It’s not necessary for me to describe the polarizing nature of Yeezy’s character, for it’s been done to death. Given his celebrity status and our cultural habit of reducing (or elevating if you’re feeling nasty) sound bites torn from their context to snappy memes, it’s difficult to not at least be peripherally familiar with the man’s apparent delusions of grandeur. However, despite my personal opinion that his lyrical skill does not align with what might be called wordsmithery, I find him infinitely compelling, and if he says he’s a genius 1, well shit, I’ll give him that.
Full disclosure: when Yeezus dropped last year, I wanted to hate it. Not because I hated his persona. On the contrary, it was and has always been something I found admirable about the man. I suppose what really bothered me—though I was loath to admit—was that, given my pretensions to being a “tastemaker,” the mainstream world caught on to Kanye as opposed to Kweli or Mos Def (who is probably known more for being an actor or 9/11 “truther” than a gifted MC) or any host of lyrically “superior” dudes.
So I listened to a few tracks. The brain kept insisting it was garbage. You really want to nod your head to this? I kind of did. It was very left-fieldish for the genre production-wise: jagged, punchy, almost completely without groove or “soul” in parts. But Ye’s words: I wasn’t interested in hearing them. I turned it off and proclaimed it garbage.
Then I saw this floating around the interwebs.2 It made me laugh. At the time I told myself that I found his public philosophizing-cum-boasting more insightful and entertaining than anything he could ever say on a record. In an attempt to boost my own conviction to that belief, I gave Yeezus another listen. The music didn’t seem as abrasive as it did the first listen; it was quite catchy like some of his previous productions (the question of whether or not his genius is his own or is owed to amazing collabs or both is up for debate). But I perceived the lyrics differently this time around. Awkward and absurd; seeming to betray a marginal interest in “consciousness” as defined in hip-hop; they were brutally honest and personal. Filthy. Self-aggrandizing. Brilliant in an ironical hipster way.
If Yeezy truly hates books and is not simply being polemic, I convinced myself, it’s only because he’s literate enough to appreciate the expression contained between the covers, but not inspired enough to set aside his want for the instant gratification that generally comes with music.3
Imagine: Yeezy’s Book Club. Books that Ye would gladly spend time in queue to have signed.
The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
The Marquis seems to me a historic figure after Yeezy’s heart. 120 Days is excessive, filthy, and a slap-in-the-face to so-called decency (in any milieu). As discomfiting a read as Yeezus is a listen.
Vivid accounts of orgies and exploitation vs. a record whose best song (in my opinion), takes a classic song of social justice and juxtaposes it with personal struggle sprinkled with feelings of victimization.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger
There is no doubt our hero was forced to read this tome in high school.
Personally, I can’t bear the whiny “protagonist” and his feelings of alienation due to his perceived superior intellect and character. Am I a hypocrite? Of course, but Ye: this shit’s right down his alley.
Every public outburst and interview feels like a rallying cry against the phonies of the “industries” and the world at large.
Sick City by Tony O’Neill
O’Neill’s second novel follows much of the same trajectory as his previous works regarding characters with heroin addiction, but what might draw Yeezy here is the through-line involving a purported (and real, in the context of the novel) sex-tape featuring murdered actress Sharon Tate.
Given his oft-stated appreciation for art, what is more artistic than a sex-tape? Picasso’s Guernica? Rubens’s beautiful ladies? Kahlo’s introspective battle with pain: physical and emotional? Schnabel’s plates? Pssh.
Black No More by George S. Schuyler
Despite Schuyler’s history of being perhaps the only notable black man in history to be featured on the pages of the John Birch Society, his novel, however misplaced in its aim, about the social justice movement of his time is a funny, somewhat apt satire, and if one thing can be said for it, it may have been one of the precursors to the themes in Melvin Van Peebles’s The Watermelon Man or in Eddie Murphy’s (and later, Dave Chappelle’s) explorations into the hilarity of white face. Yeezus is a fan of experimentation of image, and this would be something else to piss off the rap gentry.
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
Considered by many the first lesbian novel (at least in the English language), Barnes’s book is everything Yeezy’s quote suggests he hates: it’s dense, verbose, and full of double meanings, but at its heart is a heady tale of lesbian love/obsession. And what red-blooded American male doesn’t love lesbians? Along with Asian and Latin women, lesbians perhaps have the most fetish currency in our culture, and rappers are not excluded from this equation.