Kanye West Unedited: The Complete FADER Interview, 2008


Last Saturday, Kanye West began his Yeezus tour in Seattle, a spectacle where he’ll perform in masks, on a mountain and next to a Jesus lookalike. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning he proposed to Kim Kardashian at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, flashing this message on the Jumbotron as an orchestra played Lana Del Rey: “PLEEEASE MARRY MEEE!!!!”

Kanye is pop’s king of theater and, these days, frustrated and talking about that openly. Inspired by his forthrightness, we revisited the conversation he had with former editor-in-chief Pete Macia for his 2008 FADER cover story, circa 808s and Heartbreak. Condensed and edited in that issue, we’re now presenting the interview in its complete, 20,000-word glory. Below, read a very Kanye-being-Kanye excerpt about breaking pop’s glass ceiling, snobby people and being the “Steve Jobs of rap.” Then read the transcript in its entirety on page two—Kanye talks about album-that-never-was Good Ass Job, his struggle to break into fashion, telling Jay Z he wanted to sound like Feist and Photoshopping his own blog posts. It’s full of gems.

There’s a risk that, with 808s and Heartbreak, you made something that’s totally popular, potentially like, hugely popular. Hopefully. Let’s hope it’s pop. Like, uh, they asked me, what genre to put it under, cause they’re like, this is a new genre of music. I was like, put it under pop, cause like, I’ll wear that. I love wearing a label that people think is uncool. I think that’s the biggest answer, to take the idea of people just like, wearin Ray-Bans out of the blue or Vans with $2,000-dollar suits. On a major music scale for me to go in and say, Oh, pop, put it under pop. It’s like taking something the people didn’t think was cool at one point and juxtaposing it with something that’s like, super cred. Cause like, okay, is it, uh, is it not good music now? Cause I think it’s a lack of good music in the pop field. I mean, people always say stuff is like, genius, like when it’s like, super obscure and shit. It’s like all these people in this really obscure world—it’s like when I got into like, art, cause I’m not “into” art at all, I’m just into what I like. I don’t get “into” it. I don’t really get into—I’m a very surface-type character.

Really? Yeah. I couldn’t tell you shit about those drum machines in there. Like, I just barely know how to use them. Now some people get into and like—I just barely know how to work this computer and stuff like that. The only thing that I’m really into, that I know more than I probably should know about is like, clothes. And that’s cause it’s like a super challenge for me because I really want to design but I really want to do something good, and, just my whole life I’ve never really been that talented at anything except for working at something to the point where it was good. And then after I’ve done it a few times, then I’m just good at it. It’s just like, something to think about. When people first heard me rap, it sucked, and now I’m arguably the best in the world. So I just worked at it till it was good. It’s like, that is the talent right there. And then having a certain taste level to say, I think this is good, I think this is bad. But now it’s like, I guess I could be considered talented to like, pull off the type of music that I pull off now.

Is the reason you’re singing on this album because you’ve kind of gotten to a place where rapping—you know, like, same way with Wayne. He’s now singing a ton of songs and doing Auto-Tune, not even fucking with rap that much, or even Andre, who like, on Love Below, he wasn’t rapping on half of that. Yeah, I’m not doing it cause I’m bored of rap. I think Andre was the first person to make the statement before Nas—Andre was the one to say hip-hop is dead. I liked his approach to that. He was like, look, I’m doing this, and hip-hop is dead. I like when people approach it where it’s like, what I do is right and everything else is wrong. It’s not really my strategy. I like to accept everything and say, yeah, there’s something good in that, but that’s the reason I like Jim Jones so much. When he disses me, it’s like, yeah, if you diss me, that means I’m the iconic, I’m the arch nemesis. I think in the world there should be nemeses and complete rivals and stuff like that. That means I’m like the poster child of what you want to represent the opposite of. And that should be there. I think there’s that in fashion, you’ve got like Margiela and you have Ed Hardy, I think those are like polar opposites but they both need to exist and stuff like that, and they can choose to diss each other.

