Last Thursday, after In a sweet ceremony, the late great Kobe Bean Bryant was honored with a statue outside the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. The ceremony was full of picturesque and enchanting details that you can see in Sports center: Vanessa Bryant talked and joked about how Kobe chose the pose, so “if you don’t like it, then shit.” Phil Jackson was thoughtful, talking about the relationship he had with Kobe and how it improved over time. The ceremony felt like a coronation for Bryant, and it was understood that it took him a while to fully become a man. In June 2003, he was accused of sexual assault following an incident in Eagle, Colorado. Bryant settled with his accuser in civil court and issued a public mea culpa. In 2007, cameras caught him talking to civilians about the Lakers, saying that several teammates needed to be dispatched, in a shopping mall parking lot. Then, in 2011, cameras caught him calling a referee a gay slur out of frustration. (Could you imagine LeBron James, who doesn't make a statement unless it's in corporate speak, doing any of this?)
I'm not hating him. This means that Bryant wasn't perfect, or someone completely shielded from the spotlight. These inappropriate and immature behaviors don't make every time he moved us any less exciting. The times he lifted us up don't make his previous immaturity any less surprising. It's all part of Kobe Bryant's legacy. He lived a life to be watched: we saw him make mistakes and pay with his reputation; we've seen him grow and become a better teammate; we saw him become a father to beautiful children; we saw him die tragically trying to watch his daughter's basketball game.
Bryant's ceremony took place the day before Kanye Omari West performed his new album, Vultures, to a rabid crowd at the UBS Arena in Belmont, New York. In many ways, Kanye is the rap version of Kobe: a fierce individualist who grew up with relative class privilege and transcended that privilege through sheer ambition and courage. Much like Kobe's brief stint in Italy, Kanye lived in Tokyo for a time with his mother, Donda West, a university professor. Just like Kobe, Kanye would not be denied his greatness despite the people who doubted him. Like Kobe, Kanye takes any slight against him and moves on because of it. Like Kobe, he is prone to public mistakes; he's fascinating to root for and against.
We are no longer in the era of Kanye, where his illusions can turn into musical magic. He is a baffling anti-Semite who has shouted his affection for Adolf Hitler. He said “slavery was a choice” and had very public mental health episodes. Whenever a clip of his goes viral, it's up to people to put their hands over their eyes. It's embarrassing and ugly to see; he can no longer say a normal sentence.
Seeing him now makes his accomplishments seem like they come from an entirely different planet. At his peak, from 2004 to 2016, West was exactly the genius he claimed to be. Somehow, his music was both innovative and ubiquitous; free and structured; sentimental and stubborn; immature and emotionally intelligent; dark and crowd-pleasing; Christian and sinner; Black music, but easily appreciated by white pop fans too. As critic Paul Thompson said, the samples he would record “they were obvious but effective.” It's not a dig either. A song like “Blood on the Leaves,” for example, which mixes Nina Simone talking about lynched black bodies with a No Limit Record anthem seems like it should be basic, but literally no one has ever thought of that before.
But Kanye was also often abrasive, even early on. A song like “Can't Tell Me Nothing” shows that even “Old Kanye” was a maniac: “I had a dream that I could buy my way to heaven/When I woke up I spent it on a necklace/I told God that I’d be back in a second/Man, it’s so hard not to act reckless.” Think about it for a second: this was West openly admitting materialism to the detriment of spiritual glory. Of course, a person who got a necklace to go to heaven would end up marrying a Kardashian. This desire to be the greatest artist of all time, someone who could headline tours and be widely discussed at dinner parties and beyond, was admirable and encouraged until he started saying that Taylor Swift owed him sex.
That's not to say I wasn't excited about the show. I was, and even what Scared me. Comedian Bill Burr has an excellent Kanye joke that has aged perfectly. Burr said that if any other man talked about himself like Kanye did, you would think he was a fascist dictator like Hitler. Ye's support for Donald Trump, no matter how gross it makes you feel, isn't surprising at all: Both men are symptoms of the American man's out-of-control ego, oversharing identity, and people who complain if do so. not getting what they want. In Trump, West sees the social class he struggles to fit into due to his lack of formal education. (The underrated thing about West, despite his middle-class beginnings, is that he is anything but cultured). In Kanye West, Trump sees himself – as yet another member of the male mind that the pygmies will not deny. The fact that I can know all this about Kanye, and still want to see him perform, is a testament to my respect for his art and his bona fides as a pop star, and the fact that I'm probably more opinionated than I would like. Admit.
This was the kind of megalomaniac event that doesn't seem to happen in music anymore. Taylor Swift is Person of the Year, but parents take their daughters to see her well-crafted and precise show. You get your money's worth. West gets on stage, doesn't rap, plays songs that will be streamed and still leaves us on our feet. He's a star, no matter what nasty things come out of his mouth. As “Carnival” played at the UBS Center and Playboi Carti came out to celebrate his cutting-edge vocal mutations — only possible because of Kanye's contributions to rap music — fans began shouting the lyrics even though the album wasn't fully released. yet. The euphoria was happening all around me, and I participated in some of it too. I felt as conflicted and sinful as Kanye did in Dropping out of college.
Vultures it is a usable record. Production, in typical post-My beautiful dark and twisted fantasy fashion, is scarce. While it won't be mistaken for a masterpiece, it shows that West is still good as a producer. It puts Ty Dolla Sign in a position to sound as joyful as he has since the Obama era. “Paid” is another flirtation in electronic music and dubstep; fans of 808s and heartbreak You'll recognize the piercing drum pattern in the song. “Paperwork” is inspired by the vibrant sound of baile-funk popular in Brazil and which is catching fire online. Freddie Gibbs, another eccentric loudmouth, appears on “Back to Me,” and although the production on that song sounds like the end of an HBO series, Gibbs’ verse is strong.
Elsewhere, “Burn” sounds like a raunchy, vintage Kanye film; here he is more friendly. He's no longer changing culture in real time, but this could be the basis for something future – if his head allows it. The use of gospel is still as prevalent as ever, as is the way he interacts with the album's secular content: The yin and yang of loving secular culture in all its filth while wishing to be in a more conservative world was what Kanye made his bones, and Vultures has this. The charming immaturity Fall out is here; there are shades of Pablo's life all over; “Carnival” seems like it could have happened in both Paul It is Yeezus. He's a little less divorced on this record; Now he's a father, slowly finding that vitality he's been missing for the past two years.
It feels like we're back to square one with Kanye. Vultures was released with relative fanfare. The general answer seems to be “some of it goes, ngl”. Isn't that where we started? There may not be statues of Kanye anytime soon, but he was as memorable as ever at that event, and the music isn't half as good as it used to be. Kobe managed to find some tranquility through fatherhood and mental peace; You, on the other hand, are still where you started: sinful and spiteful. At the Vultures closer, “King,” he says, “I’m crazy, bipolar, anti-Semitic, and I’m still King.” You don't miss the old Kanye; because he was always like that.