This story was originally published as part of Complex’s April/May 2009 magazine issue.

Kanye says that it usually comes effortlessly, but tonight he’s just not feeling it. And he’s sorry, too; he knows you must be bored. It’s 10 p.m., the night before the Grammys, and he’s trying to find the perfect fit for the evening. This process began two hours ago, with a mauve Balenciaga tuxedo shirt he had purchased that afternoon at Barneys (where you and he ran into Puff, of all people… But that’s a story for another day). He quickly assembled a dressy outfit around the piece and then proceeded, one by one, to replace each item in the look, until, 120 minutes later (take a second to consider all the mathematical permutations of a six- or seven-piece ensemble chosen from the 13 racks of clothes in the bedroom-size “closet” of his Hollywood Hills home), he has arrived at a simple but sharp jeans-and-leather jacket look, which he says he likes because it looks like he just threw it on. Attributing these two tedious hours to narcissism should be easy—he’s known for it, right? But you can’t. It’s just not that simple.

Kanye West is performance art. He’s an idea. A brand. A mission. An inspiring, infuriating, over-the-top, and constantly evolving contradiction of values that are articulated sometimes abstractly, and often heavy-handedly, through the man’s every expression—be it producing, rapping, singing, designing or, more often than not these days, just living. Whether it’s the curation of his clothing tonight, the selection of his beautiful, bald date tomorrow, the spare, design-forward architecture of his Los Angeles and Manhattan homes, or the costume party he and his posse threw in Paris during Fashion Week, it’s all presentation—a new vision of the world, starring him as the catalyst. 

So it’s clear that tonight is not about ego at all. In fact, just like all the art he’s made in the wake of his mother’s passing and the dissolution of his engagement, it’s entirely about id. He’s just throwing paint at the canvas like a five-year-old, waiting for lightning to strike, for his unconscious mind to see the pattern, to put together the outfit that will capture the imagination. Effortlessly. 

In the midst of all the painstaking spontaneity, Complex caught up with Kanye as he canvassed Beverly Hills for the perfect Grammy bow tie—and had a conversation that may make you laugh, think, roll your eyes, and even like him. All without trying.