“My whole life I’ve never really been that talented at anything except for working at something to the point where it was good.”

It also drives creation. It doesn’t drive any creation for me. I’m gonna do what I do regardless, but, uh, I appreciate it. Like I appreciate the bad, I appreciate when bad things happen. Obviously when you listen to this album it’s very personal, and I just think that if I hadn’t been through the terrible things that I’ve been through—that I was the victim or the cause of—that I couldn’t deliver art on this level, and that’s the good out of it.

The language you use is concrete, like distilling the message down to like the essentials. Is that the same reason you love Jil Sander, or the minimalist ideal of taking away all the nonessential things? This is how I relate to minimalism: it’s like, the advantage I have to travel and see fashion shows and go to Japan and go to Australia, just traveling the world—I get to take in all this information, and I go to the studio and I know all these things now, and it’s not like by chance and stuff, it’s like just being super knowledgeable, and I might not remember every single artist’s name I put up, but I’m constantly hit with a barrage of visuals, and it’s like I have to throw it all up in a way, and that’s part of the reason I can do an album in three weeks. It took three weeks because I was like, playing basketball for half of the time and stuff like that.

Between that and you saying you’re not really being an expert on the drum machine or whatever, do you feel like you just absorb stuff and you don’t really have to think about it, and it just affects the work that you do? Well, yeah, but when you say don’t think about it—every comment people had to diss “Love Lockdown” I was like, yes you’re right, that’s exactly it. They were like, Man he’s a pop singer now, and I’m like, Yes, correct! They like, It sounds like he wrote this in five minutes, and I was like, You’re right, it took me five minutes. Because, you know, is something better if it took five years then if it took you five minutes? I feel like all the words are in you, so like if you listen to this, when you listen to the album, if I was murmuring and had to tell people the words and stuff, it was in me, but you’re just blocking yourself, you’re blocking your creativity, like society has put up something, so many boundaries, so many limitations on what’s right and wrong that it’s almost impossible to get a pure thought out, and that’s what I’m talking about with the hang-ups on religion and sexuality and all these different things. It’s like a little kid, a little boy, they are looking at colors at age two and shit, and no one told them what colors are good—why would anyone pick blue over pink? Pink is obviously a better color, you know before somebody tells you you shouldn’t like pink, because that’s girls, or you’d instantly become a gay two-year-old—you’d become gay at age two.

It’s like everyone’s born an artist, and born confident, and everything’s taken away from you. And you’re born fearless too. You’d run into the middle of the street, you see a couple people get hit, and then you’re like, ah shit, I’m standing back now. It’s like all these things that you build up, fearful—so many times people react off of fear. I’m acting off of “this is what I want to do, but I realize that I want to be popular, so let me balance how much I push the envelope and how much I take back.” I say I’m the Steve Jobs of rap, it’s like I’m not gonna give people too much at one time. Like, what’s the perfect level to do like Radiohead songs, but still get em in the strip club? How do you juxtapose that? And that’s what’s fun, and that’s what’s the challenge, and that’s where I feel like I’m lapping people.

And I hate when people act like if you don’t wanna be popular then you just don’t wanna be popular. Some people go buy the Audi, some people go buy the Benz, some people buy Bentleys, some people buy Aston Martins, whichever is an effect of your personality, but so many people try to put their personality on someone else. Especially me. They try to suggest to me what I should do. It’s like, I’ve read blogs that say, “Kanye don’t sing.” And it’s like, Hey, fuck you. Most people tell me “don’t rap.” It’s like, fuck you. What I want people to realize at this point is I don’t give a fuck. That’s why I made this album. If I gave a fuck, I wouldn’t use Auto-Tune. I’m using Auto-Tune because I don’t give a fuck. I like the way it sounds. I don’t care, this is the way I’m a put my shit up, this what I like the most, and if you like it, that’s great, and you’ll come to a concert and you’ll enjoy yourself and you’ll like it when it’s on radio, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to fucking listen to it, you don’t have to fucking come to the concert.

