Film Crit Hulk Smash: Bad Enough To Be True - The Art Of Kanye West

The big green guy on the artist of the decade.

1. AMONGST THE YELLOW EYES

THE NIGHT WAS AT ONCE JOYFUL AND EXUBERANT AS IT WAS SOMBER AND DIGNIFIED. 40 YEARS OF THE GREATEST COMEDIC MINDS, DEXTEROUS ACTORS AND MUSICAL GIANTS GRACED THE STAGE TO PAY HOMAGE TO SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. FOR THREE HOURS THEY LOOKED BACK AT THE SHOW'S ACHIEVEMENTS, REMEMBERED THOSE LOST AND BROUGHT OUT SOME OF THE OLD GREATS FOR VICTORY LAPS. AND THROUGHOUT EVERYTHING, THE TONE WAS REMARKABLY CONSISTENT: HONEST, YET MEASURED. EVEN THE MUSICAL GUESTS SENSED THE NEED FOR SUCH REVERENCE. PAUL MCCARTNEY AND PAUL SIMON GOT WISTFUL. AND EVEN THE CURRENT POP ICONS LIKE MILEY CYRUS BROKE OUT SIMON'S OWN "50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER" WHILE HE WATCHED IN ATTENDANCE. SIMPLY PUT: EVERYONE FELT INDEBTED, SMALLER THAN THE THING THEY WERE A PART OF... IT WAS JUST THAT KIND OF NIGHT; A NIGHT THAT WAS TRULY ABOUT ONE OF OUR LAST POP CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS, AND THUS INVOKED A RARE SINCERITY OF DECORUM AND RESPECT.

AND THEN KANYE WEST CAME OUT.

WITH A PERFECTLY STILTED INTRODUCTION FROM CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, WE BORE WITNESS TO A HALOED BLACK AND WHITE STAGE. IMMEDIATELY IT WAS CLEAR THAT KANYE WAS NOT THERE TO UPHOLD ANY OF THIS. PLEASE PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT HULK IS NOT ABOUT TO CALL IT "A MATTER OF DISRESPECT" OR SOME OTHER THINLY VEILED NONSENSE. NO, WHAT KANYE WAS EXHIBITING WAS MERE DISINTEREST. HE WAS THERE TO DO WHAT HE DOES. TO MAKE THE ARTISTIC STATEMENT THAT MOST INTERESTED HIM. HE WAS THERE TO PERFORM. AND SO, HE PERFORMED.

YES, HE STARTED WITH HIS FIRST EVER HIT IN "JESUS WALKS," BUT HE COMPLETELY AND LITERALLY INVERTED THE SONG'S MEANING BY PERFORMING IT WHILE LYING AS AN UPSIDE-DOWN CRUCIFIX. HE LOOKED UPWARD AT US, WITH DEVILISH CONTACT LENSES IN HIS EYES, STARING INTO THE CAMERA WITH AN UNNERVING, PENETRATING GLARE. HIS UPSIDE-DOWN FACE CONTORTED WITH NEARLY ALIEN-LIKE MOVEMENTS. ALL AS HE LAY UNDERNEATH THE CLAUSTROPHOBIC, EERIE NEON-SOAKED LIGHT OF A MINIMALIST WHITE SHEET.

HULK'S WORDS DON'T DO IT JUSTICE. HE SUNG ALONG WITH HIS AFOREMENTIONED HIT, CLEARLY STRUGGLING WITH HIS LOST VOICE, AND YET HE CLEARLY DIDN'T CARE EITHER. IT WAS RAW. IT WAS UNKEMPT. BUT IT WAS STILL LASER-FOCUSED. HULK WATCHED IT ALL UNFOLD, COMPLETELY TRANSFIXED. AND AFTER THE FIRST VERSE, KANYE GENTLY STOOD UP AS THE SONG TRANSITIONED INTO "ONLY YOU," THE SOFT, UNDER-PRODUCED LULLABY FOR HIS FIRST CHILD, NORTH. IN TERMS OF A SHIFT, THE UNREPENTANTLY SWEET SONG COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS, BUT IT STILL FELT EQUALLY UNDERSTATED. EQUALLY VIBRANT. EQUALLY PERSONAL. WE MIGHT AS WELL NOT HAVE EVEN BEEN IN THE ROOM WITH HIM. BUT SOON, KANYE WAS BACK ON ALL FOURS AS VIC MENSA AND SIA (DISGUISED UNDER A MASSIVE WHITE-HAIRED WIG) EMERGED ALONGSIDE HIM. THEY ALL CROUCHED AND UNLEASHED A HAUNTING, MOONLIGHT-ECHOING NEW SONG CALLED "WOLVES." AND AS THE SONG IMMEDIATELY WORKED ITS WAY INTO HULK'S EARDRUM (WHERE IT HAS STAYED THERE FOR THE LAST FEW MONTHS), THE MUSIC SIMULTANEOUSLY CONNECTED TO THE IMAGES OF THAT PERFORMANCE. IT ALL BECAME PART OF THE SAME NOTION.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THIS, BUT HULK SPENDS HOURS TALKING SEMIOTICS.

