Earlier this week, Kanye West sat down for an hour-long interview with the BBC’s Zane Lowe. It’s a fascinating bit of radio, charged and raw and near-manic; it pings between Hedi Slimane and Outliers and Wreck-It Ralph (West: “I am the glitch”) and about a million other cultural touchstones. As nearly every Kanye interview is these days, it’s mandatory viewing. And if there’s one takeaway to focus on, it’s this: The reason Kanye, at 36, is still driven to make the greatest, most groundbreaking music possible, is because he’s frustrated on an epic, otherworldly level. And the reason he’s frustrated on an epic, otherworldly level, is because no one has yet given him financial backing to design his own line of women’s clothes. Ergo: No one give Kanye money to run a fashion line.
The interview starts with some general, if instructive, platitudes: “We’re all gonna die one day,” so why not squeeze the most possible out of every day? Then, for a while, Lowe actually gets Kanye to directly discuss his musical evolution: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was 'Ye proving “I know how to make perfect.” Yeezus was 'Ye “making exactly what was in my mind.” Even a song like “Mercy,” which “sounds like art even though obviously it was a radio smash,” won’t have as much longevity as the forward-thinking sounds of 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus. Apparently, in 200 years, it’ll be those albums playing on the throwback rap stations on our space radio. Also: His aim is to make music so visceral that it feels like when R2-D2 pops out the “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” Princess Leia hologram.
Quickly, Kanye segues to the true root of Yeezus: going to “thousands” of meetings, attempting to get backing for a clothing line. “This is what frustration sounds like.” His argument is that he’s discriminated against, for two primary reasons: his celebrity, and his race. He wants to do “product,” whether that means “architecture” or “water bottle design.” But when he goes into these places, where the decision-makers are, there’s never anyone who looks like him, and if there are, they’re “quiet as fuck.” It was Kanye who brought “Givenchy to the hood.” It was Kanye who brought “leather jogging pants to Fendi six years ago.” But now he’s being iced out. This is a “civil rights moment.”
There’s so much more where that came from. Nike never gave him a long-term deal, even though the Air Yeezys were a runaway success, even though he’s been drawing Jordans since he was a kid, even though he has a very “specific take on men’s footwear.” The fashion industry continues to see him as a dilettante, even though he was going to the fur spot with his mom when he was 5 and picking out all the most expensive shit, even though “a bunch of people in my family have won best-dressed.” He created the future of entertainment, with the seven-screen 7-D movie theater he built in Qatar, and yet you got Ari Emanuel telling him to make money off product the way Lady Gaga does with her Polaroid deal, and all due respect to Lady Gaga, but “what the fuck does she know about cameras?”
It all adds up to the same thing: Kanye West, despite his bountiful, nearly-impossible success, is not anywhere close to being satiated. In fact, he’s downright starving. And that means he still makes good music.
Sometimes, it’s that simple, right? Young artist strives for recognition, money, greatness. Young artist, no longer so young, achieves everything he or she ever imagined. And then young artist, now old and fat and happy, lives happily ever after, never making anything dope again. It’s almost an impossible trajectory to avoid.
Unless you’re Kanye, and at some point you’ve decided you want to be the leader of a billion-dollar company, no, you want to be the first guy with a trillion-dollar company, no, you want to “make uniforms for my high school basketball team.” He’s rich and powerful beyond imagination, and still feeling denied, still feeling like he’s got to sprint, full speed, at all times, to catch up to his dreams. Which, when your dreams apparently boil down to do everything humanly possible, and do them perfectly, sure, you’re gonna be sprinting a lot.
Sometimes, I think maybe Kanye does this shit on purpose. At one point of the interview, he talks about being left off the radio on Yeezus, and you have to throw up your hands: Wasn’t that the whole point here? And yet he churns it up into an unbelievable, unforgivable offense, like an athlete trying to drum up an edge, any edge, over any perceived slight. So is this all a trick he’s playing on himself? Set up impossible goals and, when they fall short, get pushed by your frustration into making some crazy-ass music? Or maybe it’s just that people not liking Kanye — not understanding his genius, for everything — is truly impossible for him to fathom.
He calls Jay Z “more realized than me … more of his dreams and aspirations” have come to fruition. And, he says, “God willing,” when he’s Jay’s age, he’ll get there, to that zenned-out place. Now, he’s “so frustrated.” He wants to contribute ideas on “color palettes” and “silhouettes” and nobody is paying attention. And, again and again, we have to say: Let us not let Kanye get anywhere close to where Jay Z is, making lifestyle-maintenance throwaway rap. Let us never let Kanye contribute ideas on color palettes and silhouettes. Because as long as he doesn’t, we get Yeezus.
You might not get the obsession with clothing. You might wish Kanye had other unrealized goals to feed off of. Look, I get it. But you want it to be one way, and it’s the other way. At one point, Lowe, who’d been listening, rapt, for most of the hour, chimes in, respectably, with a humble thought. Basically: Who gives a fuck about Paris Fashion Week? Go build pyramids. And 'Ye brushes it off: “You can’t tell me what dream to have.” As for whether he’s qualified: “I’m not a real designer. I’m not a real rapper, either.”