Kanye: Time to kut the krap?

Posted: November 15, 2013

"I THINK WHAT Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it's like when Biggie passed, and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z. I've been connected to the most culturally important albums of the past four years, the most influential artists of the past 10 years . . . I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus."

- Kanye West, discussing his favorite topic

Yeah it's narcissistic, self-aggrandizing comments like these (uttered in a recent interview) that make some people wince at the mention of Kanye West's name. But others laugh along with the rebellious rap-'n'-soul artist, producer, fashion designer and globe-hopping bon vivant.

If you're in the former camp, you've been keeping a distance from the latest West album "Yeezus," and won't be caught within earshot of his show tomorrow night at the Wells Fargo Center.

If you're in the latter camp, you're probably delighted by Mr. Attitude's latest work - an outrageously edgy, howling and sometimes darkly humorous session that owes almost as much to hard-core metal (think Nine Inch Nails) and acid house as it does to hip-hop.

And which ups the ante on rude rappin' to a new level, sticking it to everyone from "new slaves" in "Black Skin" to Asian groupies who taste better "with sweet and sour sauce," and even to early mentor Jay Z's best girl. At one point, West declares, "Beyonce needs to stop acting lazy."

Team Kanye will surely flock tomorrow night for the resumption of his accident-stalled tour, playing in a curtain-cut (not 360-degree seating) arena setting - tickets still available!

And they'll hoot with delight as the chest-beating performance artist suffers for his and our sins, puts on the mask of an Egyptian deity and climbs to the top of a pyramid as his own personal Sun God.

Yeezus wept, indeed

Clearly, West is a student of musical history. And we're not just talking about those sped-up, old-soul samples he's long thrown into his work as a producer and artist, from that lift of Chaka Khan slogging "Through the Fire" on his 2004 "College Dropout" breakthrough set, to his odd misappropriation of Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" (a song about lynching) for the relatively mundane "Yeezus" track, "Blood on the Leaves."

Of much greater import is his history-minded positioning as an "anti-celebrity" (his term), a guy who intentionally turns people off with outrageous stunts, a market-savvy manipulator who doesn't care what you write, tweet or broadcast about him, so long as you spell (or at least say) his name right.

In all his stunts (see sidebar), we hear the echoes of stars past.

Think a young Elvis Presley wiggling so suggestively on network TV that cameras censored "Elvis the Pelvis" from the waist down. Or John Lennon provoking Beatles record-burning and radio bans after observing, "We're bigger than Jesus."

Nothing did more to improve Ozzy Osbourne's and Alice Cooper's standing in demonic rock circles than "biting" the head off a rubber bat and mangling a chicken (respectively) "randomly" (uh-huh) tossed onstage.

Nothing pushed David Bowie to the forefront like taking on the androgynous persona of Ziggy Stardust.

And let's not ignore the long list of those making "controversial" moves on the MTV Music Video Awards, now an almost guaranteed newsmaker each year, from Madonna writhing around the stage in a trashy wedding dress to "Like a Virgin" circa 1984, to Miley Cyrus' recent coming-out party as a butt "twerking" slut.

Is Kanye really all that different? We used to fear the guy was an authentically deranged, deluded egomaniac. But in our chat a few years ago with Quincy Jones, the veteran music insider and "friend" of the artist, Jones confided that West is just gaming the system, playing the bombastic braggart for all its worth.

"He's not really like that in private," Jones told us. "It's his public persona. It's his act. It's what he's known for, and guess what? It's working for him."

Uh, maybe, maybe not. "Yeezus" the album and tour have not sold as well as past efforts. Even in show business, there's such a thing as overkill.

While Bush-whacking did him a world of good, all that tramping around with the Kardashian clan makes you wonder about West's value set. At some point, an "artist" has to stop the shenanigans, step back from the precipice and just let the work speak for itself.


Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad Street, 8 p.m. tomorrow, $36.50-$147, 800-298-4200, comcasttix.com.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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