IT'S ALL CENTERED AROUND THE IDEA THAT THERE IS GREAT VALUE IN EXAMINING THE DEEP TEXT ASPECTS OF ART. OF WHICH, HULK HAS PRETTY HIGH STANDARDS FOR ITS EXECUTION, OFTEN FROWNING ON TANGENTIAL EXTRAPOLATION AND THE LIKE. WHICH IS ALL PREFACE TO SAYING THAT WHEN YOU GO THROUGH KANYE'S SNL40 PERFORMANCE, THE SEMIOTIC AND PSYCHOLOGICAL THROUGH-LINE OF "FATHERHOOD FEARS" COULD NOT BE MORE CLEAR. HE STARTS WITH THE-SELF-AS-ANTI-CHRIST ANGRILY TALKING TO HIS FATHER, GOD ABOVE. HE RISES AND STANDS ON HIS FEET, TAKING PLACE OF GOD, TALKING ABOUT HOPES AND DREAMS FOR HIS OWN CHILD. THEN HE CRAWLS BACK TO THE GROUND, ADMITTING OF HIS ANIMALISTIC URGES, HIS FAILURES AS A PERSON IN THE EYES OF HIS PARENTS / GOD: "Daddy, found out / how you turned out, how you turned out / if mama knew now / how you turned out, you too wild / you too wild, you too wild / you too wild, I need you now." AND AS HE SINGS THIS, HE LOOKS DOWNWARD, SEEMINGLY TO THE CHILD HE NEEDS TO HOLD, SINGING: "Don't fly too high / your wings might melt / You're much too good to be true." CLEARLY INVOKING ICARUS ALL BEFORE TURNING BACK "I'm just bad, bad, bad for you" AND PROFESSING HOW HE BELONGS "Amongst the yellow eyes." (AS IT IS THE PHYSICAL QUALITY THAT MAKES WOLVES DIFFERENT FROM DOGS). HULK WATCHED ALL THIS UNFOLD, AS THIS MAN TOOK THIS MUSIC AND USED THE CANVAS AROUND HIM TO PAINT ONE OF THE MOST HONEST AND STARK PORTRAITS OF HIS OWN DEEP EXISTENTIAL ANXIETY, SPECIFICALLY HIS ABILITY TO RAISE ANYONE IN THIS WORLD. AND HE DID SO WITH A METAPHORICAL PRECISION THAT FEW WILL EVER GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR IT. AND THAT LINE KEPT ECHOING IN HULK'S EAR AS IT ENDED... "You're much too good to be true."

WHICH ONLY REVEALED TO HULK THAT KANYE WEST IS BAD ENOUGH TO BE TRUE.

AND WITH THAT RAW TRUTH, HULK IS PREPARED TO SAY THAT HE IS ONE OF THE MOST HONEST, UNCOMPROMISING ARTISTS ON THE PLANET. HE NEVER SHIES AWAY FROM HIS OWN FULLEST EXPRESSION. WHETHER THE PRODUCT OF INSANELY HARD WORK AND DEDICATION, A CAREFULLY EXPRESSED STATEMENT, OR MAYBE EVEN THE UNKEMPT RAGING FROM HIS UNIQUE ID, HE PUTS IT ALL INTO HIS WORK. HE PUT IT ALL ONTO THAT STAGE. AND THEN ANOTHER SUPERLATIVE BECAME CLEAR TO HULK:

KANYE WEST IS THE ARTIST OF THE DECADE.

AND THIS MOMENT IS PRECISELY WHAT MADE IT TRUE. ON A NIGHT RESERVED FOR REVERENCE, FOR AN INSTITUTION THAT PROBABLY ASKED HIM TO BE A PART OF IT FOR SOME BOX THEY THOUGHT IT CHECKED OR MERELY BECAUSE HE HAD USED THAT SAME STAGE SO EFFECTIVELY BEFORE, KANYE WAS THE ONLY PERSON WHO DIDN'T WASTE A SECOND OF THAT NIGHT LOOKING BACK. HE USED IT TO LOOK FORWARD. HE USED IT TO LOOK INWARD.

AND THAT MEANS KANYE DESERVED THAT STAGE MORE THAN ANYONE.

2. KANYE'S BRAIN

JUST SO YOU KNOW, HULK HAS KIND OF BEEN OBSESSED WITH KANYE WEST FOR... OH, THE LAST DECADE OR SO. BUT THAT'S BECAUSE HE'S FUCKING FASCINATING.

THERE PROBABLY ISN'T MUCH NEED FOR A FULL-ON BIOGRAPHY, BUT IN CASE YOU ARE UNAWARE, KANYE EMERGED ONTO THE SCENE AS A HUNGRY "LATE BLOOMER" (WHOM MOST OTHER ARTISTS JUST WANTED TO STAY A PRODUCER). BY HIS SECOND ALBUM HE BECAME ONE OF THE BIGGEST ICONS IN HIP-HOP. NOW, HE'S AN INSTITUTION. AND DURING ALL THAT TIME, THE PUBLIC CONVERSATION HAS MOSTLY REVOLVED AROUND THE TANGIBLE SURFACE THINGS: HIS EGO, THE DATING GOSSIP, HIS WEIRD QUOTES AND ALL THAT STORM-STAGING BUSINESS - WHICH HAS LED TO LOTS OF POPULAR ACCUSATIONS ABOUT HIS BEING NARCISSIST / MEGALOMANIAC / YADA YADA YADA. THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN SOMETHING WEIRD ABOUT THOSE ACCUSATIONS (WE WILL GET TO THAT). BUT THERE'S A REASON THESE THINGS NEVER QUITE FELT TIRED OR MERELY PART OF THE FLASH-IN-THE-PAN TRITE CELEBRITY NEWS ITEMS. AND THAT'S BECAUSE KANYE'S MUSIC HAS SOMEHOW ALWAYS, ALWAYS MATTERED MORE THAN HIS FAUX PAS. NO MATTER WHAT, HE ALWAYS SEEMED TO HAVE A SONG THAT WAS AN EARWORM, A PARTY ANTHEM, A HYPNOTIC BALLAD / EXAMINATION OF HIS DEMONS. HIS WORK HAS AN ALMOST UNCANNY SENSE FOR THE ZEITGEIST.

