Whatever the most recent media rumbling about Kanye, whatever latest churlish outburst or bold statement, it is undeniable that Mr. West has made a towering impression on the music industry over the past fifteen years or so.
Whether it is creating the mind-bogglingly catchy ‘Lucifer’ beat for Jay-Z or taking the best part of Hip-Hop royalty to Hawaii to produce ‘All of the Lights,’ Kanye musically, sonically and creatively has changed rap music for the better. What often gets forgotten through all the hyperbole and brassiness is the fact that Kanye is also sharp to the point of bloodshed with his lyrics. At other times he can be so poor it’s cringe-worthy; comparing separated parents at a basketball game to the horrors and brutality of South Africa’s apartheid era, springs naturally to mind. There is also the opening to ‘Father Stretch My Hands,’ a beautiful and powerful song symphonically, sadly not match by the song’s graphic and pretentious opening gambit.
However, this is an article written to focus on the positives that Kanye’s words bring to the world; heaven knows there is enough out there that disparage him, not that he cares. Underneath the hubris, bravado and fanfare there is a genuine artist; a genuine lyricist. To try and regain some clarity through the madness, these are my favourite Kanye lyrics you may never have heard, explained in full.
#1 Gorgeous, MBDTF
Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon
And at the airport they check all through my bag
And tell me that it’s random
But we stay winning, this week has been a bad massage
I need a happy ending and a new beginning
And a new fitted, and some job opportunities that's lucrative
Kanye references the injustice between black and white, using stereotypical names from each race. He alludes to the fact that blacks are still unfairly treated, a topic which needs no more highlighting in the current climate #blacklivesmatter.
Kanye doesn't let this get him down though, using the metaphor of a massage for his bad week. As such he needs a new suit fitting (he loves clothes don't you know), more money and of course a 'happy ending,' as per certain, stereotypical dodgy massage parlours. Bless.
#2 Runaway, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
And I always find something wrong
You been putting up with my shit for
Way too long
So gifted at finding what I don't like the most
Some think it's time for us to have
Ok, so a number of readers will know this one, but I feel it's an important one to start with. Here Kanye's braggadocio style is dropped completely as he raps about his failed relationship with ex, Amber Rose. Kanye in a moment of quiet reflection delves into the human and more importantly male psyche, pointing out its basic flaws. He concurs that his partner puts up with a lot of his crap, before going onto explain how he always finds what he doesn't want, in this case being lured to send explicit photos to another female admirer. Rather than fight back with contempt and vitriol, Kanye accepts his failings and raises a toast to them.
#3 On Sight, Yeezus
I know she likes chocolate men
She got more niggas off than Cochran
This song is littered with sharp-witted, searing insights but this particular couplet is in reference to Kanye's wife, Kim Kardashian and more pertinently aimed at her white ex-husband Kris Humphreys. Kanye makes the fairly trite point that she seems to be more enamoured with black men at this juncture of Kim K's well-documented life. He goes on to reference lawyer Ray Cochran, famed for getting many black men acquitted, most notably Oj Simpson. Kanye makes the double entendre between his wife 'getting them off' in a sexual manner and Cochran doing so in a legal sense. Brutal, but funny.
#4 We don’t care, The College Dropout
You know the kids gon' act a fool
When you stop the programs for after school
And they DCFS, some of 'em dyslexic
They favorite 50 Cent song "12 Questions"
We scream: "rocks, blow, weed, park", see, now we smart
We ain't retards, the way teachers thought
Hold up, hold fast, we make more cash
Now tell my momma I belong in that slow class
One of the reasons people seem to love 'The Old Kanye' is his focus on social issues and insights into black, working class culture (All Falls Down). Here Kanye opens his debut record by slaughtering the education system and indeed the teachers who judged Kanye for being 'slow.' He makes the point about after-school programmes being ceased wrongly before attacking the educators and attitudes to those who are not academic. In addition, he references Chicago drug dealer lingo ('rocks, blow, weed, park'), a phrase used to inform potential buyers what was purchasable at the time. Here Kanye is depicting how some people in black communities may not be academically smart, but use 'street smarts' to get themselves out of poverty. Entrepreneurial, huh?
#5 Power (remix), G.O.O.D. Friday bootlegs
Now we all aint gonna be American Idols, but you can at least grab a camera shoot a viral
A fairly straightforward one here. Kanye beseeches all of us rather than sit around and watch derivative Saturday night TV, or indeed aspire to be on such a show, get out there and create something yourself.
#6 All of the Lights, MBDTF
Restraining order, can’t see my daughter
Her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order
Here, Kanye places himself into the shoes of a man who comes home to find his other half in bed with someone else. Deary me. A fight and separation ensue. Kanye, before having children of his own or indeed a wife, manages to succinctly depict the woes facing his protagonist. Again, he manages to use rhyme and inflection to humorous effect by listing the people he has upset by his antics.
