Kanye West actually gave an interview.
Date: June 12
"Don't do no press/But I get the most press, kid." - Kanye West
"So go and grab the reporters/So I can smash their recorders." - Kanye West
What can one really say about Kanye West that hasn't been said by Kanye West? Not much, as further evidenced by the headline-making interview he granted to the New York Times, which went online Tuesday night—nearly six days before its print release in today's paper—and drove hype for his new album, Yeezus, to a fever pitch. But there are things to say about that interview:
1. Kanye West's press strategy (see above) only extends as far as it serves his need for attention. Or maybe he was pushed to do an interview by Def Jam brass, who, in the lead-up to Yeezy's release date, seem downright tired of his anti-marketing strategy, to say nothing of the album's production. Either way, it's pretty clear Kanye is still doing press, and not smashing recorders purchased by the most widely read newspaper in the western world.
2. Know this name: Gabe Tesoriero. "Gabe T," as he's called by many members of the music media, the Vice President of Artist Relations for Island Def Jam, became a kingmaker this week. How so? The decision to place the interview in the New York Times, with Jon Caramanica—the writer responsible for changing the way the New York Times covers rap and R&B (and one co-signed by the likes of Pusha-T and Frank Ocean, among others)—was likely Tesoriero's. It was a smart call, the Times being accessible and trustworthy for almost every stripe of reader, and Caramanica, a generally thoughtful, fair, and knowledgeable interviewer—proved, by all accounts, to be well up to the task. It surely made Caramanica the object of jealousy for every music journalist alive, including this one. Rap Game David Frost? Perhaps. But as much credit goes to Caramanica for landing the interview, just as much, if not more, must go the savvy of Tesoriero for his placement of it.
3. The interview was as stunning and revealing as it was unsurprising and oblique. In one interview, Kanye compared himself to Steve Jobs, called himself the nucleus of culture, traced his psychology back to his experience on his middle school basketball team, and spoke volumes about the lasting pain of his mother's death by cutting himself off mid-question. But if you know Kanye, you know he's been thinking of himself like this for a while now. His consistancy, in fact, is oddly reassuring. For example, he told the Times he knew he'd be a star when he wrote the "Michael Jackson" line from "Slow Jamz"—something he's said in interviews past. The bombast that got everyone talking this past week has always been there. The fact that this continues to scandalize people to the point of headlines calling the quotes amazing/ridiculous or hilariously narcissistic doesn't mean he's going any further with his rhetoric, it just means that more people are listening.
4. Some of the most revealing insights the New York Times had on Kanye didn't make it to print—but they did make it to the public. Caramanica did a great job of letting Kanye be Kanye, but again, that doesn't mean we get insight into who Kanye is so much as a document of the things he says. That said, some of Caramanica's observations on being around Kanye and the recording process did make the New York Times podcast, among them:
- "My sense is he came to Rick Rubin with frameworks...to sand down the edges."
- He saw Travis Scott recording in a hot-boxed bus, parked, and taken off of it wheels, on RIck Rubin's compound.
- The interview took four days.
- "Black Skinheads" changed notably from the first day he was there until the last, 48 hours before the record shipped.
- The magician David Blaine was there at one point, hanging out with Kanye.
- Caramanica slept in Kanye's studio at one point over the process.
- "I think he genuinely believes that he's a beacon of light."
- "There are things that are [not in the interview] that are even more quote-unquote 'Kanye West.'"
- "I think Kanye is at his most lucid right now."
- "I just want to go on record: I saw Kim. She came in the first night, she gave him a kiss goodnight. I just felt like it was a moving thing to see. I just enjoyed watching it."
It's a must-listen as much as the interview is a must-read.
5. Everyone who writes about Kanye will be eating off this interview for years to come. And it's already happening. Even here. The takeaway? Kanye West is one of the few artists to truly give the sit-down interview the sort of cultural importance it held a long ago, in times before the Internet, when the music media was a much, much smaller beast. As much as his anti-press stand rankles fans and writers alike, if this is the byproduct, it's not a bad one to have. —Foster Kamer
RELATED: 30 Amazing Quotes From Kanye West's "New York Times" Interview