Yeezy taught me that you can take the worst period in your professional career and turn it into your magnum opus. Following the Taylor Swift incident/the "George Bush doesn't care about black people" incident/the "non-apologies for the Taylor Swift incident" incident/etc. incident, Kanye dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2011 and won all of his straying fans back. And although Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer may not have matched that level of quality, Ye's proper solo return, Yeezus, reminded us that Ye is the greatest star in the rap game.
Yeezy taught me that our flaws and neuroses can be transformed into great art. "Runaway" is the definitive examination of ego and guilt in the 2010s, and only Yeezy could put a song so beautifully contemplative on the same album as the megalomaniacal grandstanding of "Power." And that dichotomy of incredible ego but self-awareness over how it alienates everyone around him is one of the many things that makes Kanye West special.
But last night as the Friday headlining set of the 2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts festival, Yeezy taught me his final lesson. Yeezy taught me that there's a fine line between what makes Kanye West a lyrical/production genius and what makes him a completely unbearable prick. And to use such harsh language against the man that I consider to be arguably the most important figure in music since Radiohead hurts to my core, but to quote Chicago, he has it coming.
"Where the press at? Fuck the press."
"I don't care about anybody that's living."
"This may not be the definition of humility"
"Could anybody in the press write this song? And get 90,000 people jumping?"
I've never done a spit take in real life before. I thought that was something that only happened in the movies. But when Kanye broke into a 20 minute (20 MINUTES!) Auto-Tune rant about his persecution at the hands of the press and how his fans keep him humble, I spit out the water in my mouth and started laughing uncontrollably. I'm not a psychologist, but if anyone on the planet has a Grade A persecution complex, it's Mr. Kanye West, and years of defending him to all of his haters crumbled away in my mind after witnessing his insecurities first hand.
On multiple occasions throughout the set, Kanye West stopped songs at the very beginning so that he could rant about how the press had crucified him after his infamous performance at the 2008 Bonnaroo (and his antics more generally). No matter who you blame for that debacle (I lay the blame equally on Pearl Jam, the Bonnaroo organizers, an Ye's ego), Kanye's performance this year could have been his redemption, but the man couldn't let bygones be bygones, and a killer first 40 minutes of his performance were forced to a total halt, and the show never regained its momentum after that.
Wearing a chainlink mask and coming out to a smaller version of the Yeezus tour set-up, Kanye unequivocally killed it for the first 40 minutes of his set. Coming out to "Black Skinhead," and then immediately transitioning into "I Don't Like" and "Mercy," the crowd of 90,000 people was going nuts and they knew every word. It looked like today's headlines were going to be that Kanye tore Bonnaroo a new asshole as he won back this festival's hearts. And for those 40 minutes, the man didn't miss a beat. It was impossible to see him. He wasn't utilizing the side screens, and his backlight set-up was an infrared pulsing epileptic fit waiting to happen, but the performance was flawless.
And then "Power" came up and it all fell apart. The crowd wasn't giving Kanye the reaction he wanted, and so he stopped performing for a second as he had to coach the crowd. But first, he talked about how he was an inspiration to everyone at Bonnaroo, and the divide between Kanye and the crowd slowly began. And then, a couple songs later, "Stronger" came up, and the ranting got even more delusional. He began to directly accuse the press of making him their target, and he was playing the martyr and the divide between Kanye and the audience started to get worst. And, then he Auto-Tuned himself comparing himself to Shakespeare and Walt Disney and having even grander delusions of persecution for literally 20 minutes and nothing could save the set after that. The audience tuned out, and though certain tunes got the crowd popping, nothing ever matched the energy of that first 40 minutes.
And here's the thing: Kanye West is a genius. I don't know how you can deny his credentials as a game-changer in the hip-hop world and one of the best producers working in music today or ever. When your worst solo album is Graduation, you're doing pretty alright for yourself. But, he has to take responsibility for his behavior, and last night, he showed absolutely no willingness to do so. And, that would have been fine. If Kanye doesn't think he did anything wrong, whatever. That's your prerogative, buddy. But if you begin to throw constant vitriol out at the people who call you out for your behavior (particular if said calling out is justified which it usually is), you just paint a massive target on your back. And I have a hunch that today's theme is going to be articles like mine.
I didn't want to write this article. I wanted to write about how Kanye proved all of his haters wrong and laid down one of the best headlining sets I'd ever seen at Bonnaroo. That wasn't the case. And as a lifelong lover of his music, yesterday's experience was so negative and so frustrating, such a disorienting mix of everything great about Kanye but also everything juvenile and pathologically narcissistic, that I my relationship with his music may very well be marred forever.
Yeezy taught me that sometimes you got to speak your truth, and this was mine.