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FACES: Kanye West

A polarizing look at a beautiful, dark, twisted artist -- or maybe just a jerk

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    Feature artwork by Cap Blackard (Purchase Prints + More)

    FACES is Consequence of Sound’s literary magazine. Each volume focuses on an artist whose scope of creativity and cultural impact defies simple categorization. Through a blend of original artwork and a variety of writings, we hope to both shed light upon and celebrate the artists who continually inspire us to put pen to paper.

    I just don’t like Kanye West.

    However, if you make your living slinging and editing e-ink, you can’t put the man on ignore — not this week. Kanye (because we’re apparently on a first-name basis) keeps the roof over the CoS office. That’s a fact, Walt Disney. And what’s worse, a lot of my colleagues under that roof are obsessive Yeezy (because he’s a grown man) fans living in an annoying, vigilant tweet-to-tweet bliss waiting for The Life of Pablo (wouldn’t get too comfy, Pablo — ask Waves and SWISH) to drop on Thursday.

    Never has FACES featured a more polarizing artist, and we’re all dealing with our adoration or Ye-tred in different ways. Collin Brennan turned to poetry, Claire Sevigny looked at West as a Jekyll and Hyde figure, Kevin McMahon learned to embrace being a hypocrite, and Danielle Janota crisscrossed Paris trying to track Kanye down.

    Me? I went on a Twitter rant last night to my slightly less than 18.5 million followers:

    Love him or hate him, at least for a couple more days, it’s going to be near impossible to escape him. So, while you’re busy embracing or enduring, enjoy FACES: Kanye West. He’s one beautiful, dark, twisted artist — or maybe just a jerk.

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    Eh, I feel another Twitter rant coming on.

    –Matt Melis
    Senior Editor

    [**Editor’s Note: These pieces were commissioned and drafted last year when rumors had it the next Kanye album was getting ready to drop. You have not accidentally traveled back in time — not to our knowledge anyway.]

    Table of Contents:
    — The Motherfucking Monster by Claire Sevigny … Page 2
    — God Complex, a poem by Collin Brennan … Page 3
    — Looking for Jesus by Danielle Janota … Page 4
    — Embracing Hypocrisy and the Future of Yeezus … Page 5

    Original artwork by Consequence of Sound Art Director Cap Blackard, Assistant Art Director Steven Fiche, Jacob Livengood, and Dmitri Jackson. Their work can be purchased in a variety of formats by clicking the links throughout this issue.

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    Past Issues:
    Neil Young
    Tom Petty
    Dave Grohl
    Carrie Brownstein
    Rihanna
    Quentin Tarantino

    The Motherfucking Monster

    By Claire Sevigny

    Kanye Final 3 v2 1400 Cap Blackard
    Artwork by Cap Blackard (Purchase Prints + More)

    “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

    Much has been said about Kanye West in the weeks following his second controversial stage crashing at the Grammys this past February. It seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to take shots at him, like a bunch of angry villagers wielding torches. Shirley Manson of Garbage referred to Ye’s actions at the Grammys in an open letter as “rude and savage” — a description more befitting a monster than a man. West has even called himself a monster, “a no-good bloodsucker,” in a song of the same name, perfectly aware of his public persona. This recognition separates the man from the beast. The duality that exists between his sometimes egregious behavior and painful self-awareness calls to mind Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous alter egos, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

    To pinpoint the exact moment of West’s transformation into Mr.Hyde is easy. Just take the wayback machine to MTV’s 2009 VMAs when West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. This incident fueled weeks of speculation and filled slow news days like no other pop culture moment. Jump to 2013 and you’ll begin to see West as a fiery talk show guest, where he gave a series of explosive interviews on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and later on The Wake Up Show with Sway among others. On Kimmel’s show, West explains his contempt for “[following the] rules that society has set up and the way that they control people with low self-esteem.” West is wise to disregard the rules, even if that means opening himself up to harsh criticism, because the rules are set up to make creative people fail. Sway receives the full brunt of West’s frustration at the system, which West describes as a new version of slavery. He then explains his definition of “New Slaves,” people who are literally slaves to fashion, “spending everything on Alexander Wang.”