BUT HULK WOULD LIKE TO ARGUE IT'S SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

HULK ONCE CALLED HIM A SAVANT, A WORD OFTEN USED AS A KIND OF BACKHANDED COMPLIMENT FOR BLACK ARTISTS, IMPLYING THEIR GIFTS CAN ONLY BE NATURALLY DERIVED AND NOT THE PRODUCT OF WORK ETHIC. BUT ONE LOOK AT KANYE'S BIOGRAPHY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: HIS MOTHER WAS AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR. HIS FATHER WAS A BLACK PANTHER AND PHOTOJOURNALIST. AS A YOUNG BOY HE THOUGHT HE WOULD BE A POET. HE MOVED TO CHINA BRIEFLY WHEN HE WAS 10. HE FIRST WENT TO THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ART FOR PAINTING. HE DROPPED OUT TO BECOME ONE OF THE HARDEST WORKING PEOPLE IN SHOW BUSINESS. HE WENT ON TO INCREDIBLE SUCCESS AS A PRODUCER PROBABLY BECAUSE HE KNOWS MORE ABOUT MUSIC THAN ANYONE IN HIP-HOP. HE HAS AN OBSESSIVE DEEP-CUT BRAIN. HE HELPED DEVELOP THE MODERN STYLE OF VOCAL SOUL SAMPLING. WHICH HE USED TO HELP DRAG THE INDUSTRY OUT OF THE GANGSTER RAP ERA. HE'S WAS ONE OF THE CHIEF PRODUCING ARCHITECTS ON JAY-Z'S THE BLUEPRINT. THEN AFTER HE WAS IN A NEAR-FATAL ACCIDENT, HE FOUND NEW PURPOSE AND RECORDED HIS FIRST EP WHILE HIS JAW WAS WIRED SHUT. NOTHING WAS GOING TO STOP HIM FROM BEING THE GREATEST WRAPPER ALIVE. HE CHASED IT WITH ABANDON. HE GOT THAT POSITION. THEN AFTER HIS MOTHER DIED, HE WENT PERSONAL AND INWARD. HE MADE 808'S AND HEARTBREAK, A MEDITATIVE ALBUM MANY SHRUGGED AT AND FOUND CONFUSING FOR ITS USE OF THIS NEW THING CALLED "UNAPOLOGETIC AUTOTUNE," AND YET IT WENT ON TO CHANGE THE ENTIRE SOUND OF POPULAR MUSIC. ALL THIS SHOULD JUST MAKE IT CLEAR: KANYE WEST IS ANYTHING BUT A VACUOUS NATURAL TALENT...

INSTEAD, HE IS THE BEST POSSIBLE EXAMPLE OF "THE SELF-ACTUALIZED ARTIST."

BUT IT SHOULD BE SAID THAT KANYE WEST IS ALSO A DISCERNIBLY WEIRD PERSON. AFTER WATCHING, OH, ABOUT A MILLION INTERVIEWS WITH HIM, HULK IS HARD PRESSED TO THINK OF A MORE AWKWARD SUPERSTAR. MOST CURIOUS IS THE WAY HE SEEMS TO HALF LISTEN TO WHAT SOMEONE IS SAYING, RE-CONSTRUCT IT IN HIS BRAIN, AND HAVE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT REACTION TO THE WORDS THEY SAID. IT'S ALMOST LIKE BAD TRANSLATION. WHICH BECOMES EVEN MORE CURIOUS WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT HE REGULARLY MISSES SOCIAL CUES. WATCHING SOMEONE INTERACT WITH / HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH KANYE WEST IS LIKE WATCHING SOMEONE HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEIR OWN BRAIN. YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE THE CLOCKWORK AND YET NOT KNOW WHAT RESULTS ARE COMING FROM IT. BUT WHAT MAKES THIS WHOLE THING INCREDIBLE IS THAT AT THE EXACT SAME TIME KANYE IS BEING UNFLINCHINGLY HONEST. THERE'S NO BUFFERING. NO FILTER. KANYE CAN'T WAIT TO OFFER UP THE MOST BLUNT VERSION OF WHATEVER HE'S THINKING. HE'S DOWNRIGHT ABRUPT. AND EVEN THEN, HE'S ALSO DECEPTIVELY FUNNY. SO THAT MUCH OF HIS ABRUPTNESS CAN DIP RIGHT BACK INTO A CLEAR SENSE OF WIT. AND SOMETIMES, JUST SOMETIMES, YOU CAN CATCH A GLEAM IN HIS EYE, LIKE THIS WHOLE THING HAS BEEN ONE BIG JOKE, A PUT-ON FOR HIS OWN AMUSEMENT. BUT THESE MOMENTS OF COMPLETE LUCIDITY ARE WEIRDLY INFREQUENT COMPARED TO THE TIMES WHERE HE JUST SEEMS LIKE HE'S IN ANOTHER WORLD.

AND LOOK, ALL THIS WOULD MATTER LESS IF HIS SUPPOSEDLY INCOHERENT ART WEREN'T SO DAMN... COHERENT.

TO WIT, IF YOU LOOK BACK AT EARLY-PERIOD KANYE WEST IT'S EASIER TO UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS SAYING IN HIS SONGS, WELL, BECAUSE IT WAS PRETTY FUCKING CLEAR. IT WAS MOSTLY A VEHICLE FOR HIS HILARIOUS SENSE OF BRAVADO, OR MAYBE EVEN A KIND OF FASCINATING, WOUNDED PLEADING WITH GOD. BUT WITH TIME (AND ESPECIALLY AFTER HIS MOTHER PASSED AWAY), KANYE'S MUSIC GOT INCREASINGLY MORE... CRYPTIC. AS IN THE SUBJECT MATTER OF SONGS WOULD BE UNSPECIFIC AND YET HE WAS ALSO SAYING THINGS THAT SEEMED MORE AND MORE PERSONAL. KANYE SIMPLY DROPPED THE PRONOUNS AND LET US INTO HIS MOST INTIMATE MOMENTS OF GENUINE ANGST, OFTEN UNLEASHING THE UNFILTERED THOUGHTS OF HIS MOST VIOLENT AND SEXUAL ID. WITH THIS PARTICULAR BRAND OF CRYPTICISM, YOU REALIZE THAT KANYE'S MUSIC IS ACTUALLY CONFESSIONAL. MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY IS THE CLEAR UNFURLING OF SOMETHING UNHINGED-YET-GORGEOUS. THE ALBUM IS AT ONCE SUMPTUOUS. INDULGENT. GREGARIOUS. AND DOWNRIGHT WEIRD. THERE'S A LITERAL ANTHEM TO DOUCHEBAGGERY. AND BY THE TIME WE GOT TO YEEZUS, KANYE HAD ONLY GOTTEN ANGRIER AND MORE EXISTENTIALLY-DRIVEN. IT WAS AN ALBUM CONSTRUCTED WITH HIS FIRST KID ON THE WAY, AND IT'S AMAZING TO SEE THE WAY IT BURNS AT HIS ANXIETY, CULMINATING IN A TIRADE OF HIS FIRING SHOTS AT THE WEALTHY WHITE SOCIETY AROUND HIM, AND THE WAY HE FINALLY CONFRONTS THE DEMONIC FUEL HE KNOWS IS COURSING INSIDE OF HIM. AND YET, HULK CAN ONLY SPEAK IN VAGUE POETIC NOTIONS ABOUT ALL THIS BECAUSE EVERY SONG IS ONLY A MERE SIGNPOST; A FEW CENTRAL THEMES ARE OFFERED AS MORE OF A SERIES OF BURNING LIGHTS, EMPHATIC GESTURES AND DEAFENING SCREAMS.

