Kanye - R&F5

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of his debut album College Dropout, we’re taking a look back at the come-ups and setbacks of Kanye West.

Part IV: … And Found And Then Lost Again

All of Kanye’s experimentation with art would culminate in 2010 with the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Ye’s fifth studio album.

Kanye - MBDTF_cover

On MBDTF, Kanye seemed to return to the types of soulful samples that once defined him, while also implementing orchestral flourishes on some tracks (“All of the Lights”), ominous instrumentation on others (“Blame Game,” the Amber Rose breakup therapy session on wax, shifting over seven minutes from anger to regret to envy to disrespect and dismissal, a funeral for West’s heart on which John Legend sang out a eulogy on the hook), and fast, pounding tribal beats (“Who Will Survive in America”). It was Kanye’s most ambitious undertaking to date, mixing sounds and samples from a diverse group of artists and genres… and yet it all came together so, well, beautifully. Literally nobody else in contemporary rap would have been able to get away with calling MBDTF a hip-hop album. No one but Kanye Omari West. What had he said years earlier, on “Barry Bonds?” Something about “Only I can come up with some shit like this?” Yep, that was MBDTF in a nutshell. And we embraced it… and, yes, I’ll admit Selita Ebanks scantily-clad running around in the mini-movie-music video for “Runaway” probably helped me embrace it a little more quickly.

West’s friend and “Big Brother” Jay-Z would work together on a collaborative album called Watch The Throne the following year, a full-length LP packed with stadium style rap, Illuminati-related puns, challenges to the status quo, celebrations of opulence and, yes, civil rights commentary. Of course, Kanye’s creative influence on the project was obvious, right down to the beats. Only Kanye could draw out the conscious side of Hov, and have Jay candidly admitting on wax his apprehension about having a kid and the need for more Black people in positions of influence. It was in line with the sort of “pomp and circumstance” image that Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music brand had begun to embody, rocking suits and bowties collectively as a sort of new Rat Pack with West as the Black Sinatra. Watch the Throne would also launch an epic tour, one on which Kanye and Jay seemed to have tons of fun performing and running through the album’s tracks (especially “Niggas in Paris”) and their respective catalogs.

Kanye-Jay_Watch The ThroneWatch the Throne, in a way, also told another story beneath the celebration of Black excellence (made literal on “Murder to Excellence”). It exposed the internal battle that was clearly going inside Kanye’s creative mind – a darkly humorous, unapologetic side that had been lurking since Graduation but wouldn’t fully reveal itself to us until MBDTF and that came out in full force on Throne; and the socially-conscious Kanye, the one who captured our hearts on “All Falls Down” and “Two Words,” that lived on every single one of West’s albums but gradually became less and less. Dark Kanye was all about sexually objectifying women to a point of degradation (the suggestion, for example, that a girl come “prove that you deserve to have it all” by meeting West in a bathroom stall on “Niggas in Paris.” And I think we can all assume they wouldn’t be praying together) and pushing the envelope. Conscious Kanye, on the other hand, accepted accountability for some of his past transgressions and even spoke into existence a better life for his future child on “New Day,” insisting that he wouldn’t “let his son have an ego” and his hope that the child would be “someone people like/ Don’t want him to be hated, all the time judged.”

Ironically, Jay-Z, too would lay out advice for a future son, albeit not from the encouraging stance ‘Ye adopted – “Sorry, Junior, I already ruined ya’,” Hov says, almost nonchalantly on the track. The irony, of course, would that both men would speak to future sons… and yet each would end up having a daughter first. The transformation that Jay underwent when his daughter Blue Ivy Carter was born was a sight to watch. None of the ominous language Hov used on “New Day” applied to Blue. He doted on his daughter, spoiled her, initially guarded her heavily from the public eye and yet paid tribute to her in plenty of songs ranging from “Glory” to “3 Kingz.”

Somewhere along the way, Jay and ‘Ye grew apart. There should have been moments of godfather West and goddaughter Blue kicking it at the park whenever Jay and mommy Beyoncé were out on tour or together, but there weren’t. Instead, Kanye immersed himself into the music – so it seemed – thrusting his G.O.O.D. Music brand into the spotlight with a compilation album in September 2012, Cruel Summer.

Cruel Summer, though birthing posse-cut anthems for 2012 with “Don’t Like (Remix),” “Mercy,” and “Clique” (the last song Jay and ‘Ye would feature on together), wasn’t as well received as Ye might have wanted it to be. Not to mention that Kanye pulled the strangest signing to a label since Busta Rhymes linked up with Young Money, by adding The Artist Formerly Known as Tity Boi 2Chainz to the G.O.O.D. Music roster. It wasn’t that 2Chainz wasn’t talented, per se. He just… wasn’t as much of an artist as his fellow labelmates. He was, however, a quick ticket to radio gold. Understanding this, Ye not only signed the artist but formally cosigned him by appearing on Chainz’s wild and crazy “Birthday Song.” We didn’t really expect Kanye to do a song like that, much less feature on it. We understood what Kanye was doing. Hell, his rebranding efforts worked so well that 2Chainz took off and people all but forgot that he was that guy in Ludacris’s Disturbing tha Peace label’s rap group, Playaz Circle. Kanye had standards. He was better than this. He didn’t sell out for a buck. And yet… he may have done exactly that.

“We go through too much bull-shit/ Just to mess with these drunk and hot girls…”

In mid-2012, prior to the “I Don’t Like (Remix)” release, Kanye released another hard-hitting cut of sorts in “Theraflu” “Way Too Cold.” And “Theraflu” “Way Too Cold” would become Kanye’s newest incident. Why? Because he would boldly call out Kim Kardashian and profess his love to the woman, who, at the time, was “on break” from her fiancé, basketball player Kris Humphries. It threw a lot of us listeners off. And you would think it might do the same for Kim. But the truth was that Kanye and Kim had carried on a friendship of sorts behind closed doors, and ‘Ye’s verse on “Way Too Cold” became at once his Hail Mary pass out of the friendzone and into the end zone that the world just so happened to get to hear on a song.

I mean, SO WHAT if Kim’s previous previous boyfriend had the audacity to leak their sexual shenanigans caught on tape? Kanye knew what he wanted; and besides, if Amber Rose’s nudes could leak on the net and not faze ‘Ye very much, it wasn’t like seeing his crush giving Ray-J head and struggle relations fellating another man was going to make her any less desirable.

Kimye

Kim heard him, though. And suddenly, the two were a couple. They were always in public together, always caught on camera together. I wondered if it was that Kanye loved the infamy, the idea of “dating a Kardashian,” more than he did Kim herself. I wondered if the fact that Ye’s frowns when he poses alongside Kim K with her teeth bared meant he was unhappy. I don’t know their life. I do know that it seemed like the Kanye I thought I knew, I knew no longer.