#7 Dark Fantasy, MBDTF
Sorry for the night demons still visit me
The plan was to drink until the pain over
But what's worse, the pain or the hangover?
Following on from the death of his mother and the break-up with Amber Rose, Kanye is battling his demons. He manages to put himself (as he does so well, so often), into the shoes of the average joe and the issues we face. Kanye is sad and upset and thus reaches for the bottle. However, what's harder to deal with the pain in his heart, or the pain in his head the following day? Hmmm.......
#8 Hell of a Life, MBDTF
Tell me what I gotta do to be that guy
Said her price go down, she ever fuck a black guy
Or do anal, or do a gangbang
It’s kinda crazy that’s all considered the same thing
How could you say they live they life wrong?
When you never fuck with the lights on
Kanye was at his most wild and reckless in this period of his career. Here he tells the allegory of having a marriage with a porn star over the course of one night. The song works fantastically and leaves Kanye realising that he doesn't need the trappings of the wild life, in his own words 'pussy and religion' are all he needs. Kanye makes the valid point that it is wrong that the lady's 'price' would go down i.e. she would be less marketable, if she had sex with him. He then goes on to support her over-sexualised lifestyle by mocking those who are sexually inhibited. In other words, are those who find it very easy to judge actually in a position to do so, due to their lack of experience/knowledge? An interesting point for hypothesis.
#9 Mercy, Cruel Summer
Don’t do no press but I guess the most press kit
Plus, yo, my bitch make your bitch look like precious
Here we see angry Kanye return, with a hint of acerbic wit to boot. Kanye famously stopped doing any press for a variety of reasons. Kanye makes the point that despite not doing any press, he still gets the most. In addition, he references 'press kit' a tool journalists use to get access to stars. Kanye is his very own 'press kit.' Kanye goes on to reference the film 'Precious' about an overweight, black teen from the projects, saying his other half (Kim K) ...well, I'm sure you get it.
#10 Blazin, Pink Friday (Nicki Minaj)
#11 Spaceship, The College Dropout
If my manager insults me again
I will be assaulting him
After I fuck the manager up
Then I'm gonna shorten the register up
Let's go back, back to the Gap
Look at my check, wasn't no scratch
So if I stole, wasn't my fault
Yeah I stole, never got caught
They take me to the back and pat me
Askin' me about some khakis
But let some black people walk in
I bet you they show off their token blackie
Oh now they love Kanye, let's put him all in the front of the store
From his eponymous debut album, here we see Kanye in full flow. Kanye notoriously worked at the Gap and uses this as a reference point for how he perceives inequality. He goes 'ghetto' by threatening to attack the manager before stealing from the cash register. He then talks about stealing from shops (we've all been there, eh? Sorry Mum...), and being patted down by aggressive security guards, yet when some black customers walk in he finds himself maneuvered back to the front of the store by his over-zealous and ethnically-sensitive manager.
#12 Monster, MBDTF
Now she claiming that I bruised her eosophagus
Head of the class and she just won a swallowship
I'm living in the future so the present is my past
My presence is a present, kiss my ass
The real skill here is the use of inflection, intonation and rhythm. In fact, it needs to be heard really. Also there is a brilliant verse by Nicki Minaj on this track for largely the same reasons. Kanye talks about his girth which obviously has caused his female companion issues in their oral sexual encounters. He uses word play and double meaning here playing off the idea of oral sex, with academic achievement. All very clever, if not the most highbrow. However, he goes on to say something mildly prophetic as he talks about the future and how he lives in it, a claim he has made many times over and if you are a Kanye fan and watched his impact on the industry, technology etc. first hand, you can only really agree with him. The final line is blunt and a shout out to his 'haters.' Whether you love him or loathe him, we are lucky to have him.
#13 Illest Motherfucker Alive, Watch The Throne
Got staples on my dick. Why?
I swear to God she's so cold
Got a nigga in Miami wearing winter clothes
I got my fur on feeling like Jerome
She got her fur too we got our his and hers on
My final and perhaps favourite Kanye line. You see, I love his arrogance. I love the fact he won’t settle for life on the treadmill. He demands the best for himself and of all his subjects. But this is Kanye in witty-braggadocio mode and it's marvellous. Kanye uses an explicit metaphor to explain that he is having lots of sex with pin-up girls and centrefolds. He then flips the script, complaining how her aloof coldness means he needs to wear his fur in the Miami heat, to keep out her wintry iciness. He references 80's American TV show Martin and the pimp Jerome who is seen in his fur, before making the double entendre that his girl also had her 'fur too,' however, she of course will be naked.
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