Originally written for a Song Missing event.
I’ve been a big Kanye fan for years now, and when I first listened to Kanye’s most recent effort, “The Life of Pablo,” I recognized its brilliance in many regards, but I felt something was lost. And that was—with the exception of a few notable, perhaps forced, controversial moments—many of the lyrics lacked the ability to make me audibly gasp when I first heard them, the way lyrics from his earlier albums had.
So I thought, y’know, maybe that’s just where Kanye’s at right now—at a creative peak in many ways, a happy family man (in his way)… but then I heard a rumor—and this is true, or it’s true that I heard a rumor– that Kanye recently had a falling-out with a lyricist he had collaborated with for a long time.
(When I read this piece out loud recently, people gasped at that, but apparently it’s public knowledge– a quick Google search and Wikipedia skim tells me his name is Rhymefest, he has a lisp, and he recorded a new version of the Crank Yankers theme– probably Kanye’s presence and marketing skills would go a long way for him).
So I’m very fascinated by the idea of this lyricist. This is someone who we can presume made a decent living off this gig—but he didn’t make Kanye money. He made writer money, and gained a writer’s recognition, a writer’s validation.
Think about it: sentiments we think of as coming from Kanye, being part of the Kanye persona, came from this person instead. Somewhere there is a normal person living a normal life and yet experiencing it through the thoughts and feelings of one who is more Kanye than Kanye.
Think of the line, “Hurry up with my damn croissants.” Think of the line, “If my manager insults me again, I will be assaulting him.” Think of the line, “Come and meet me in the bathroom stall, and show me why you deserve to have it all.” Then apply that mentality to the myriad challenges of your everyday life: constant, degrading inconvenience. Getting negged, being damned with faint praise, given backhanded compliments or outright unambiguously insulted, in front of your friends, in front of your spouse. People pushing past you. People failing to even hold the door for you. Passive-aggressive emails. Your daily frustrations. Now imagine what this brilliant, furious, non-millionaire must go through on a regular basis.
How close were he and Kanye, I wonder? Was it a strictly professional, even cold relationship to begin with, or is there heartbreak now that it’s over? Why did they fall out? Your first assumption might have to do with what much of the general public perceives to be an impudence on Kanye’s part, a rapper’s generic boasting transmogrifying to megalomania, his artist’s flamboyance turning cruel or coming off as unhinged. But it could be much more mundane: our hero songwriter might have just asked for an unreasonable amount of money for his efforts. He could have come unhinged or been megalomaniacal himself. He could have just stopped picking up the phone, moved to a cabin in Wyoming, out of the game forever.
How bitter is he? How much of Kanye’s life does he wish he had? Maybe all, maybe none, maybe anywhere in-between. Maybe the jealousy, the sense of inadequacy just manifests itself in weird little ways every now and then. Maybe he tries to make a fashion statement as audacious as Kanye’s “Watch the Throne”-era kilt, a dhoti or some chain mail, and only gets clowned for it. Maybe instead of comparing himself to Steve Jobs, he occasionally boasts of his similarity to Linux developer Linus Benedict Torvalds.
How dark does it get? Is he curt with his wife? Does he yell at his kids and slam the door and throw stuff around? Lie awake nights panicking, absconding to the bathroom to lie on the floor for optimal panic conditions? Cry? Sneak cigarettes, go off to the bar and just kind of smile awkwardly at someone, can’t even make his face do fully flirtatious, finish his drink and leave?
What then does our hero think when he sees Kanye on SNL, performing “Low Lights/ Highlights,” standing and not singing or rapping, as a recording plays for interminable minutes, in front of a projected beam of pixelated clouds? There’s a phenomenon relating to the movie Rosemary’s Baby where viewers remember the camera allowing them to peek into the baby carriage in the final scene, revealing a hideous devil infant—when in fact this does not happen. Does our ghostwriter remember “Low Lights/ Highlights” correctly? When the group of singers appears on stage, do the ragged Yeezy clothes, the lack of choreography, the one white dude with the sleazy mustache, and the song’s lurching outro about soliciting sex at a luxury gym—make him forget they were all singing, make him think, “Who were those enablers he let up on stage with him? Should I be worried about Kanye?”
And later in the night, when Kanye performs “Ultralight Beam”—what does he think then? When there’s a gospel choir, and they are synchronized, and—most miraculously of all—Kanye takes a backseat for most of it, letting Chance the Rapper take over in as meek and as vulnerable of a verse as you’ve ever heard in your life? What does our hero see when he gazes into the Ultralight Beam? Does he see the future? Does he see hope for Kanye in that future—albums and tours, each more innovative and beautiful than the last, on into his sixties and somehow that’s not even a little depressing? Kanye and Kim’s third and fourth marriages, both to each other, and their eleven more daughters, whose names are Accomplish, Manifesto, Best, Stream, Project, Kanye, Mewtwo, Status, Excess, Ascend, Story, and Rachel? Super-entertaining feuds with the stars of the future: Apple Martin? Suri Cruise? Theodore James Trump? Jason Mallory? Or does our hero still see implosion, some final excess of pride leading to Kanye’s destruction, poverty, public embarrassment, fall from grace? Living out of a car, complaining of a vague, confusing, impossible-to-diagnose series of symptoms, writing a really ambitious manuscript freehand, not allowed to see any of those kids, doing a really troubling, nonsensical interview on a “where are they now” show, becoming the target of endless mean late night talk show monologue jokes?
And what does our hero ghostwriter see for himself? Some ascent to fame and glory, private jets, morning shows, weird collections of rare animal parts and irrational phobias? General recognition of his talent at least, an end to getting insulted by his manager at work? People wanting to pick up the phone or reply to emails again? Vacations once in a while, babysitters? Car repairs or hospital visits being minor issues rather than major ones? Fuck, more Twitter followers? Or does he see himself, unavoidably, flaming out in the same way as Darkest Timeline Kanye, only under drastically more modest circumstances?
Or is his mind overtaken, as by a heavenly host, and over him washes a streaming tide of Technicolor enlightenment, and does he then see that he and Kanye are one and the same, because Kanye, too, is more Kanye than Kanye, and can never be Kanye enough, can never be entitled enough, can never be enough of a visionary, can never be obnoxious enough, can never be hilarious enough, can never be enraging enough or insecure enough—the concept we in the metaphysical community refer to as “Kanye’s Paradox?” And that therefore he in his suffering is Christ, and therefore Kanye too is Christ, and that Yeezus is Lord? Does he realize that one can be an exalted, anointed Messiah or an anonymous, struggling pilgrim wandering blind through arid land, through a world of devils and snakes and wolves– and it’s all the same in the eyes of God? Does he, like, fuckin’ get it, man?