AND WHEN IT COMES RIGHT DOWN TO IT, WE DON'T KNOW IF IT'S ALL INTENTIONAL.

THAT'S BECAUSE KANYE WEST CAN ALSO BE AS ENIGMATIC AS DAVID LYNCH. WHICH IS TO SAY HE IS MAKING COMPLETELY CLEAR SEMIOTIC STATEMENTS ON AN ART LEVEL AND MOSTLY DOESN'T WANT TO EXPLAIN THEM. AND WHEN HE DOES EXPLAIN THEM, HE LIKES THOSE EXPLANATIONS TO BE AS BROAD AND COMBATIVE AS POSSIBLE. "Whenever people don't like something, I make it mine.", FOLLOWING IT UP WITH "I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag. Now what are you going to do?" IT IS THE DELICATE ART OF PROVOCATION. AND UNLIKE THE 9 MILLION OTHER MUSICAL ARTISTS OUT THERE WHO USE PROVOCATION AS A KIND OF FAUX-POSTURING EN ROUTE TO MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY, IT IS INSTEAD KANYE'S DEFAULT SETTING. HE TRULY DOESN'T SEEM TO GIVE A FUCK. AND IT'S PRECISELY WHAT ALLOWS HIM TO BE EQUALLY POETIC (OR POSSIBLY PRETENTIOUS) ABOUT UGLINESS OF THE HUMAN SOUL. ABOUT HIS SOUL. AND THE STRANGE, ESOTERIC WAYS HE CAN LAY IT BARE. AND HULK KNOWS THIS IS GOING TO SOUND INSANE TO SOME PEOPLE, BUT THE CLOSEST MODEL OF POPULAR ARTIST THAT HULK CAN THINK OF TO COMPARE TO KANYE WEST IS HONESTLY JAMES FUCKING JOYCE. AGAIN, THESE COMPARISONS ARE ABOUT MINDSET, EFFECT AND PLACE WITHIN SOCIETY. BUT THE SIMILARITIES ARE ACHING.

WHICH JUST MEANS THAT, YES, KANYE IS A SAVANT, BUT ONLY IN THE TRUEST DEFINITION.

3. OBLIGATORY 99 PROBLEMS REFERENCE

RAP IS AN INFECTIOUS, ENTHRALLING AND INSPIRING FORM OF MUSIC. IT HAS DEEP CULTURAL ROOTS IN THE URBAN COMMUNITY. AND THROUGHOUT ITS BRIEF HISTORY IT HAS BEEN A POWERFUL SOCIAL TOOL, AN ANTHEM TO CAUSE AND PURPOSE.

IT IS ALSO FAIR TO SAY THAT A LOT OF RAP CAN BE PROBLEMATIC.

THAT SHOULDN'T BE HARD TO ADMIT. RAP TENDS TO RUN DEEP WITH GLORIFIED TOXIC MASCULINITY AND THE KINDS OF MISOGYNY THAT ARE, WELL, COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO EVERY FIBER OF HULK'S PERSONHOOD. SO THE OBVIOUS QUESTION THAT COMES AFTER THAT ADMITTANCE IS "DOES LIKING RAP BECOME AN ENDORSEMENT OF THESE QUALITIES?"

WELL, ON ONE LEVEL, OF COURSE NOT. ART AND ARTISTRY SHOULDN'T ALWAYS BE SOME ALL-OR-NOTHING ETHICAL STAND, BUT THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS STUFF SHOULD STILL AT LEAST BE ACCOUNTED FOR. MOSTLY BECAUSE OUR SUPPORT OF ARTISTS OFTEN ENDS UP ENDORSING THE PROBLEMATIC BITS BY PROXY. PUT SIMPLY: WHILE WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO SEPARATE THE ART FROM THE ARTIST TO LET THE ART STAND ON ITS OWN TERMS, WE OFTEN ALSO MAKE THE MISTAKE OF LETTING THE ART STAND IN FOR THE ARTIST'S PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY TO BE A FREAKIN' PERSON. AND WHEN IT COMES TO THE SPECIFIC ARTFORM THAT IS MUSIC, HULK IS CURIOUS AS TO HOW THAT ALL TAKES SHAPE. EVEN AS A LISTENER: HOW MANY TIMES HAVE PEOPLE SUNG ALONG TO SOMETHING CATCHY THAT'S SAYING THE MOST VILE THINGS THEY DON'T ACTUALLY BELIEVE? IT'S ALL PART OF HOW MUSIC HAS THIS INCREDIBLE YET AWKWARD ABILITY TO IMBUE ITSELF RIGHT INTO US. AND IT'S WHY IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT, UNDERSTAND IT, THEN SORT OF TALK ABOUT THE OTHER THINGS WE MIGHT HAVE FOUND OF RELATIVE VALUE. BECAUSE AT THE HEART OF THAT QUESTION, IS ACTUALLY ANOTHER COUPLE QUESTIONS THAT ARE FAR MORE IMPORTANT...

WHAT IS RAP?

AND WHO DOES IT "BELONG" TO?

* * *

PEOPLE GENERALLY HAVE A HARD TIME ADMITTING THAT THEY ARE NOT THE ONES TO SPEAK ON SOMETHING.