“What I want people to realize at this point is I don’t give a fuck.”

My advantage, or the reason why that works for me, is that I actually do have a really pop ear. I kinda have good taste, so it works for me to just put out stuff that I like, as opposed to putting out shit I think other people gonna like. There’s hardly anybody that’s mainstream that’s good now, and that’s the reason why people say they hate mainstream. It’s like, no it’s not that you hate mainstream, it’s just like so few people that are really fucking good in mainstream. It’s like you cannot deny me, you cannot deny Wayne, you cannot deny Pain. You can’t, you know, we just—T-Pain, he taught me a lot. He would like come into the studio, he just brought a whole vibe and energy when he came down to Hawaii, and he would constantly joke, but the fact that he was constantly joking means that he was constantly expressing himself. When T-Pain goes into the booth, he can easily say, “You’ve officially been chopped and screwed,” and it’s just gonna come out of him because he’s open to fucking express himself. Anyone that closes their mind, and closes their expression like this, it’s like first of all lemme light some candles, now it’s like this lemme turn the lights down low, now it’s like this lemme get only the right people in the room, now it’s like this, and it’s finally to the point where it’s like this, and they can get a little bit out. But with T-Pain it’s like, I don’t give a fuck who’s in the room, I don’t give a fuck if it’s candles, I don’t care what it is, I don’t care how you gone feel about this joke, this funny to me, or what you think of my top hat, or my Oakleys.

Do you think that free flow, for you at least, goes hand in hand with what you were saying before, just being more mature, caring less… Yeah, it took me time to really be comfortable with who I was, cause it’s just my whole life. People have always been trying to tell me who I was. You know, when I used to dress hip-hop in Chicago, before hip-hop was a popular term, they said I was deep house, cause people always try to put a label on stuff. The only label that I’ll accept now is pop. And I said that from the gate. I was like, I don’t know if you remember interviews with College Dropout and I said, “I want this to be a pop album.”

Yeah, in the old FADER, the first cover, that was in there. I read it last week and I was like, everything that you’re doing is in that first thing. I was saying it from the gate, really fucking, okay “I’m into Louis Vuitton, I wanna be pop,” all these different things. I spent my whole check on those two bags I wore for those pictures. Those pictures are some of my best pictures, other than having a really bad haircut. Now it’s like the only thing is like pop. I subscribe to pop culture. I really like popular shit. I’m all about Walt Disney, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, Nike. Like, I want my name to go down in history with Nike. Not just because I’m doing a shoe with Nike, but I want people to remember me the way they know Nike. That level of impact. It’s like who was the last person who really had it like that?

In the Raf interview you did he mentioned Bowie, which I thought was like, a really apt comparison. Like David Bowie was that dude who did whatever he wanted to do, and switched it up when people were expecting one thing. He would do something that was a complete 180, and he was also like one of the top selling artists of his time. But still, like, had all his integrity, never tried to do anything to sell records. Yeah, it’s weird, because all this shit I’m doing, it’s like, I wanna be a pop artist. But everything else that I’m saying is against all principals of what a pop artist is. It’s very heartfelt. It comes from me, solely me. I wanna say something about the concept of ghostwriting on this album. I have like a lot of writers on this album. If you take “Love Lockdown,” it takes like seven writers. What I would do is, I go in and like, murmur stuff, and I get like really creative genius individuals to sit in the room with me, and my cousin Tony Williams, Esthero, Malik Yusef, Kid Cudi, Mr. Hudson, like all these different artists to sit there, and we’d go line for line and say, “What is the best way to word this one part that was only murmured?” and we’d replace the words. And that’s the explanation of when you see a lot of writers on it. Every melody, most every melody on there I thought of. There’s a couple melodies that Cudi thought of on the album, but it’s very much like this is my idea.

