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Cult of YE: The latest from an ever-complicated Kanye West unpacks fame, fear, remorse and more

Kanye West | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“When you hear about slavery, that was 400 years. 400 years? That sounds like a choice!”

During a heated exchange that followed Kanye West’s surprising (and downright idiotic) proclamation that African Americans’ role in (or inability to break out of) chattel slavery was in fact “a choice,” TMZ reporter and Hip Hop podcaster Van Lathan scolded Kanye for this toxic and irresponsible statement. “Kanye, you’re entitled to your opinion, you’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but there are facts and real-life consequences to everything you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with the marginalization that comes from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice! Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and brother…I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something that, to me, is not real.”

When weighed against other hot topics that captured our instantaneous 24-hour news and entertainment cycle, this moment between Lathan and West is significant on a few levels. On one level, this confrontation represented an ideological collision between the working class and the rich/famous celebrity cult that Kanye has centered in both his artistic and social life. It can be argued that Kanye’s calculation that slavery was ultimately “a choice” for African Americans is a logical conclusion of the type of quasi-spiritual “law of attraction” self-help doctrine that many Hollywood celebrities traffic in (popularized by Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”).  If you only believe in yourself more and think positively, you too can be rich, famous, successful, not a slave. This confrontation between Lathan and West was also significant because it created a brief space for open discussions on the systemic nature of racism. Lathan’s response to West concisely identified racism as an all-encompassing system of social, economic, political and legal oppression that exists as a historical continuum stretching from the past to the present day and NOT a mere set of prejudices and attitudes that play out on the individual/interpersonal level.

For the most part, the general public processed this discussion much in the way that we process any significant event that happens in the public sphere: through an endless stream of tweets and memes, on our favorite daytime talk shows and podcasts. Hate him or love him, the public ate it all up and it became clear (to me at least) that Kanye was and has been sacrificing himself on the altar of fame and his own personal mythology. To the man who once packaged himself as a starry-eyed college kid who just wanted to get on, all press is now good press, and it doesn’t matter if the world around him is moved by affection or outrage.

Many dismissed Kanye’s statements (coupled with his fervent support of Donald Trump) as a publicity stunt or a cry for attention. This may be true, but a close listen to his latest album, YE, and considering his past as an artistic and public figure, it becomes increasingly difficult to write Kanye’s public and artistic choices off as mere stunts designed to sell records. His eighth album to date, YE is graphic, joyous, and a horrifying glimpse into the mind of Kanye West. If the inspiration for his haunting and lovelorn classic 808’s & Heartbreaks were the women in his life and the love he couldn’t give/keep, YE’s muse, the album’s raison d’etre, is Kanye West himself, his own heart, mind and the celebrity that threatens to tear him apart. Continue reading →

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While we’re waiting for Kanye West to finish The Life of Pablo, here’s what I heard at the Philly preview Thursday night

Kanye West | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Kanye West | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Rapper / producer / nascent fashion designer Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 event was part conceptual art piece, part fashion premiere, part album listening party for his much anticipated 7th solo album The Life of Pablo – which, as of this writing, is still being finalized. The event Thursday gave us a taste, though, and it was simultaneously screened live in several cities around the world via Jay-Z’s TIDAL media streaming service.

And after a day of running errands, I braved the frigid February air Thursday night and made my way to the University 6 Theater (fka The Rave) in West Philly for the Philly edition of Yeezy.

After showing a pair of ushers at the front door a print out of my ticket, I stood in a long line of Penn students and casual hipster kids before having my ticket checked and verified again before taking a seat in the theater.

Pulling out a notepad and pen a dude sitting next to me asked “You taking notes?” with a smirk.

For the first 10 or 15 minutes sitting in this dark theater, I could see the image of two giant platforms elevated above the floor of Madison Square Garden, blanketed by large sheets. The whole scene looked still, dark, grey and lunar. For a fleeting moment I wondered if Kanye had trolled us all. Maybe we had all been tricked? Maybe this was it? A bunch of people, sitting in dark theaters staring at these dumb looking monolithic structures with no album to be heard until the official release date. Continue reading →

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Thanks, Internet: Kanye West meets Ben Gibbard in Death Cab for Yeezy

Death Cab for Cuite (left) | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo // Kanye West (right) | Photo by John Vettese
Death Cab for Cuite (left) | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo // Kanye West (right) | Photo by John Vettese

With the much talked about premiere of The Life of Pablo finally happening this evening, Kanye West has been all over the headlines since…well, actually, let’s stop right there, since he’s always all over the headlines for one reason or another. For the fans (and we count ourselves as fans), we’ll bring you a review of T.L.o.P.‘s local screening in University City tomorrow, but right now, something for readers who prefer their Kanye in smaller doses: a new mashup album mixing his hits with those of indie rock faves Death Cab for Cutie. Continue reading →

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Made in America day one blasts off with Kanye West, The National, J Cole, Mayer Hawthorne and more

Kanye West | Photo by John Vettese
Kanye West at Made in America | Photo by John Vettese

This year’s Made in America festival kicked off yesterday with an exhilarating lineup of performers along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The day spanned 11 hours and a spectrum of genres, from the discofied openers in Cherub to the hardcore punk / metal of Glassjaw; EDM hitmaker Baauer to funky fresh hiphop vet Big Daddy Kane; sweet soul grooves from Mayer Hawthorne to an explosive set from The National. And of course, the man of the hour was Kanye West, whose closing 90-minute performance was at peak energy throughout. Continue reading →

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Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Kings of Leon, De La Soul, The National and more will head up Made in America Philly

Deadmau5 crowd | Photo by John Vettese
Deadmau5 crowd | Photo by John Vettese

The lineup for our friendly neighborhood mega-festival, Made in America, tripped down the wire via Twitter today. After a successful and massively enjoyable year on the Ben Franklin Parkway last summer, the event split into two locations this year – the Philly August 30th and 31st, along with a concurrent festival in Los Angeles.

Among the Philly headliners are everyone’s favorite hat-rocking pop impresario Pharrell Williams, dramatic dad-rock faves The National, classic hip-hop trio De La Soul and EDM icon Tiësto. Soul rocker Mayer Hawthorne is in the mix along with emo balladeer City and Colour and mashup party fave Girl Talk – on Twitter, Philly rapper Chill Moody predicted that Philly rap icon Freeway might join the latter to bring their recent collaboration to the stage. Local summertime indietronica outfit Vacationer is (so far) the only Philly artist in the mix. And who could forget the festival’s larger-than-life headliner, Kanye West?

Full lineup below; we’ll be updating this list as more artists are added. After the jump, listen to a playlist of all the artists on MIA so far. Continue reading →

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Ballin’ Oates: Wu-Tang and Kanye West meet Hall & Oates

ballinoates
New York based producer, musician, and remixer Scott Melker is at it again. He’s just released his third in a series of remix / mashup EP’s and this time out he’s taken on Hall & Oates. On Ballin’ Oates, Melker takes five Hall & Oates classics and mixes in songs and raps from Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West, T.I., Twista and others. Melker’s previous hip-hop remix projects included The Skeetles (The Beatles), and Skeetwood Mac (Fleetwood Mac). You can download all of the music on Soundcloud here. Below, download Ballin’ Oates.