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    The album, Yeezus, pivots around this idea. West expands on the imagery of “New Slaves” and embraces his outspoken image in the song “Bound 2”. He takes his “bad reputation, walking ‘round always mad reputation” right to the bank. It becomes apparent that West orchestrates this entire persona as a reaction to the intense pressure and scrutiny focused on him. He uses his darker side as a weapon to get exactly what he wants: controversy, which he then cashes in on by embracing it.

    The great irony of the stage crashing at the Grammys is that most observers took for granted that West did not know who Beck was or respect him. Make no mistake; Kanye knows exactly who Beck is. He borrowed the line “My teacher said I’s a loser, I told her why don’t you kill me” from Beck’s “Loser” on 2004’s The College Dropout. See, West has this habit of sampling things, but not just sampling them — tweaking them and making them better. Each of his albums operates like a classroom. Where West, the doctor, takes the best of everything, digests it for us, and presents it in a condensed beat-laden package. Kanye steeps his music in history and theory. This shows through the samples he uses, the artists he works with, and the producers he chooses. While in the traditional sense, the synth and 808 machines he employs may not be “instruments,” West still knows how to make them sing.

    In between West’s stage-stepping antics and his on-air bad-boy persona, he released his 2010 magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If Yeezus and stage crashing form West’s Mr. Hyde, then My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the dazzling short film resulting from it, Runaway, are his redemptive Dr. Jekyll. He weaves the strands of dozens of influences and song samples into a masterful tapestry of pop culture.

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    Kanye Final 6 v2 1400 Steven Fiche
    Artwork by Steven Fiche (Purchase Prints + More)

    From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy we get “Monster”, the explosive single featuring Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj that displays West’s impatience with gossip and a tongue-in-cheek reference to himself as the kind of exaggerated figure the media makes him out to be. But is West really so dreadful? Sure, he’s impulsive. Sure, he’s opinionated and outspoken. It seems the more the media, celebrities, and the world at large hate on West, the more it cements his love for himself and his brand. Love operates as a defense mechanism for him and is pivotal for any artist interested in self-preservation.

    Even before the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, we were given glimpses of West’s redemptive side through songs like “Jesus Walks”. In the opening lines of it, he acknowledges that he is at war with himself. On “Breathe In, Breathe Out”, West says he’s “gotta apologize to Mos [Def] and [Talib] Kweli” (These two are often considered the moral compass of Hip-Hop) because he “always said that if [he] rapped, [he] would say something significant, but now I’m rappin’ ’bout money, hoes, and rims again.”

    He even apologizes to Sway on-air at the end of his rant, saying: “I love you, man. I’m sorry.” His ability to humble himself and apologize reconciles his more volatile interviews with the mellower interactions he has with BBC’s Zane Lowe and radio host Angie Martinez. The media wants us to believe that West is an out-of-control egomaniac for wanting to recreate the world in his own creative image. I’m not buying it, because West learns from his digressions, which shows in the restraint he displayed at the Grammys. The second time West approached the stage uninvited, he stopped short and fails to take the mic from Beck. Beck reacts with amusement and even eggs West on, telling him to “Come back. I need help.” Does this newfound control signal a departure from the impassioned public outbursts West has become famous for? Is the man gaining ground on the media monster?

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    Ultimately, Kanye West is more complicated and conscientious than people give him credit for being. It’s not about rectifying these two opposing public images of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; it’s about giving a multi-faceted individual room to breathe and create. Unfortunately for West, being at the top makes space a rare luxury, because everyone takes shots at the king. West will continue to endure the jabs and the controversy they bring, though, because it ensures that everyone watching the throne knows he is the one sitting on it. With this, West will certainly be equal parts entertaining and cringeworthy for years to come.

    God Complex

    By Collin Brennan

    Kanye Final 2 v2 1400 Cap Blackard
    Feature artwork by Cap Blackard (Purchase Prints + More)

    If we die in each other’s arms, still get laid in the afterlife.
    If we die in each other’s arms, still get laid… 

    — Kanye West

    We swayed in the static of moonlight
    after the storm had passed,
    lost in the world like the song we played
    in the car that night. I was Jesus
    in leather black jeans. You were Mary,
    red-lipsticked and seventeen.

    Young, rich, and tasteless, I am still
    waiting to feel the magic in things.