It’s interesting because you’ve said Kanye is a brand, that The College Registration, Graduation, potentially Good Ass Job is like a brand. What we were saying before about the blog being like the Warhol Factory—like the production aspect of it, even what you’re saying about sitting there brainstorming lyrics with people—there’s a real sense of like a collective production with you at the top, and all these people, you bring them in to help drive your creativity. Yeah, to drive my idea. It’s like, one of those things where it’s like, you know what, it’s the Warhol quote, it’s like yeah, I could do it without a bunch of writers in the room, but this is faster, and I have more money than time.

“None of these people are my inspirations at all, people just compare me to them.”

Is Warhol one of your inspirations? Well, no, none of these people are my inspirations at all; people just compare me to them. I’ve referenced Bowie a couple times, but I don’t even know the big songs and stuff. I don’t know shit about shit. I just do me, and it gets compared to Warhol, it gets compared to Murakami, it gets compared. I don’t know anything about art; I don’t know that much about music. It’s like people are always referencing stuff, and I’m like, Oh word? It reminds me of Taz, like in fashion, cause Taz is a super crazy-dressing fashion icon, like, dude so many streetwear dudes and fashion people are like, “Wow this dude is radical,” and stuff like that. He might not know Margiela, or something like that, who’s like the king of all, England, everyone, art, fashion school, design school. Lesson A: Margiela is your god and shit, and that’s where I am with music. I’ve never really listened to a whole Bowie album. I went and I was like listening to some things, I know the big songs, and I was like a little kid too, I only know the stuff that was on the radio. That’s another thing about pop, it’s like, Yo, I want this shit to be on the radio. I always think about it like a four-year-old, how’s a four-year-old gonna react to this? So many people are snobby, but they never think about the kids. They never think about, anyone that would ever try to diss me, they never think that I’m trying to provide a better form of music on a major scale. It’s like, to me, in my opinion, I’m giving you a better option. It’s like, it would be weak of me to diss Pink or something like that and not diss a rapper. I always thought that was like Eminem’s tactic, the fact that he would always like, diss super easy targets and shit like that. It’s like, Oh, lemme just talk about how I don’t like the Pink song, or whatever—but you know I like Pink when she did the Linda Perry joints and stuff like that. But I think, okay, the number one pop song is the Pink song or whatever, and it’s like, I’m just personally not into it. It’s like, lemme take all the Pink shit out, cause it’s like, as a man, if you’re gonna fucking diss Pink, then you need to like diss some other rappers while you’re at, some shit that could actually cause you problems. So let’s just take the Pink shit out, cut the weak shit. Like, if you’re not gonna diss Jim Jones and shit, then why would you diss Pink? That’s like some pussy shit, so just take it out. But to like not use people’s name—I don’t think people have a lot of options, I’ve said this before, I’m backtracking. When I was a kid, it seems like there was a lot of great pop music. There was George Michael, Michael Jackson…

Madonna. I mean, Michael Jackson’s the king. The Police, and some of the one hit wonders and stuff, that was just great songs back then.

What do you think happened? I mean, I was a little kid so I didn’t know how the music scene worked back then, but was it a big tension between the concept of underground? Were there lots of underground bands in the ’80s? I guess it had to be, but it wasn’t like this Internet world either, so it’s either like, back then, nobody fucking heard you or everybody fucking heard you.

I think it’s probably that labels back then had the resources to throw money at a ton of bands, and the best ones would rise to the top. Sorta like baseball farm teams: you have AAA, AA, A, and the best players make it to the major leagues. And it’s like, if you weren’t in the major leagues, you were in no league almost, it’s like you never got heard. But now it’s like, cause people can discover their own music, there’s all these opportunities for independent bands to get heard. Now it’s a big struggle. It’s like wow, all this independent music that’s good, and it’s like blatantly better than the mainstream shit, so it’s less of a program. Like Rihanna was the last person to barely make it through MTV at MTV’s most influential stage, cause now they don’t play music, so it’s harder for them to break stars and shit. Now stars are broken on Disney or fucking American Idol. But there was a chance for MTV, like they helped break me, and like Rihanna was the last one to get a piece of MTV’s juice I think. She’s the last star. I’m not saying there aren’t somethings to come, but she’s like the latest, the latest greatest. But it’s interesting: How is music fed to you?

