Kanye West: Project Runaway (Cover Story)

Kanye West: Project Runaway (Cover Story)



MBDTF's key players tell tales of beats, basketball, and breakfast buffets.

More Kanye x Hawaii? Click here for the full behind-the-scenes gallery!

"He's telling me, ‘Yo, you need to be more douchebag. We need more douchebag!"

 PUSHA-T / Clipse consigliere, Virginia wordsmith

"Kanye West is the hardest working man in music. If it wasn't for deadlines, I don't know if anything would be finished. I've heard things that I thought were perfect, and I come back and they're more perfect—and they're still not done. The guy's the maestro. It's a totally unorthodox way—well, it's unorthodox to me, 'cause I've never seen anyone work in pieces like that. It was really on some Quincy Jones shit, man. We could easily be working on one song, thinking we're in a mode, and he'll hear a sound from someone like [producer] Jeff Bhasker and immediately turn his whole attention to that sound and go through his mental Rolodex to where that sound belongs on his album, and then it goes straight to that song, immediately. Now, mind you, his album is a collage of sounds. It has one consistent theme, but you really have to be some type of weirdo to be able to do that. It's like turning on the drop of a dime, in a car. A Maybach on a two-lane highway making a fucking U-turn.
                 "He's the most meticulous individual ever. I've never penned so many verses for one particular record. ‘So Appalled’? That's a one-take verse. He was like, ‘Go, please. I love this. Thank you, goodbye.’ But I wrote ‘Runaway’ four times—and what he does not know to this day is that I was going through a relationship scandal in my life. So this man is asking me to write a song about a relationship and to say that I'm the biggest douchebag ever. He's telling me, ‘Yo, you need to be more douchebag. We need more douchebag!’ I didn't want to say to him, ‘Dog, I don't know if I even have douchebag in me right now.’ I've been jammed up, and it's hard for me to even tap into that part,because I'm remorseful. [Laughs.] And he's fucking beating me for fucking more. All I hear in my head is, ‘More douchebag. More douchebag. More douchebag!’ Finally, after a couple of days, I said, ‘I'm going to go upstairs and get in total solitude and just do what I need to do.’ And: ‘24/7/365, pussy stays on my mind.’ It starts from there."

"I'm real critical of emcees, but when I hear Kanye spit, it opens me up like a flower, man."

 PETE ROCK / Legendary producer, crate-digging O.G.

"I know one of Kanye's bodyguards, and he told me that Kanye was looking for me. I just grabbed this bag of discs—these discs hold at least 50 beats apiece—and went to Hawaii. [Laughs.] That was my first time ever going to Hawaii, so I was blown back by the weather and the beach. It's a beautiful environment to make music in. I immediately said to myself, ‘This is why he's here!’ No one bothers you and you're free as a bird; an important part of being creative is being able to be free in a good environment where you can make music and there's no interruptions or disturbance or anything. When I got there, Kanye was in the chair in the studio getting his hair cut. He played the ‘Power’ song from before he even put the lyrics on it and he was spittin' the lyrics to me. I'm real critical of emcees, but when I hear Kanye spit, it opens me up like a flower, man. I used to hear him spit my name in his own records before he even got with me, and I used to say to myself, ‘Damn, he says my name in more than two or three records! Maybe he's trying to let me know he wants to work with me.’
                 "The studio kind of reminded me of back in the days when I used to work on three or four projects at once, doing it all in the studio. That's what he was doing—running back and forth from room to room to room to room. He had Kid Cudi upstairs, he was working on his album downstairs, then doing a mix on another record, and it straight reminded me of what I used to do back in the '90s. He played ‘Runaway’—and as soon as I heard the drums come in, I just started laughing. He used my drums from Mecca and the Soul Brother! I used these drums in an interlude before this record called ‘The Basement,’ and those drums come on before the song. I never heard anybody make a song the way he made it out of those drums. I thought that was genius."

"I'm just a fuckin' lumberjack dude from Wisconsin. I'm not going to go out there and try to be this awesome rap guy."

 JUSTIN VERNON / Folk-rock darling, Bon Iver frontman

"We heard that Kanye was gonna use our song ‘Woods’ for a sample—and then a couple of weeks later, we were hearing through his camp that he may want to come out here to Minnesota and record some stuff with me. He had a ticket booked and everything, but we had a bad snowstorm in Minneapolis so he couldn't come. He ended up calling me on the phone that day, just saying that he liked our shit and was interested in getting together. He was getting a vibe from our music that we would do well together and figure things out. We talked for half an hour or so, and he told me to get on a plane and come out to Hawaii and work on stuff—so I got on a plane the next morning. They flew me out three different times. Each time was like a week. I didn't go anywhere but the gym, Kanye's house, and the studio. I didn't even take a walk on the beach.
                 "I was surprised at how relaxed I was the whole time because he's a really cool guy, and really down to earth. I'm just a fuckin' lumberjack dude from Wisconsin, I'm not going to go out there and try to be this awesome rap guy. I'm just doing my job. My favorite thing about Kanye is he just doesn't quit. He does not quit on a song. Sometimes in pop music, there's so much clutter and so many people trying to do something that's gonna get on the radio or whatever, but he's truly about approaching the song and finishing it and doing the coolest possible thing that he wants to express. He's not just a rapper. He's not just a producer. He's a musician. He's a true artist in every sense. Every part of his expression, from his clothes to everything, is a part of how he lives his life, and I think that's why he's so successful. I would show him what I did and he would come back and be like, ‘Oh, that's awesome.’ Or, ‘Oh, that's not cool.’ And we would just work on it—there was no ego involved, it was just what's best for the song."

