Every morning after breakfast, Kanye and most everyone else (save for stoner Cudi; me, who opts for the treadmill rather than bodying myself on the court; and RZA, who keeps his god-body chiseled in the weight room) throws on gym shorts, heads to the Honolulu YMCA, and plays five or six games of 21 against the locals. How does Kanye play? Aggressively, but not to the point of being that miserably competitive dick no one wants to play against (or with). He's just balling—this is his momentof zen, when the questions go away.
After the Y comes free time until 3 p.m. or so, when people naturally reassemble at the studio—at which point, make no mistake about it, time is anything but free. On one particular afternoon, Kanye is hell-bent on finishing "Power," which has had exactly 1.5 completed verses for the better part of a month now. He takes up residence in the A room. Sitting again at his laptop, perusing fashion and art sites for bloggable images, he scribbles lyrics and holds court trying to fill the first verse, which exists only as a mumbled, wordless flow reference. This goes on for hours.
Kanye's process is communal, but his output is most definitely entirely his own—one listen to that consistently unique cadence, word choice, and sense of humor reveals that.
Kanye's process is communal—he literally goes around the room asking everyone there what "power" means to them, throws out lines to see how they're received, and works out his exact wording with whomever is around to help. But his output is most definitely entirely his own—one listen to that consistently unique cadence, word choice, and sense of humor reveals that. Rappers, producers, and entourage are all welcome to offer ideas or phrases, but the funny thing is, nearly every suggestion is met with, "That's really not at all a word I would ever say, but don't stop offering ideas, thanks!" In fact, that day, a rah-rah couplet is offered by a rapper in the room (who will remain nameless) to close a line on "Power," and Kanye jokingly says it would be "great—if my name was LL and I was making ‘Mama Said Knock You Out Pt. II.'" You get the feeling it's addition by subtraction with him—the demonstration of what he doesn't like illuminates what he does like.
And when he hits a creative wall, as he does this evening, he heads to another studio room to make progress on another song. In this case, it's upstairs to check in on Q-Tip, who is syncing a beat he'd made to an acappella Kanye laid for a song called "My Momma's Boyfriend." Kanye had spit it to a Madlib beat, but didn't feel like it was the right fit, so Tip is fitting a new track around the words. At first, Kanye is engaged, offering copious feedback, but as the record plays over and over, Tip tweaking small parts, Kanye starts to zone out. At first this means he just nods and stares without talking— processing, but too tired to speak. Eventually, the weight in his eyelids overcomes him and he nods off. It's only 11 p.m., which means that we can expect a rested and ready Kanye by 2 a.m. at the latest. Tip keeps banging on the MPC for his sleeping audience while the rest of us decide whether to crash out at the hotel or wait on the next burst of creativity.
Of course, we wait. Who would allow themselves to miss a moment of this?