakes in it? Yes. There has to be, I’m a human being. But I think it far surpasses Graduation. These records are at their baby stages. After “Stronger” was implanted for so long, now “Stronger” is just “Stronger.” I performed “Stronger” a couple times and people looked at me like I was crazy. I performed “Jesus Walks” at SOBs and this girl screamed out “We want John Stephens.” And I’m not talking about the dude from American Idol. [Editor’s note: John Stephens is John Legend’s government name.] We’ve already started to get the impact on “Love Lockdown.” And people go crazy as soon as they hear that boom-boom-boom BOOM. The audience is like “AHHHHHHHH!” And that record is not even that old yet. So yeah I think it’s better. I just got this email from Xavier from Justice and he’s like “Yo, ‘Paranoid,’ record of the year.” I think there’s more of an argument about what is the biggest record. You know, I read this review, after I had the installation in L.A. that was like “There’s no party records on there.” I was like “Wooord?” “Paranoid” is not a party record? That’s not a party record? Nicole Kidman said “Love Lockdown” was the single of the year. “No doubt. Single of the year.” I never thought about it like that. And now that she said that and me being a fan of music, if I hadn’t made the record, I think I would have picked it as the single of the year also.
V: Do you think it got to Nicole Kidman right away or did it take a while and that’s why you’re trying to let it soak in?
KW: Girls and kids usually have some type of connection. I had one of my cousins come in and say “Well, the album dropped. Are you pleased?” What do you mean am I pleased? “I mean have you read the reviews?” I mean, I read a couple of reviews, they’re like It’s the Worst Thing in the World or It’s The Best Thing in the World. “So you switched it up on us, didn’t you?” And all of that type of adversity. If someone doesn’t like it then I have to say I’m sorry for them. I definitely don’t wanna let anybody down, but most importantly I have to be concerned with letting myself down. Make the music that I’m feeling at the time and I really think that my music is of the time. I really think that for people who do listen to this album, these twelve tracks are gonna resonate and be sang word for word more than any twelve tracks of any album. Mine or someone else’s this year.
V: Even more than Tha Carter III? [Editor’s note: Holy shit, this looks foolish now.]
KW: I’m not here to do a direct comparison. You know I love Wayne so I would never speak on anything that can be misconstrued by some form of stupidity. That’s why I don’t have beef with no rappers. I don’t have beef with human beings period. If anything I might beef with the guy who brought my breakfast up an hour late at the hotel for a little bit like “Dude, that was late.” A rapper or a musician, we have to inspire each other. And I think that different people have their advantages over others. I think T.I. has his advantages, I think Lil Wayne has his advantages, I think Jay-Z has his advantages, Jeezy has his advantages, I have my advantages. There’s no such thing as the end all be all perfect artist or perfect rapper, but the imperfection is what represents the world. In the past I’ve cried like a little bitch about shit that’s completely insignificant. The other side of that is people have seen my dedication to the music. It’s like there’s somebody who actually cares about it, too. That doesn’t try to be so cool and nonchalant. I’m not here to speak on the downs of any other artist. I’m not here to speak on what any other artist is doing wrong. All I wanna speak is what someone else is doing right. The only person I want to speak negatively about is myself. I’m putting out positive energy. I’m responsible for myself. Until I’m responsible for a grown man, then I’ll never say what they’re doing wrong. Why would I focus on what someone else is doing wrong? And I think when you do that, when you focus so much on what other people are doing wrong you don’t have enough time to work on what you need to do right. Right now in this day and age we have a couple of amazing artists. I believe Beyoncé is the greatest performer of our generation. I believe I am the greatest entertainer of this generation. I go neck and neck on Jay-Z and Wayne as far as who’s the best lyricist. Jay-Z has longevity.
V: There are some artists, though, that look at other artists and think what they’re doing is wrong and attempt to correct it.
KW: If I did that, how many people say they don’t like auto-tune? Now if I say “I’m not gonna do this because I know people don’t like it.” You’ve got to ask yourself what you’re into. They say “Don’t put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby.” I made the song “You Can’t Me Nothin’.” But this album really is “You Can’t Tell Me Nothin’.” You can’t tell me what to do.
V: Do you think that the next thing you do musically will be as sharp a left turn as this one is? Or is this the beginning of something you can grow on?
KW: I think I’ll definitely grow on this. I think that this is the blueprint for the future.
V: We talked about music and you also mentioned design as therapy. Did you ever consider actual therapy after your Mom passed away?