FOR INSTANCE, HERE'S HULK, WHO PLAYED GUITAR FOR LIKE 5 YEARS, TOOK A COUPLE MUSIC THEORY CLASSES, PLAYED IN A CRAPPY COLLEGE BAND, AND WHOSE BANNER-FORM IS PART OF A TWO-PERSON HOUSEHOLD WHERE WE BOTH MAKE OVER 50K, WHICH MEANS BANNER CONSTITUTES A "RICH WHITE PERSON" - AND THIS VERY SAME HULK IS SITTING HERE WRITING TO YOU KNOW AS IF HULK HAS "SOMETHING TO SAY" ABOUT RAP.

WHICH IS TO ADMIT THAT HULK DOESN'T HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT RAP. HULK HAS ABSOLUTELY NO INHERENT RIGHT TO SPEAK ON THIS WITH ANY KIND OF AUTHORITY OR INSIGHT. HULK'S HAS SIMPLY LIKED IT GOING BACK TO THE '80s. AND HULK LIKES HAVING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT IT. AND AS SUCH, HULK CAN MAYBE, IN THE VERY LEAST, HAVE A SEMI-COHERENT CONVERSATION ABOUT THE SHAPES IT TAKES IN MODERN SOCIETY.

WHICH IS ALL PREAMBLE TO HULK SAYING THERE IS SOMETHING INHERENTLY WEIRD ABOUT THE WAY OUR SOCIETY DEALS WITH THE ARTFORMS THAT EMANATE FROM UNDERCLASS + WHERE IT INTERSECTS WITH RACE + WHERE IT INTERSECTS WITH HIP HOP + WHERE IT INTERSECTS WITH CAPITALISM. BECAUSE THERE ARE SOME REAL PROBLEMS WITH THE EMULATION AND INCORPORATION OF CULTURAL TOUCHSTONES INTO MAINSTREAM WHITE CULTURE. BUT THE TRUTH IS MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT THESE ISSUES. THEY LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE. THEY LIKE WHAT SOUNDS GOOD. AND WE ARE PROBABLY WELL PAST THE POINT WHERE THE WHITE CULTURAL APPROPRIATION OF HIP HOP HAS GONE MAINSTREAM (AS HULK WATCHED THAT UNFOLD IN REAL TIME IN THE EARLY '90s). BUT IF ANYTHING, THE EXCEEDINGLY COMMON NATURE OF SUCH APPROPRIATION SPEAKS VOLUMES. AND IT ALL RESULTS IN THAT THE CULTURAL IMPORT OF HIP HOP IS BEING MORE AND MORE DIVORCED FROM THE END RESULT. AND AS MUCH AS PEOPLE TRY TO PARSE OVER THESE ISSUES IN THE LARGER CONVERSATION (SEE RECENT CONVERSATIONS REGARDING IGGY AZALEA / MILEY CYRUS / ETC) - WE GET MORE CAUGHT UP ON THE RIGHT TO PERFORM AND NOTICE LESS THE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS IN CONSUMPTION.

BECAUSE THOSE PROBLEMS CAN RUN THE GAMUT.

HULK'S MET WHITE PEOPLE WHO LOVE RAP BUT HATE BLACK PEOPLE. HULK'S MET WHITE PEOPLE WHO HATE RAP BECAUSE THEY HATE BLACK PEOPLE. HULK'S MET WELL-MEANING WHITE PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIKE RAP BECAUSE THEY WERE MERELY AROUND PEOPLE WHO HATED IT FOR THOSE REASONS (AND DIDN'T REALIZE THE INFLUENCE). HULK'S ALSO MET WHITE PEOPLE WHO LOVE RAP AND POSTURE TOWARD IT ENDLESSLY, AS THEY HAVE TAKEN ITS CULTURAL IMPORT TO BE SYNONYMOUS WITH TOUGHNESS / REALNESS/ STREETNESS. HULK'S SEEN WHITE CHILDREN DIVIDE INTO "EAST COAST" AND "WEST COAST" PLAYGROUND GANGS. HULK'S SEEN WHITE KIDS TRY TO MAKE RAP VIDEOS AS AN EXCUSE TO GET THE HOT GIRLS THEY LIKED IN SMALL CLOTHING TO DANCE AROUND THEM. HULK'S ALSO MET PLENTY OF WHITE PEOPLE WHO HAVE POSTURED WITH THE IMAGE THAT THEY ARE BEYOND SUCH CHILDISH NOTIONS AND THAT THEY REALLY UNDERSTAND HIP-HOP, MAN. AND THAT THEY CAN APPRECIATE IT WITH A KNOWLEDGEABLE AIR AND REALNESS THE WAY OTHERS DO OF JAZZ. HULK'S ALSO MET WHITE PROGRESSIVES WHO WRITE OFF RAP ENTIRELY FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED MISOGYNY AND THROW THE PROVERBIAL BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER AS THEY ARE ESSENTIALLY DENYING THE MEANING AND IMPORT OF A MUSICAL GENRE THAT, AT ITS BEST, IS A HEART-WRENCHING PLEA TO BE HEARD FROM THE UNDERCLASS. AND, YES, HULK'S SEEN PEOPLE OF ALL BACKGROUNDS LISTEN TO AND TALK ABOUT RAP IN PLENTY OF HEALTHY, PRODUCTIVE AND MEANINGFUL WAYS.

WITH ALL THIS DIVERGENT MAELSTROM, PERHAPS THE ONLY REAL POINT IS SIMPLY THAT RICH WHITE PEOPLE DO LISTEN TO RAP MUSIC - AND WITH IT COMES THE ADMITTANCE THAT RAP INHERENTLY TAPS INTO SO MANY ONGOING ISSUES ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA. WHICH MEANS THAT RAP MAY BE LESS OF A STATEMENT IN AND OF ITSELF AND MORE OF MIRROR. SO PERHAPS IT'S IMPORTANT FOR US TO ADMIT WE PROBABLY HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO REALLY TALK ABOUT RAP...

WHICH ALLOWS US TO SAY, YES, A LOT OF RAP IS PROBLEMATIC.

