Just prior to taking off for the mountains this past weekend, word was breaking that Kanye West had posted an apology to Taylor Swift via Twitter. Since I’ve spoken about this in the past, my initial instinct was to just let it blow over. However, it seems folks are still talking about how this was handled. My friend Will posted about the apology, and had some questions about the validity of the apology, as well as the artistic merits of Kanye. His post struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons.
I’ll start off by saying that I thought what Kanye did was tacky and completely uncalled for, and that he has shown both arrogance and immaturity in his personal appearances over the past five years. (I got into this a bit last year) Having said that, I think it’s fair to stick to the facts here and say that Kanye does sample music and lyrics that other artists have created, but what he does beyond those samples is pretty brilliant. Writing lyrics for a rap record is a genuine talent, and there is a reason that other artists come to Kanye to produce their records. If it was simply a matter of sampling someone else’s records, there are many others who can do that and do it well.
As for the samples themselves, many of them are not actual samples, but interpolations of the original. The original version of what Kanye interpolated from Lauryn Hill for “All Falls Down” was actually a live performance for her MTV Unplugged. The Daft Punk sample was much more direct, but what he did with it was simply brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that Daft Punk actually performed live on TV with him on the Grammys. They had never performed live on TV prior to that, and on top of that, they even come out and complimented Kanye on expanding the sound from the original. When folks as innovative as Daft Punk can recognize what Kanye does, it seems like he’s moved beyond hired gun and into artist territory.
I hope this doesn’t come off as a full-on defense of Kanye, because it’s not meant to be. Kanye needs to do a lot more than just tweet an apology, and a pile of epic beats and lyrics won’t erase a long trail of bad behavior. He’s going to have to show and prove, and that will mean letting his actions represent the words that he uses. However, his personal actions cannot take away the brilliance of the music he has released, although they sure can taint it. A track like “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” takes on new meaning when you put it into the context of the past year.
They say I talk with so much emphasis,
Oh, they’re so sensitive.
Don’t ever fix your lips like collagen
Say something were you gone end up apologising.