KW: Yeah, I don’t believe in therapy.
V: Why not?
KW: I don’t believe in professional health. I believe in You gotta walk it out, you gotta live it out. Life has its ups and downs. And sometimes you sprain an ankle, you have to walk it out, like back in the day in summer camp. Walk it out. And sometimes you have to cry it out. What’s good for me is I have the opportunity to sing these songs. But I don’t believe in sitting down with a shrink or something like that. And I don’t believe in medication or pain killers. And I don’t believe in religion and giving it all up to Jesus and stuff like that. I don’t believe in that. I believe in God. But I don’t buy into any particular, specific religion. So maybe I’m non-denominational or whatever. I don’t know what the definition of it is. I just believe in God. I would never say that it’s in Jesus’ hands.
V: Considering the success of “Jesus Walks” and the impact that had, do you think people will be surprised to hear that?
KW: Oh yeah, I’m sure it’s gonna be like “I don’t listen to rap in my apartment.” [LAUGHS]
V: Have you thought about saying this before?
KW: I’m gonna say it and whatever happens happens. I’m just gonna say how I feel. Do people know that there’s actually pastors who are atheists? But they’re just really good pastors, and that’s their job and they actually don’t believe in what they’re saying? Would you rather have someone who is honest who is delivering music and messages from a place of “This is honestly how I feel.” Or a person who is very calculated and might not even feel or believe in what they’re saying, but still come to you and [lie].
V: People want to be with someone that they think believes in something.
KW: You think that then they’ll take all these statements and try to use them against me. At the end of the day I’m not telling people what they should do. All this stuff is like my CD. It’s how I felt. My thoughts on life are how I felt. What applies to me. I can’t tell you what applies to you. People might as well be mad at me for wearing Bathing Ape all the time as opposed to wearing Visvim. Like, why don’t I wear something more snob-approved? Like, you know, people be mad at me they be like “Man, your Jordans are ugly. Why don’t you wear Pierre Hardys or something.”
V: But that comes with fame. You are a religion to some people and if you say something, they’re going to follow what you say.
KW: Yeah, well, I believe that every religion has positive points. And I look at every religion just as a form of communication. It’s what you choose. I can’t be mad if someone speaks French and I speak English. I don’t think that people are going to hell because of it. What’s so funny is people don’t want to fully admit to the whole point of accepting Jesus Christ as your savior and if you don’t accept him then you go to hell. A lot of new thinkers they don’t want to step up and say that they don’t believe that because they’re afraid of the backlash they’ll get. Even in their personal life.
V: Would you say there are a lot of people being disingenuous about that?
KW: Oh, definitely! If you ask people “OK, are you a Christian?” they’ll say “Yeah, I’m a Christian.” Then ask ‘em, “Well, do you believe that if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus that they’re going to hell?” If you’re like a nice young person, what do you think they’re gonna say? “Well, naw, I don’t believe they’re goin’ to hell.” Well that’s blatantly against one of the main principles of Christianity. The people would rather fluctuate. And I’m here to say I don’t believe that. I don’t attest to any religion that tells me that other people gotta go to hell. I don’t believe in a religion that has something against gay people. That has something against Muslims. That has something against Buddhists. You know? I don’t buy into that. I was taught to believe everyone is going to hell. I was taught to hate gays. I was taught to cheat on your insurance… When something happens, you supposed to put up the price a little bit so you could get some more out of your insurance, so it looks like more damage than you did. And I don’t really believe in any of that. I really believe in absolute truth. And I believe that people have the right to make their own decisions. Now what I do like about church though is weekly inspiration. And I think in life you need inspiration because when things start to become the same thing over and over and over, sometimes you need a pep talk. And that’s a thing I can appreciate in church, is the weekly pep talk.
V: That’s what I mean when I say you’re a religion to some people. People aren’t just going to copy your fashion sense. People get inspiration from all sorts of places. They don’t have to be told that they love God in a specific place every Sunday.
KW: Can I ask you your personal take? What were you raised as?
V: I was raised Catholic.
KW: OK, now let me ask you a question: Do you believe that anyone that believes that anyone who doesn’t believe that Jesus died for their sins is going to hell?
V: No. I believe in a God-like idea, I suppose. I’m non-denominational. I understand what you’re saying. I haven’t been to churches in years and I probably won’t go again. It represents enough that I don’t identify with or believe in.
KW: So would you be willing to put that part, your part of that in the interview also?