BUT SO IS EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS CONVERSATION.

AND RATHER THAN ABSTAIN FROM IT. RATHER THAN FLEE FROM ANYTHING THAT HINTS AT A PROBLEMATIC CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE, PERHAPS IT'S IMPORTANT TO SIMPLY TRY TO ENGAGE IT IN AN OPEN AND HONEST WAY. PERHAPS TALKING ABOUT RAP JUST SORT OF MEANS DIVING INTO THE PROBLEMS AND TRYING BEST TO NAVIGATE IT ALL WITH SENSITIVITY, GOOD INTENTIONS AND OPEN EARS TO ALL RESPONSES. PERHAPS IT'S THE ONLY WAY FORWARD.

AND PERHAPS WE NEED TO, BECAUSE NO OTHER FIGURE FANS THE FLAMES OF THIS PARTICULAR CONVERSATION LIKE KANYE WEST.

YES, KANYE WEST IS A LIGHTNING ROD.

HIS AFOREMENTIONED BEHAVIOR AND PERSONALITY BRING EVERY EQUALLY-VARIED RESPONSE RIGHT OUT OF THE WOODWORK, ESPECIALLY WITH REGARDS TO THAT VERY MIXTURE OF RACE, CLASS, MONEY AND BRAVADO THAT MAKE THE DIALOGUE SO PROBLEMATIC TO BEGIN WITH.

BUT WHAT'S SO INTERESTING TO HULK ABOUT KANYE IS THAT HIS COMMENTARY ON ISSUES LIKE RACE, CLASS AND MONEY HAVE SO LITTLE TO DO WITH THE POPULAR CONVENTIONAL WISDOM OR TROPES. HE GREW UP MIDDLE CLASS BUT NEVER POSTURED TOWARD BEING FROM THE STREET. HE TAKES HIS INCREDIBLE WEALTH, WHICH HE ONCE MOSTLY BRAGGED ABOUT, AND NOW FRAMES IT AROUND THE WAY RICH BLACK PEOPLE ARE TREATED AS THE "NEW SLAVES," A.K.A. THE WAY  RICH BLACK PEOPLE ARE SPECIFICALLY AND ENDLESSLY ENCOURAGED TO BE SPENDING MACHINES TO EFFECTIVELY SERVE THE "WEALTHY" WHITE PEOPLE CLASS ABOVE THEM (CLEAR ECHOES OF CHRIS ROCK'S FAMOUS JOKE: "SHAQ IS RICH. THE GUY WHO SIGNS SHAQ'S CHECKS IS WEALTHY"). AND KANYE COMES AT THOSE SAME WEALTHY WHITE PEOPLE WITH A VIRULENT HATRED BORDERING ON GLEE. HE PLAYS DIRECTLY INTO THE IDEA OF TARGETING THEM AS AN INTENDED THREAT, WITH CLEAR, RACIALLY MOTIVATED BAITING. AGAIN, REMEMBER HE'S THE KIND OF ARTIST WHO WILL WEAR THE CONFEDERATE FLAG IS A STATEMENT OF HIS OWN APPROPRIATION.

TO KANYE, HE IS NOT JUST A FIGUREHEAD OF THE MUSICAL GENRE, HE IS THE EMBODIMENT OF HIS OWN UNIQUE CULTURE. AND WHILE YOU COULD ARGUE THAT HIS INSANE EGO BORDERS ON COMICAL HEIGHTS, YOU'LL NOTE HOW LITTLE OF HIS RAPPING ACTUALLY CENTERS ON THE ARGUMENT THAT THIS IS TRUE, AND HOW MUCH INSTEAD CENTERS AROUND THOSE WHO DON'T AGREE THAT THIS IS CLEARLY TRUE.

IT ALL ADDS UP TO A KIND OF SPARKLING, INCREDIBLE FORM OF SOLIPSISM.

KANYE IS SOMEHOW AN EMBODIMENT OF BLACK CULTURE, YET SEPARATE FROM, ABOVE, BELOW AND RECKLESSLY INTERTWINED WITH IT. IT'S JUST LIKE HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH RELIGION, WHEREIN HE IS A SERVANT OF GOD, A SPOKESMAN FOR GOD, A DEMON BEFORE GOD AND A SON OF GOD HIMSELF; YOUR YEEZUS, AS HE STATES. WHICH JUST SHOWS HOW HE IS SOMEHOW OF ALL THESE ISSUES, YET SOMEHOW UNTOUCHED BY THIS ENTIRE PROBLEMATIC CONVERSATION AROUND THEM.WHICH JUST PROVES THAT, YES, KANYE EXACERBATES EVERYTHING...

BUT HE ALSO TRANSCENDS EVERYTHING.

4. ON THE POPLAR TREES...

HULK'S FAVORITE KANYE SONG MIGHT ALSO BE THE MOST OFFENSIVE SONG EVER WRITTEN.

MAYBE.

SORT OF.

HULK DOESN'T REALLY KNOW.

WHAT IS PROBABLY A MORE ACCURATE THING TO SAY IS THAT BILLIE HOLIDAY'S "STRANGE FRUIT" (ADAPTED FROM THE POEM BY ABEL MEEROPOL) IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL AND MOVING SONGS EVER WRITTEN. IN IT SHE ACCOUNTS FOR THE HORRORS OF ALL THE "STRANGE FRUIT" GROWING ON POPLAR TREES OF THE SOUTH. THAT "FRUIT" WOULD BE THE BODIES OF ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE BEING LYNCHED - THIS IS NOT AN ESOTERIC METAPHOR. THIS INTENT IS MADE EXPLICIT BY THE DIRECT LYRICS OF "BLACK BODIES SWIMMING IN THE SUMMER BREEZE."

AND ON YEEZUS, KANYE WEST SAMPLED NINA SIMONE'S RENDITION OF THIS SONG, SPECIFICALLY THOSE LYRICS, FOR HIS OWN SONG CALLED "BLOOD ON LEAVES"; A SONG WHICH HULK WILL SIMPLY SHARE WITH YOU NOW...

