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From Hawaii for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Paris for Watch the Throne to Mexico for The Life of Pablo, Kanye West has shown a penchant for recording in unique locations and letting them help color his music. After locking himself in his room making five beats a day for three summers, West has embraced the ability to work in unique environments and have his friends and fellow artists join for the journey.
For the controversial, recently released ye, West spent most of his time recording in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, bringing in collaborators like Kid Cudi, Nas, 070 Shake, and Pusha T, all of whom worked on new music with West in the solitude of America's least populous state. When West was ready to unveil ye to the world, he invited more friends and family ranging from Kim Kardashian to 2 Chainz to alt-right commentator Candace Owens for a listening party at the Diamond Cross Ranch which the venue was reportedly less than thrilled over.
Though he's been busy courting controversy and espousing problematic beliefs online and in the media, Kanye clearly found time to be highly inspired by his surroundings, as the ye album cover features the Teton Mountains and was shot by West, while he also held several #ProjectWyoming listening events in cities around the U.S. and released Wyoming-inspired merch that was quickly snapped up by fans.
While everyone's been focused on Kanye's decision to write the next chapter of the G.O.O.D. Music story in the Cowboy State, we spoke to Tia Troy, Media and Public Relations Manager for the state's Office of Tourism about her thoughts on Ye's surprising love affair with her state. Troy penned a blog post speculating why Ye chose Wyoming for his latest geographic muse, and seemed as qualified as anyone to give us the Wyomingite's point of view.
When did you first get wind of Kanye being in Wyoming?
We’d been aware that he had an affinity for Wyoming for several weeks, I would say. And we knew that he was spending time here creating music and that his wife and family were here as well, so we were aware that he had chosen Wyoming to do that.
Typically, if you think of Wyoming you would maybe be like, "Oh, this isn’t a great place for hip-hop artists and rappers to come and create music." But that the combination of two things that are really surprising can be so well coupled together.
What was the reaction when people you work with found out?
I think it’s interesting, because as the Wyoming Office of Tourism, we all live and work in Wyoming, and we do it because we love it, because it inspires us, because we like the lifestyle it provides. And you’re kind of like, "Oh, Wyoming? That’s where Kanye West is choosing to create music, choosing to create his line of what he does for a living?" At the same time, it’s one of these destinations where it’s almost not surprising that he chose Wyoming for that, because when you look at our epic landscapes, you look at the Tetons, you look at Grand Teton National Park. When you look at the really laid back, authentic vibe that exists here in Wyoming, it’s not hard to see why he would be attracted to that and want to be inspired to create in a place like Wyoming.
Have you listened to ye yet? What did you think of it?
I tuned in to the listening party when he was doing it. I guess my thought on it would be that whatever your thoughts are on his music, the fact that as an artist he’s choosing to create it in Wyoming, and that that’s what he is feeling inspired to produce, I think that’s the great thing about being an artist and being a musician, is that we all take different types of inspiration from one landscape. I think for us it’s really interesting to see the different types of art and content that’s created based upon this place called Wyoming.
What sort of music and art is Wyoming more historically known for?
Country music is definitely prominent in Wyoming. It’s the Cowboy State, so that’s definitely a part of what we have here in Wyoming musically, but if you look at artists and authors, we’ve got the gamut. There’s a best-selling author named CJ Box, who lives in Saratoga and writes about Wyoming from there. And then you have people like Ernest Hemingway, who actually chose to come to Wyoming to create some of his work as well, and we also have some incredible painters who live in Wyoming… I would say we have a pretty well-rounded art scene.
What do you think Wyoming has to specifically offer people in hip-hop?
Typically, if you think of Wyoming you would maybe be like, "Oh, this isn’t a great place for hip-hop artists and rappers to come and create music." But that the combination of two things that are really surprising can be so well coupled together, I think that’s the beauty of it. The other thing about Wyoming is that it doesn’t care where you’re from. Wyoming doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from. You can be Kanye West, you can be Jason Borbet, an artist in Jackson Hole [who goes by Borbay], you can be a doctor from Chicago, whoever it is, there’s something here. You’re going to come to Wyoming and you’re going to find your own inspiration from experiencing this place.
Have you noticed an uptick in people wanting to visit the state?
We can’t put any hard numbers at this time from an increase in tourism or anything like that—we don’t have those numbers—but we can say wholeheartedly that we are getting buzz about Wyoming that would have been very hard for us to achieve otherwise. The awareness level of Wyoming has really risen since that party last week, and it’s still continuing to grow and to gain momentum.
We actually did a blog about this whole thing and said, “Hey, these are the reasons we think Kanye maybe chose Wyoming.” Then we put it on our Instagram story, and it was interesting to see the different reactions from people. We had some people that said, “Hey, we follow your Instagram because we love Wyoming, but it’s also super cool that Kanye did this album and release party there.” We also had people say, “Hey, I actually found your page because I love Kanye West’s music, and now I’m turned on to Wyoming.” So it’s been really interesting to kind of see the back-and-forth on that of the different people that were saying like, “Hey, I’m following you now because Kanye did this party and it got a lot of buzz.”
As a Wyomingite, is there any worry over the state being stereotyped because someone who isn’t from there is hyping it up and making it a part of their image with merch and listening events and things like that?
I really don’t think there is. When you look at artists, whether it’s a painter or an author or a musician, I think that typically when they’re being inspired to create something, it’s because they love what they’re being inspired by. The messages that are being put out there and the content that’s being put out there on social is really showing off how beautiful Wyoming is. It’s showing off that you can come and see the Tetons, you can stay at a ranch, you can experience the [Million Dollar] Cowboy Bar in Jackson, and it’s introduced a lot of people who came in for that listening party to a real authentic slice of what Wyoming is. They were at the guest ranch, they went to the historic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, they spent time in this small town.
For us as a destination, that people now know that the Tetons are in Wyoming is definitely a win.
Jackson is only a town of about 8,000 people, so it seems like they were able to experience authentic Wyoming, and I think that that’s the beauty of Wyoming is there’s nothing necessarily fabricated about it. What you see is what you get, and I think that’s probably something that’s ringing true to all the folks that came here… If you look at a picture on any of the Instagram accounts [of Kanye’s guests], you’re seeing the Teton mountains. Those are real views that people, no matter if you’re from here or it’s your first time visiting, we love seeing those views over and over, and so I think the information that’s being shared is authentic Wyoming. You don’t have to Photoshop the Tetons, because they’re the Tetons. They’re beautiful. [Laughs]
What did you think of the cover image? There was a big deal made about him taking that photo on the way to the listening party.
I know that there’s been a lot of chatter about that cover, but those mountains are some of the most iconic in the country. And then they’re in a national park, and I don’t think that there’s anything negative to [the image]. People can interpret what they would like to from the title of it. But putting this beautiful national park and these mountains on the cover, it’s just showing off the beauty of Wyoming. For us as a destination, that people now know that the Tetons are in Wyoming is definitely a win.