I Like To Live Inside Kanye West's Anxiety Attack


Yesterday I ate brunch at Millie's with Eleanor, who was in town to do some events for her rad book Grow; we both had coffee and hot biscuits with raspberry jam, and I got a big egg scramble thing made with cream cheese and scallions. After brunch I'd planned to have a superlatively chill Sunday of driving around and listening to Rilo Kiley (I'm minorly obsessed with Rilo Kiley right now, after reading Alice Bolin's This Recording essay about how "the music of Rilo Kiley wakens the inner Livejournal user in all of us") and also to "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" by Kendrick Lamar, which I bought after hearing it Saturday afternoon while buying a pretty gorgeous beige silk dress for $18 at a secondhand shop on Sunset. I was looking forward to playing "Pictures of Success" and "Science vs. Romance" and "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" like six times each and feeling the sun on my knees through the window through my jeans, and maybe drinking some iced coffee, and maybe going to the ocean and taking pictures of the ocean and listening to more Rilo Kiley, on the beach.

Instead I basically just listened to "Black Skinhead" like six thousand times, painfully loud, through a shitty mp3 ripped from the SNL broadcast. It's my favorite song now:

Before I saw the broadcast I saw a tweet from Thierry Côté, saying "Welcome to your Marilyn Manson years, Kanye" and I was excited by that: I have a weird fascination with Marilyn Manson, partly because I grossly think he's hot, but also because I find him "interesting" as a "cultural figure" or "whatever." With Marilyn Manson, at the height of his fame, I really wanted to give a fuck. I was in college and it was the late '90s and everything was dull and over and I wanted to fall under his spell, I wanted him to be scary and evil and fucked-up and dangerous, I wanted him to poison the minds of the youth and maybe my mind too. But really Marilyn Manson was superboring and never made me feel anything. The big problem, I realize now, is that I never bought that he completely bought it, that Marilyn Manson actually believed in the myth of himself. And that is such a depressing and pitiful failure for a rock star - or maybe for any kind of person at all.

Kanye, though - he totally buys it. Kanye totally believes in the myth of himself, and I heart him for that. While we were watching "Black Skinhead" my friend said something about how it was giving her an anxiety attack - but for me it's more like living inside of Kanye's anxiety attack, and that's why I love it so much. Lately I've been gravitating toward songs that remind me of me (that's so much of the appeal of Big Star, who are my favorite band this year), but with "Black Skinhead" I'm just completely ripped out of myself. I relate to feeling claustrophobic and unbearably restless and hating everything, but I don't relate to expressing it that way, and so now Kanye's changed my head. It feels good and it's fortifying, and more shit seems possible than it did before midnight last Saturday.

(The dog imagery's so genius too. And I love how he looks when he's pogoing at the end, his arms limp at his sides like that. The best is how whenever you think he's going to let up a little he just keeps going and going; there's something about his stamina that's gloriously psychotic.)

Toward the end of yesterday, after listening to "Black Skinhead" six thousand times, I watched Mad Men with my housemates. I ate some mango with coarse salt and hot sauce, and got to the scraping-my-teeth-on-the-mango-pit part right when Ken Cosgrove did his insane tap dance at Don, which was a euphoric and transcendent experience. On a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of last summer I watched Dazed and Confused for the first time in a while and decided Dazed and Confused would be my summertime muse, and then I went to a party and two really exciting and wonderful things happened, one of which was relatively life-changing (it involved a boy, and love). And I don't know what my summer 2013 muse is going to be yet, but my late-spring muse is definitely "gnawing on a mango pit and watching Ken Cosgrove tap dance on speed when 'Black Skinhead' by Kanye West has been stuck in my head for about ten hours." Really excited to go out and live in the world like that.


  1. This Kanye turn is really interesting to me, too, because in a way, it's a return to College Dropout and Late Registration, "Kanye Tudda West" era Yeezy. Part of the reason he blew up as big as he did, when he did, is because he married the stagnating conscious rap movement with the mainstream, spectacle-oriented flavor of Rocafella Records at the time. It was like Jay-Z and Mos Def had a baby, and that baby learned how to produce by listening to NoID (who produced Common's best albums, a legend of conscious rap) and the RZA (Kanye's "chipmunk soul" era wouldn't exist without "Can It All Be So Simple" and other RZA joints).

    The conscious movement grew out of a reaction to the flossy, jiggy rap era and a desperate desire to keep the conscious core of rap music intact. NWA was angry and violent, but they were mad about police brutality, you know? Ice Cube, the Native Tongues crew, they made accessible music that was explicitly into making things better. Not all the time -- they made party music too -- but when they dipped into those waters, they were real serious about it. At some point, accessible with one way, conscious went another, and rap got weird and split into pieces. (I'm simplifying a lot, probably, but bear with me!!!)

    So when Kanye hit, and the Louis Vuitton Don wrote songs about his conflicted feels about blood diamonds, how hard it was to get radio play for Jesus Walks (which is an ABSURDLY hard song, it sounds majestic, like a b-side they play in Heaven when the harps are being repaired), and all of the weird contradictory things that make Kanye Kanye... he wasn't the first to do it, but he did an incredible job of it. There was a space in the game and he did a good job of filling it. (Sidebar, but: fellow Chicago emcee Rhymefest wrote a few of his big hits around this time. Rhymefest is/was an impressive underground artist who has an EXTREMELY strong social consciousness. He ran for a city gov't position in Chicago recently and came in second.)

    So for this subject matter, explicitly pro-black and angry, to make a return is... refreshing. It feels like a natural evolution for his career, too. He isn't starting over from scratch so much as going back home again. There's a concept for each of his albums, from College Dropout on up. 808s was about feeling sad, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was about self-loathing (I love the story of Kanye telling Pusha T to put more douchebag in his verse on Runaway), and this new one feels like it's leaning toward something real pro-black and honest and angry. Nas's self-titled album was similar. Killer Mike's RAP Music, too. But Kanye has a reach that those guys don't, and I'm on pins and needles, waiting to see how it'll be received and what he does.

    Black Skinhead is amazing. New Slaves is ambitious as heck, too, and I love that dirty-but-empty beat on that one. So much negative space. But lemme stop. If Kanye can give me speakerbox music that's aimed directly at me like these two tracks have been... whoo. I don't think I'm ready, but I want it so bad.

    1. ARRRRRRGGHHHHHH THANK YOU! i want you to publish all this somewhere else, too; i feel like i learned more about kanye here than in anything else i've ever read about kanye.

    2. Ha, yes! I may wait for the album to drop next month (!!!!) but so far, I can't see myself NOT writing about it. I like Kanye too much, and I'm too into the subject matter, to not write about it. I need to tighten up the conscious rap part just so I don't misrepresent that, but that'll be easy.

      But yes: I expect to have so much to say. Kanye's seriously inspirational, even if I'm not digging a certain project, but this feels like a perfect storm of stuff I'm into.

    3. so stoked for all of it

  2. how cool is it that Ben Affleck introduces him!

    1. i like how he seems like he's crying at the beginning :)