AND HERE ARE THE LYRICS TO IT: 

[Intro: Nina Simone]
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees
Blood on the leaves

[Verse 1]
I just need to clear my mind now
It's been racin' since the summertime
Now I'm holdin' down the summer now
And all I want is what I can't buy now
Cause I ain't got the money on me right now
And I told you to wait
Yeah I told you to wait
So I'mma need a little more time now
Cause I ain't got the money on me right now
And I thought you could wait
Yeah, I thought you could wait
These bitches surroundin' me
All want something out me
Then they talk about me
Would be lost without me
We could've been somebody
Thought you'd be different 'bout it
Now I know you not it
So let's get on with it

[Verse 2]
We could've been somebody
'stead you had to tell somebody
Let's take it back to the first party
When you tried your first molly
And came out of your body
And came out of your body
Running naked down the lobby
And you was screamin' that you love me
Before the limelight tore ya
Before the limelight stole ya
Remember we were so young
When I would hold you
Before the blood on the leaves
I know there ain't wrong with me
Something strange is happenin'

[Verse 3]
You could've been somebody
We could've ugh, we could've been somebody
Or was it on the first party
When we tried our first molly
And came out of our body
And came out of our body
Before they call lawyers
Before you tried to destroy us
How you gon' lie to the lawyer?
It's like I don't even know ya
I gotta bring it back to the 'nolia

[Bridge]
Fuck them other niggas cause I'm down with my niggas
Fuck them other niggas cause I'm down with my niggas
Fuck them other niggas cause I'm down with my niggas
I ride with my niggas, I'd die for my...

[Verse 4]
To all my second string bitches, try and get a baby
Trying to get a baby, now you talkin' crazy
I don't give a damn if you used to talk to Jay Z
He ain't with you, he with Beyoncé, you need to stop actin' lazy
She Instagram herself like #BadBitchAlert
He Instagram his watch like #MadRichAlert
He only wanna see that ass in reverse
Two-thousand-dollar bag with no cash in your purse
Now you sittin' courtside, wifey on the other side
Gotta keep 'em separated, I call that apartheid
Then she said she impregnated, that's the night your heart died
Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that
Main reason cause your pastor said you can't abort that
Now your driver say that new Benz you can't afford that
All that cocaine on the table you can't snort that
That goin' to that owin' money that the court got
All in on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie
'til death but do your part, unholy matrimony

[Outro]
That summer night holdin' long and long, 'din long
Now waiting for the summer rose and (breathe)
And breathe and breathe
And breathe and breathe
And breathe and breathe
And live and learn
And live and learn
And livin' and livin' like I’m lonely
Lonely, lonely
And livin' all I have
And livin' all
And live
And live

* * *
 
YOU PROBABLY HAVE A SIMPLE RESPONSE: "WAIT, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SONG ABOUT AND WHY IS HE USING THAT SONG TO TALK ABOUT THOSE THINGS!?!?!?"

THE TRUTH IS NO ONE CAN REALLY AGREE. HULK'S READ A MILLION DIFFERENT ARGUMENTS AND NONE REALLY SATISFY (MOST PEOPLE CAN SIMPLY AGREE THAT IT IS INFECTIOUS). EVEN A QUICK CURSORY GLANCE AT THE SONG'S WIKI PAGE REVEAL A LITANY OF CONFLICTING TAKES:

Gil Kaufman of MTV called "Blood on the Leaves" "a churning anthem about conspicuous consumption" and "example of West's signature dichotomy in which he melds the sacred and profane."[3] The original version of "Strange Fruit" recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 has been deemed "shorthand for music that deals with racial injustice." Kanye also interpolates rapper C-Murder's 2000 song "Down for My N's", beat produce by KLC.

Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork called the song "a nightmarish story of divorce and betrayal,"[1] while Jody Rosen of Vulture states that "[Kanye is] well aware how audacious to interpolate that sacred song into a monstrously self-pitying ... melodrama about what a drag it is when your side-piece won't abort your love child."[4] Nicholas Troester of First Things labeled the song as an "anti-abortion anthem" and thought the focus of the song is "the tremendous selfishness of adults who cannot understand the importance of families or children."[5]

WELL, AS YOU CAN SEE, MOST OF THOSE INTERPRETATIONS ARE DIRECTLY CONTRARY TO ONE ANOTHER. BUT MORE TO HULK'S CONCERN, NONE OF THOSE INTERPRETATIONS REALLY HELPS US UNDERSTAND THE SONG BECAUSE NONE OF THEM QUITE SEEMS TO SPECIFICALLY CAPTURE WHAT MAKES KANYE KANYE. NONE OF THEM CAPTURES THE SPECIFIC ANGST OF HOW HE APPROACHES HIS ART. NONE OF THEM SEEMS TO ACCOUNT FOR HOW HE CAN ZERO IN ON THE MOST SOLIPSISTIC, SELFISH IDEA WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY TRANSCENDING IT TO PROVIDE AN EMOTIONAL AND EXISTENTIAL PLEA. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, THOSE INTERPRETATIONS FORGET THE ONE THING WE ACTUALLY DO KNOW ABOUT THIS SONG.

KANYE WROTE THIS SONG WHILE KIM KARDASHIAN WAS PREGNANT.

IT SORT OF THROWS ALL OF IT INTO SHARP RELIEF. WHATEVER LACKING PRONOUNS MAKE US FEEL LIKE THIS IS PART OF SOME CRYPTIC PUZZLE. BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT JUST EVERYTHING IN THE SONG, WHETHER PARABLE OR DIRECT CONFESSION, TAPS INTO THE CLEAR WORRIES ABOUT FATHERHOOD. IT IS THE PROTO-VERSION OF ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING EXPRESSED IN IN THAT SNL40 PERFORMANCE. AND IN THIS CASE, KANYE WEST WILL TAKE ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL SONGS EVER WRITTEN ABOUT THE HORRORS OF RACIAL VIOLENCE, AND VIEW IT THROUGH HIS SOLIPSISTIC METAPHOR OF FATHERHOOD BEING HIS OWN NIGHTMARE. HIS OWN UNHOLY MATRIMONY. HIS OWN DEATH.

