During her Tuesday appearance on Everyday Struggle, Amber Rose did something she doesn't do often: talked about her relationship with Kanye West. The two were entwined for about two years, from 2008 to 2010. They appeared together, outwardly amorous, in photo shoots and on red carpets. For an outside observer, it felt like we witnessed them publicly (and lustily) fall in love, and then fall apart. Then, we saw the remnants of their failed relationship became fodder for what many believe to be Kanye's best album, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Ye suspended both the ugly and beautiful parts of their partnership in time via his craft, and we had front row seats to his side of the story.
From Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours to Justin Timberlake’s Justified, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear to Nas’s Life Is Good, and, most recently, Future’s HNDRXX and Dirty Projectors’ Dirty Projectors—there is a long tradition of hurt men turning to music as way to express their heartache and process tattered emotions. Rarely, if ever, are the women given the opportunity to relay their experience. With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye opened up his love life and personal life to the world. As Amber faded into his background, Kanye constructed stark audio imagery of her supposed abandonment and failure as a partner. Like the women who came before her, she never really had an opportunity to speak out.
But in her interview with Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, and Nadeska Alexis, Rose addressed the wide belief that she did indeed inspire parts of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
“There are little things in there, but I don’t know,” Rose said in the interview, explaining that she’s not the only woman who should be credited. “But it’s a great part of history and hip-hop and that’s cool, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Rose’s conversation was candid, delving into facets of high-profile relationships that most people don’t consider. She shed light on what it was like to be both the muse and lover of an artist like ’Ye—then have that status taken away.
“It wasn’t a great time for me because I’m famous, and I’m broke and I don’t have any money,” Rose said. “We weren’t married, he didn’t owe me shit. I had to figure out what I was going to do with the fame and with my life at the time… For me to have that type of fame, a lifestyle with a man and then not have it anymore—but still have paparazzi outside, with no money. I had to figure that out. Not including the fact that you [DJ Akademiks] and other people on the internet are constantly poking and fucking with me while I'm going through this hard time. And then it’s like, okay: so I can’t date anybody else; I can’t say anything on the internet because Kanye has such a voice. But imagine being me. It’s constant scrutiny. If I was gonna kill myself, I would have done it during those times. I had to be me to get through that. I don’t think a lot of people would have got through that the way I did.”
West used My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to wash himself of the emotional grime that comes along with the dirty laundry of an intense relationship. We, as listeners and fans, lapped it up, siding with ’Ye through the memorization and exaltation of his lyrics. With “Runaway,” Kanye framed himself as the bad guy. He publicly acknowledged the song was inspired by Amber during a 2011 performance in Rose’s hometown of Philadelphia: “To the city of Philly, I wanna thank y’all for making the incredible person that this song is made for,” he said during the show; he followed that by singing, “I thought you’d always be mine.”
But he most often he uses the album to position himself as a victim. From “Blame Game”: “Running my name through the mud, who's provoking you?/You should be grateful a nigga like me ever noticed you/Now you noticeable and can't nobody get control of you.”
He continues pointing an accusatory finger in Rose’s direction with “Devil in a New Dress”: “When the sun go down, it's the magic hour/And outta all the colors that'll fill up the skies/You got green on your mind, I can see it in your eyes.”
Rose respects the album as a form of expression now, but she was (and is) frustrated by being targeted by a figure like ’Ye.
“It’s art, man,” Rose said. “It’s art. But you have to imagine: at that point, I have no voice. I have no voice at all. I have a couple of followers on Twitter, maybe, at that point. That is an extreme form of bullying: to have such a huge voice to put out an album to say whatever the fuck you want… I had to just take that L, I had to take that heartbreak on top of it.”
Women are expected to be creative inspiration, but they aren’t supposed to critique the result; we’re not supposed to hear from them after the man has made his art. Last year, Beyoncé flipped the script on this narrative and released Lemonade, effectively controlling the conversation about her relationship with Jay Z, instead of waiting to be positioned by him and his work. We were able to see the benefit of a two-sided musical conversation when Jay Z unleashed the equally personal 4:44 this summer. Beyoncé and Jay Z's latest full-lengths represent a rare occurrence in popular music: two artists painting their side of the story in intricate, relatable strokes. But we didn’t just hear from them as individuals—they’re still a unit, making the connection between the two albums unusual. Together, they depict a marriage being reshaped in real time, a living, breathing joint effort of reconciliation. Beyoncé and Jay were able to release these albums together because they're still together.
Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear is a blueprint of sorts. It's the quintessential example of a male artist airing out personal grievances, at the expense of the person with whom they built a life. In November 1975, his estranged first wife, Anna Gordy Gaye, sued him for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences and seeking child support for their adopted son. After more than a year delay, the singer's attorney finally convinced Marvin to give a percentage of the royalties from his next Motown album to Anna. Gaye fulfilled his side of the agreement with Here, My Dear, a biting divorce concept record that deeply chronicled the Gayes’ volatile union—much to the chagrin of Anna.
In a conversation with Complex, Nas called his 2012 record Life Is Good his version of Here, My Dear: “I feel like Life Is Good is my Here, My Dear,” he said of the album, which features him sitting with ex-wife Kelis’ wedding dress draped over his knee on its cover. “They’re similar in a lot of ways. I relate to him as a human being, as a star. It made me like him a lot more because he was an artist enough to just say what he had to say. … I know what that’s like. I know what he’s singing. I’ve lived it myself. I really relate to that record.” Nas’ pettiness on Life Is Good parallels Marvin’s. On "Bye Baby," he complains about the divorce settlement (“Not some, but half, no, serious, half/Half of your soul, half of your heart, you leaving behind/It’s either that or die, I wanted peace of mind”) and psychoanalyzes Kelis, attributing her trust issues to her father. Throughout his criticisms, Kelis' voice is noticeably absent. It illustrates the downside of just one side of the story.
We encourage artists to pour everything into their work, so we can soak it up, identify and regurgitate it onto our timelines and in the captions of our photos. Their intimate relationships are turned inside out, exposed for the world to prod at and dissect. In particular, our society is used to women absorbing the shocks of a tumultuous relationship without reacting, or—God forbid—deflecting and moving forward. The most powerful thing a woman can do is take control of her own narrative. And that's what Rose has done. She's refined her image and created her own brand; she’s chased love, on her terms, and she’s empowered voiceless women while doing it.