KW: Like, “Nah, I’m just gonna let you stand out there with your statement alone.” [Laughs]
V: I know how you feel about the notion of having a conversation in an interview.
KW: This is what I wanted to say, about the fans. I made a decision. I wanna make popular music, but I want less fans. I want the freedom of having less fans. It’s like the freedom of having less money. If you have less money, you have less money you have less responsibility. The people who are on tour with me, there’s people who live near the exact same life as me with one-tenth of the amount of money that I have. You know why? Because they don’t have to hire everybody. They’re just one of the people that’s hired. Some when I say the freedom of less fans… it’s like Bjork. If she wanted to pose naked you’d be like “Oh, that’s Bjork.” But if I wanted to pose naked people would draw all type of things into it. I definitely feel like, in the next however many years, if I work out for two months, that I’ll pose naked. Like “What?” Because I wanted to do it. I break every rule and mentality of hip hop, of black culture, of American culture.
V: You said you’d like to have less fans. Does the fame ever get to be so overwhelming that you want to go back seven years and just be Kanye, the producer?
KW: No. Let me explain when I say less fans what I meant by that. I’d rather have 20,000 diehard fans that really understand and accept [me] as a person and a human being and an artist than to have 100,000 fly-by-night fans that only like [me] because [I] have a hit record out. I want true fans. Would you rather have five bad model bitch girlfriends that only half-way care about you or one wife? What means more to you in life? I’d rather build a fanbase. And I think that, just like in a relationship with someone the way that you reach next levels is by saying, “You know what, this is how I really feel about this, this is how I really feel about that.” You’re honest and you communicate fully. The honesty. And the communication. Now, just like if I’m dealing with eight girls, I can be honest about a certain point and like, four of those girls are like “Oh I’m not into that.” And I think that’s how these interviews are. I’m like, “Look I believe in this, I believe in that, I don’t believe in this.” I’m very honest about this. I’m very honest about that. And it’s gonna be some fans that say “Yo, I’m not into that.” I feel like those weren’t real fans anyway.
V: But that’s at odds with some of the things you’ve been saying in the last few months. Which is that you’re a pop artist and you see yourself in competition with Coldplay and U2, who are iconic, international, major stadium artists. It’s very difficult to have it both ways.
KW: Yeah, but I will though. [LAUGHS] I think you can have both things. If you come out the gate and you frontin’ and you a studio gangsta, you have to wear that. I’d rather wear the reality of who I am and embrace what comes from that. Some people are scared of nudity because they’ll lose their sponsorships. But you take someone like Snoop, he’ll do a porn and still do an AT&T commercial. So for me, one of my first steps in doing what I really want to do is the “Flashing Lights” video. That was the first piece of art that I delivered after my Mom passed. Most people are like “Why don’t you show the club, why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that.” And I’m like “no.” This is exactly what I like. It was my favorite video to date at that point. I was like “I always wanted to have something like this. This is the most incredible thing ever.” I remember playing the video and being like “Ah, this shit is dope!” and people just looking at me like I’m crazy. And all the fans that liked it, I’m like, “OK cool. Let’s go.”
V: Are you nervous that the album won’t sell?
KW: Yeah, I get nervous. Even in the midst of me saying “This is what I want and this is how I’m gonna do it,” I still be nervous. But, you know, you get nervous, especially week of release, you’re always nervous. But I brace myself. I’m doing what I wanna do and it is what it is.
V: Do you have the same expectations for an album like this as you do for Graduation?
KW: Well, Graduation was considered to be successful. It penetrated culture. But actually I think 808s and Heartbreak is gonna sell more. People don’t realize Graduation sold a million less than my other two albums. [Editor’s note: To date, 808s has sold nearly 500,000 fewer copies than Graduation]
V: What do you chalk that up to?
KW: I don’t know. It seemed like Graduation was my biggest album to date, perception-wise. And it sold a million less than Late Registration. So what could be said to that?
V: The industry problem?
KW: You can’t say that because you get an album like Wayne that completely sells through all that.
V: Did that tell you anything about what you were doing with music?
KW: It’s weird, because in hindsight can anyone say that Graduation wasn’t the album it should have been? It was what it was. It’s what I delivered at that time and it still sold less than previous album. So if anything, if you get into the whole conversation of fans vs. real fans it’s like, Was “Golddigger” just a way bigger across the board record than “Stronger”? What is it?
V: Do you think that in the six months you take off [after this cycle] you’ll get a chance to have more of a normal life?
KW: I’ll be able to actually go and get something to eat. That’s gonna be the shit.