"When I picked up my head from sleeping, he was looking at me in the strangest way I've ever been looked at by a human being."

 NICKI MINAJ / Freshman phenom, president of Barbie Nation

"I heard through Drake that Kanye wanted me on his album, and I got on the next thing smokin' to Hawaii. I didn't think that he was gonna like me. I always figured that he was one of those conscious rappers, so I thought that he wouldn't want girls to be dressed overtly sexy—and I go to the studio and he has nothing but pictures of naked women on his computer that he'd invite me to look at. They were really artsy pictures, but you know he loves nudity, so it was a complete shock to me, 'cause I thought I had him all figured out, but I didn't. He was watching porn when we were in the studio—no shame in his game. Kanye kept askin' me to come and eat breakfast, but I like to record in the morning. So, when they were eating breakfast, I was in the studio listening to music and writing. And he would always be like, ‘Yo, why you ain't never come over for breakfast, yo?’ But I never went. I would get to the studio at like 10:30 in the morning and he'd be leaving to go home and eat breakfast and I'd be getting to the studio to just write and record. I stayed late sometimes, but I was always getting sleepy. I get up at 6 in the morning, so midnight is late for me. One time he caught me nodding off, and I thought maybe he would kick me out. I've never been so embarrassed in my life. You know how you're sitting up and you don't realize that you've just fallen asleep, but it feels like an eternity? When I picked up my head from sleeping, he was looking at me in the strangest way I've ever been looked at by a human being. He pulled his shades down and he looked and said, ‘Oh, she's sleeping?’ I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. [Laughs.]
                 "He's a legend in hip-hop and in pop culture and to be on his album is a blessing. I don't even remember him ever working with a female rapper, so to be on an album and on a record this monstrous? I couldn't have planned it better in a perfect world. I remember a conversation I had with Kanye every time I sit down to write now. Every single time I sit down, I remember him asking, ‘What is it that you wanna say? It's not about rhyming words, it's about what you really wanna say.’ The fact that he wasn't even looking at me when he said it—he was on the computer looking at naked girls, I think—it was just a life-changing experience. Outside of Wayne, no one has ever spoken to me that way and caused me to better my craft. I credit him with bringing out something miraculous in me, I really do."

"If the delivery guy comes in the studio and Kanye likes him, he'll go, ‘Check this out, tell me what you think.'"

 Q-TIP / Quester, abstract poetic representin' from Queens

"I'd never worked the way Kanye was working in Hawaii. Everybody's opinions mattered and counted. You would walk in, and there's Consequence and Pusha T and everybody is sitting in there and he's playing music and everyone is weighing in. It was like music by committee. [Laughs.] It was fresh that everybody cared like that. I have my people that listen to my stuff—I think everybody does—but his thing is much more like, if the delivery guy comes in the studio and Kanye likes him and they strike up a conversation, he'll go, ‘Check this out, tell me what you think.’ Which speaks volumes about who he is and how he sees and views people. Every person has a voice and an idea, so he's sincerely looking to hear what you have to say—good, bad, or whatever.
                 "In art, whether it was Michelangelo or Rembrandt or all these dudes, they'll sketch something, but their hands may not necessarily touch the paint. Damien Hirst may conceptualize it, but there's a whole crew of people who are putting it together, like workers. His hand doesn't have to touch the canvas, but his thought does. With Kanye, when he has his beats or his rhymes, he offers them to the committee and we're all invited to dissect, strip, or add on to what he's already started. By the end of the sessions, you see how he integrates and transforms everyone's contributions, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He's a real wizard at it. What he does is alchemy, really."

"Kanye always asked me to play basketball... What was I going to be, scorekeeper?"

 KID CUDI / Man on the moon, G.O.O.D. musician

"It's always the same thing when we work together—it happened on 808s, too: ‘Cudi, what are you thinking?’ And I'll spit out something I think is good and hope he doesn't shoot it down. [Laughs.] It's very casual; we're all creative people, so it's not a stressful thing for us to create in the studio. We're not in there pulling our hair out. We all have good ideas, and that's why the records usually come out the way they come out—everybody adds their flavor, and it ends up being a masterpiece. ‘Gorgeous’ is one of those joints. The process this time was a bit smoother; there was definitely an operation. I knew how I wanted to go about writing references, whereas on 808s, it was people in a room. This time, I wanted to dip off, do my ideas separately, and present them, because that's the only way I think. I had to go off, get my ideas right, and then bring them to the team.
                 "I was soaking up everything in Hawaii and it was a learning experience. I always go back into my mind and reimagine those moments again, because it's life-changing shit for me. Leaving Hawaii, I just saw that there was a formula that I wanted to apply to get my shit together. Kanye always asked me to play basketball, and I'm not athletic at all. What was I going to be, scorekeeper? So I would sleep in until they got done playing. I always had jet lag out there while other people were in the Hawaii groove already, but it worked out, because by the time they were done hooping, I was refreshed and ready to go. I dodged any sport they were trying to play, that's for certain. [Laughs.]"

More Kanye x Hawaii? Click here for the full behind-the-scenes gallery!

Tags: best-of-complex, kanye-west, my-beautiful-dark-twisted-fantasy,
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