    It was nearly midnight when we returned,
    wet and out of breath. We stayed awake,
    chasing ghosts across the bedroom
    walls. I remember your head, pressed hard
    into the pillow. Your voice, quiet and
    distorted as it sang us both to sleep.

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    I’ve been a menace all my life, high
    on sex and rust and wanderlust.

    The rain sounded like a firing squad
    when we woke the next morning.
    It was a kind of death: a coming
    to and leaving of the senses. The ocean
    of the infinite receding as I waved
    goodbye to myself, in it.

    I am a God, or might have been, that night
    we spent in dark, dressed to kill in holy static.

    Looking for Yeezus

    By Danielle Janota

    Kanye Final 7 v2 1400 Dmitri Jackson
    Artwork by Dmitri Jackson (Purchase Prints + More)

    When I embarked on my study abroad journey to Paris, I had two goals: improve my French and meet Kanye West. Most days the latter took priority.

    In January 2013, shortly before I left for France, I learned that Kanye had begun recording his latest album (the soon-to-be Yeezus) there. Admittedly, I am a newer fan, having jumped on the bandwagon when I connected with the moodiness of 808s & Heartbreak, the madness of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the decadence of Watch the Throne. But as a newcomer to Yeezy and Paris, I was eager to get more intimate with both.

    Released from the monotony of a normal college semester, I felt that anything was possible. I was certain that in my five months abroad in the city of love and light, I would catch a glimpse of the rapper whose audacity empowers me in unexpected ways.

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    I didn’t need a picture with him. The high incurred by a Facebook Like is too fleeting for my taste. But I craved human contact. In my head, Kanye and I have a personal connection. A single listen to one of his tracks turns my fears into confidence and my apprehension into action. His lyrics empower me. And since we happened to be at the same place at the same time, it only seemed fitting that we meet in person.

    So I hunted.

    Month after month, I got so close I could almost smell the leather of his Nikes (this was pre-Adidas contract, mind you.) I saw pictures of Kimye roaming the city in 20 Minutes, the four-page publication Parisians read on their Métro commutes every morning. I met a friend of a friend who saw him the previous day on the street. I dined at one of his favorite restaurants, missing him by just a day or two. I could taste his presence in Paris, and my craving to meet him grew stronger. What started as a fun study abroad game became an obsession.

    February 13, 2013

    I had just arrived in Paris, and the world was at my fingertips. Fashion, culture, and adventure awaited me. Kanye and I had landed on the same soil, and only time would tell when our paths would inevitably cross.

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    To mark her arrival in Paris, a girl in my program Instagrammed her Brioche Dorée espresso next to her iPhone playing “Ni**as in Paris” with a #bonjour. If she could’ve squeezed the Eiffel Tower and a croissant in the frame, I’m sure she would’ve.

    I hope she saw my eyes roll to the back of my head. She wasn’t a true Yeezy fan.

    February 17, 2013

    My study abroad group took a trip to Versailles, and a small part of me thought I might see him there. After all, a palace is an ideal setting for a Kanye sighting.

    Unfortunately, he wasn’t there that day. But as I strolled through the massive, gold-encrusted palace full of muraled foyers, mirrored hallways, and pristinely landscaped gardens, I couldn’t help but think of Mr. West. In many ways, Kanye and Louis XIV are one and the same, both men marked by opulence and hubris.

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    February 25, 2013

    I distinctly remember the joy I felt on this day. Kanye, a self-proclaimed francophile, announced a surprise Cruel Summer show for his beloved Parisian fans at Le Zénith, a venue in the outskirts of the elegant city. One week in France and I was already set to get my Yeezy fix.

    But my joy quickly took an ugly turn.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to convince any of the few people I knew in Paris to accompany me to the show. Everyone, including little miss Instagram, thought he was too pretentious. While I’m never opposed to going to shows alone, a Google search of Le Zénith quickly crushed my Yeezy dreams. “Le Zénith is a great venue,” one forum said,  “But it’s in a sketchy area.” It went on to say that I should only go to the venue if I spoke fluent French, had a friend, and if I was alone, I couldn’t be a woman. Three strikes. The show was a no-go. Cruel Summer had become a cruel joke.

    March 4, 2013

    As I emerged from my “Histoire de la France” class, exhausted from trying to unscramble the French words Professeur Masanès had been spewing for the past three hours, I saw him. Kanye. Plus Kim. Naked.