SO MANY PEOPLE ARE OFFENDED BY THE VERY NATURE OF THIS IDEA, AND PROBABLY RIGHTFULLY SO, BUT HULK CAN'T HELP BUT SEE THE EXPRESSION AS, WELL, THE MOST "KANYE" IDEA EVER. IT'S WILD AND IRRESPONSIBLE AND RECKLESS AND BAD BUT IT IS HONEST AND RAW AND TRUE. AND LIKE MOST OFFENSIVE THINGS THAT ARE SAID OR DONE, THEY ARE ACTUALLY JUST PART OF THE SADDEST HUMAN PORTRAITS IMAGINABLE. WHICH JUST MEANS THAT TO HULK, KANYE'S ARTISTIC SOLIPSISM IS FASCINATING, SINGULAR, HILARIOUS AND ACHINGLY SAID. WHICH MEANS IT'S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE FINAL OUTRO OF "BLOOD ON THE LEAVES" IS JUST A SLOW DEVOLVING INTO THE NOTION OF COMPLETE LONELINESS. AND THE SAD RESIGNATION THAT "LIVIN ALL I HAVE." THAT MAY SOUND IMPOSSIBLE TO SOMEONE WHO LIVES A LIFE AS KANYE DOES.

BUT IT'S BAD ENOUGH TO BE TRUE.

5. THE CAVERNOUS GULF

THE OTHER WEEK KANYE PERFORMED AT THE BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARDS AND THEY CENSORED HIM UP TO A FULL MINUTE, FOR LONG PERIODS OF A TIME, NOT JUST FOR THE STANDARD SWEARING CLAUSES, BUT FOR MENTIONS OF "MIDDLE AMERICA" AND EVEN THE INNOCUOUS MENTION OF HAVING "LEATHER BLACK JEANS ON." KANYE WAS FURIOUS WITH THE WAY IT WENT DOWN AND DESPITE WHAT SOME SEEM TO SAY, IT'S THE SUREFIRE SIGN OF SOMEONE WHOSE STATEMENTS ACTUALLY PROVOKE CONTROVERSY INSTEAD OF THOSE WHO PURPOSEFULLY COURT IT. BUT THE IDEA OF HIS INTENT GETTING LOST, THE IDEA OF THESE LYRICS ACTUALLY LIGHT A FIRE UNDER EXECUTIVES ASSES, THE IDEA THAT KANYE CAN SCREAM OUT TO AN AUDIENCE AS WHOLE MINUTES ARE CENSORED, AND THAT THE WHOLE TIME PEOPLE CAN MISS WHAT'S ACTUALLY BEING SAID... WELL, THERE MIGHT NOT BE ANYTHING THAT SUMS HIM UP BETTER. KANYE IS THE ONE POP ARTIST WHO REALLY, TRULY SEEMS TO HAVE AN UNAPOLOGETIC, HONEST MIND. BUT IT IS A MIND THAT IS PERHAPS UNLIKE ANYONE ELSE. IT'S A MIND THAT SEEMS SO SINGULAR AND DISTANT.

PUT SIMPLY, THERE IS A GULF BETWEEN US.

KANYE IS APART FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD. AND IT'S ALWAYS BEEN WHAT MAKES HIM SO FASCINATING TO US. THERE'S A NEW ALBUM AND HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT IT'S GOING TO SOUND LIKE. AND NO MATTER WHAT, HULK CAN'T WAIT. IT DOESN'T MATTER THAT KANYE WEST MAY HAVE THE MOST RIDICULOUS AND IRRESPONSIBLE LIFE OF ANYONE. IT DOESN'T MATTER IF HE SEEMS COMPLETELY UNTETHERED FROM OUR OWN ASPIRATIONAL NOTIONS OF GOODNESS AND RESPONSIBILITY. KANYE WEST DOESN'T NEED TO BE A PART OF ANYTHING HULK STANDS FOR. KANYE ONLY NEEDS TO BE HIMSELF.

BECAUSE AS HULK STANDS AND STARES ACROSS THAT CAVERNOUS GULF BETWEEN US, IT COMES WITH THE ADMITTANCE THAT THERE IS STILL NO OTHER ARTIST WHO HULK FEELS THAT HULK KNOWS BETTER THAN KANYE WEST, IF THAT MAKES SENSE. THAT THERE IS NO ARTIST WHO IS MORE NAKEDLY HUMAN, ANIMALISTIC OR RAW, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY BEING VIVID, ENTHRALLING AND STRANGE. AND THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS IS THE REALIZATION THAT THESE UNBRIDLED QUALITIES ARE PRECISELY WHAT MAKES KANYE SO WORTHY OF OUR ATTENTION, AND POSSIBLY, OUR CONCERN. BECAUSE IT ALSO COMES WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT KANYE STANDS ACROSS THAT SAME GULF, TRYING TO COMMUNICATE AS BEST HE CAN, PRACTICALLY SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. TRYING TO LET US UNDERSTAND THAT WEIRD, ISOLATED AND STRANGE BRAIN OF HIS. THERE IS A KIND OF IMPOSSIBLE SADNESS TO THIS IDEA. A SADNESS THAT ACTS AS A MOTIVATION FOR THE BEHAVIORS WE DEEM AS "WEIRD" BUT MAY INDEED BE A PART OF SOMETHING DEEPER, MORE CLINICAL AND ACHINGLY LONELY. AND IT SEEMS MORE AND MORE CLEAR TO HULK THAT KANYE IS REALIZING THAT MAYBE WE WILL NEVER KNOW EXACTLY WHY HE'S DOING AND SAYING THESE THINGS. THAT WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO KNOW HIM, TO SEE HIM, BUT NEVER QUITE BE WITH HIM IN THAT SPACE HE SO DESPERATELY CRAVES.

ALL HE WANTS IS TO TELL US WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE AMONGST THE YELLOW EYES.

BUT IT MAY BE IN A LANGUAGE WE CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND.

<3HULK

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