Just think about what you actually listened to as a child. You never had the opportunity to go on the Internet. You used to go to the store and you only had $10, you had the option of buying like one tape. If you didn’t have the money—it’s crazy the way they packaged music. You didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the music. Especially for me, like I’m like the only hip-hop dude I know where I was at, so nobody was buying the UMC tape, so I had to choose between the Pete Rock or the UMC, and if I didn’t have the money to get it, I’d like, um, I’d never get to hear the music. I used to steal music, literally steal the tapes. There’s times I walked through and I got caught in the metal detector, cuffed up and shit like that, or you know, kicked out of the mall, stuff like that. I was stealing music, so I was doing exactly what kids are doing today. And then there’s a big popular conversation, two or three years ago, about downloading. I think that’s the greatest thing ever, cause when I was a child, I couldn’t afford music and I couldn’t hear it and I think that’s the biggest crime. I’m Kanye West, I am the next Kanye West, at that point, right, or I’m the future Kanye West, and I can’t even hear music, I can’t be inspired.

I’m about to make sure that this motherfucker change people’s lives, redefine the scope of music, or a genre, or a generation. I’m in a situation—think about, it’s almost like, to an extreme, if I was Amish, or I was in a place where it’s like “No, you can’t have the radio,” I couldn’t hear music because it costs too much to hear it. That’s a concept that kids today don’t even have to worry about, the concept of music costing too much to hear. No one ever looked at it from that perspective. It’s almost like, superstars—their pool has to be a little bit smaller because it’s not making as much money. Or it’s a lot less jobs, that’s the way it happens all the time. It’s like it’s a little bit inconsiderate for me to speak on it, because of course I’m like top of the food chain—I’m like the one dude who’s not gonna lose his job or whatever—but it’s a situation like with car companies shut down, it happens in a lot of different industries.

It’s a cycle. Yea, like super asshole of me to speak on it because I’m like in such a good position.

But, you know, kids had your album before it came out, but then they still went bought it. There’s this indie rock label and last year their biggest selling album was available for free on the label site. You could download it free off their site, legally, and it still sold more than any other album. People went, and still bought it. It goes back to the quality thing, like, people will pay for stuff if they love it. Right, you hear it, and it’s like, “I wanna own it.” It’s a shame now, on the other spectrum of this with the downloading and stuff—the worst part of it is Virgin is one of my favorite stores of all time, and now it’s like so many Virgins that were near me that I can’t go to anymore. I used to like go look at books and stuff, video games, and music and stuff, and now its like, “Damn there’s no Virgins.”

What you said, about like not hearing a lot of Bowie, on the last album you had the semi-obscure Steely Dan, you had Daft Punk on there, you had like other samples that were surprising to a lot of people. Where’d you found out about those kinda songs, and how did you decided to use them? The Steely Dan, one of the producers that was signed to me—Brian Miller—had that beat, and we were actually gonna give it to Jay for his album that I was surfacing, but I kept it for myself. And Daft Punk, A-Trak turned me onto it. And people were like really offended, caus you know music is special to people, so they hold it really tight to themselves. A lot of times when it becomes popular they feel like it’s not theirs anymore, they feel like it’s not just a part of their little group and stuff like that. But I feel like music is for everyone. Like when you were a little kid, did you really think about how many kids sing “Frere Jacques”? Like, did you have a problem with it? “There’s probably little kids all over the world singing ‘Frere Jacques,’ I don’t like it anymore.” But that’s people’s mentality and shit, and I think that’s a stupid-ass mentality, and I can’t make music for that mentality. I make music for good is good, and it should be the biggest.

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