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    Plastered on the side of the newspaper stand outside my school was a massive cover of French magazine L’Officiel Hommes, which happened to be featuring an intimate photo shoot of the couple of the year. It wasn’t the real deal, and Kanye was taunting me.

    March 6, 2013

    After another long day of learning about revolutions and Napoléon, I stumbled upon a group of girls from my program who decided to ditch class that day to hunt celebrities at Paris Fashion Week.

    All at once, they began raving about the icons they had just witnessed emerging from the fashion tents. “Anna Wintour! Grace Coddington! Kate Moss! Jane Birkin!” And, to my dismay, ”Kanye West!”

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    March 7, 2013

    Convinced that I, too, would spot him at Paris Fashion Week, I set out for the Tuileries, where most of the shows took place that season. For three hours, I paced outside the Elie Saab show, waiting as desperately as the fur-donning fashionistas hoping to get snapped for street style blogs.

    When the show was over, the famous guests emerged. Socialites dressed to the nines trickled slowly from the black tent still pulsing from the ominous music inside. But as the languid stream of people started to die, so did my hope.

    Apparently Kanye was not a fan of Elie Saab.

    Kanye Final 1 v2 1400 Jacob Livengood
    Artwork by Jacob Livengood (Purchase Prints + More)

    March 30, 2013

    Thanks to my friend’s uncle, I got the hookup to dine at the swanky Hôtel Costes, allegedly one of Kanye’s favorite French-ass restaurants.

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    The entire night was spent surveying the plush room. I took three leisurely trips to the bathroom and a tour of the hotel pool, carefully observing all the refined Parisian businessmen, diplomats, and models around me. These people were beautiful, but none of them had the face I was looking for.

    When I finally returned to the table, my friend’s uncle, a hotshot Vanity Fair journalist, began discussing the PAD Fair, a modern art show he visited the previous day. “Kanye West was there, by the way,” he said nonchalantly. “No paparazzi or anything. Just walking around.”

    I could’ve died right then and there on top of my salmon tartare.

    April 10, 2013

    While perusing the French news, I saw a picture of Kanye strolling outside the Carrousel du Louvre. After months of seeing the rapper in publications, I became accustomed to pictures like these, but this one was a hard blow. Not only did I pass the Carrousel du Louvre frequently for class, but I had been in the exact same spot the previous day, missing Kanye by only a few hours.

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    May 18, 2013

    After a pleasant night of drinking on the lawn near the Centre Pompidou, Paris’ largest modern art museum, I took the Métro back to my dorm. Blissfully immersed in a wine coma, I scanned social media and discovered that Kanye planned to project “New Slaves” on random buildings around the world that very night. My eyes darted across the city names. New York, Chicago, London, PARIS!

    But my heart sunk as I read the set time.

    Centre Pompidou, Samedi 18 Mai 23h15, it read.

    I glanced at my clock, which said 23:17.

    Not only had I just been at the very location “New Slaves” was being projected — I was missing it at that very moment.

    Never crossing paths with Kanye in Paris, I was forced return to the US with a suitcase full of souvenirs and broken dreams. But to my surprise, we finally had a moment seven months later.

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    When I attended the Chicago leg of the Yeezus tour, I couldn’t help but notice how much the extravagant stage production bore semblance to the museums, architecture, and artistic style of Paris. The dancers that writhed in nude suits onstage were reminiscent of the modern dance show I saw at Le Centquatre. Kanye’s jeweled Margiela masks resembled the shimmering headpieces shown at the Haute Couture exhibit at Hôtel de Ville. The Christian themes – a half-nude Kanye sprawled divinely across the stage – looked just like the Romantic paintings I had studied all semester at the Louvre. And when he spat a fiery rendition of “New Slaves”, I was immediately brought back to Rue de Saint Michel, the street that I would strut down confidently while blasting the track through my headphones.

    Kanye and I never met directly, but in that moment, I realized we had spent the same five months walking the same streets, being inspired by the same art, and basking in the same culture. I can’t say with certainty that we shared the exact same experiences, but his Paris was my Paris, and that was infinitely more personal than meeting him on the street. Regardless of past and future records, and regardless of critical reception, Kanye’s sixth album will always hold a place in my heart. For me, Yeezus and Paris are forever intertwined.

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