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COLUMN: Choosing Favorites: Collaborating With Kanye West

The Critical Curmudgeon

Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 20:02

Matt Mazzari

Alex Gaynor / Heights Editor


We’ve officially reached a point in music news where the headline “Band Pussy Riot Beaten and Arrested” doesn’t really evoke any sort of reaction beyond “Again? Sigh,” so I guess there are no real surprises anymore. That said, it was certainly unexpected to hear Kanye West announce that James Blake, a British electronic musician with only two LP releases, is his “favorite artist” currently performing. He’s offered to collaborate with Blake on his next album, which he claims will be to Yeezus what Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. was to Nebraska. For people confused by that analogy, Nebraskawas a dark, solo, acoustic LP widely regarded as a brilliant departure from Springsteen’s usual sound. Born, of course, is one of the most recognizable albums of all time and has at least three iconic songs that define Bruce as an artist for many listeners. West is basically promising the magnum opusof the decade.

So yeah, that definitely took some people off guard.

First of all, who would have guessed that Kanye West’s favorite artist isn’t Kanye West? In his original words regarding Blake, Kanye did not deliberately describe himself in the third person, which was disappointing. Still, he came pretty darn close: “Just go listen to [Blake’s] music, and say, ‘Hey, that’s Kanye’s favorite artist.’”

I still think it would have been better if he went full-out Dr. Doom. I can sort of imagine him doing it: “James Blake does very good work. The Yeezus approves. Now the Yeezus is tired and requires nap-nap.”

But all joking aside, West is an incredibly talented artist and arguably an even more talented producer. As a salesman, West is an undisputed champion of the bizz. Jay-Z, Beyonce, Ludacris, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, and the esteemed Kanye West have all released songs featuring Kanye West’s own private production label, and Kanye West could not be more proud. Seriously, though, the guy has not only made some of the most innovative hip-hop of all time, effectively proving himself an unparalleled creative force in the studio, but he’s also been involved in managing music behind the scenes since as early as 1996. West has a preternatural understanding of pop, and this gift has made him one of the most influential men in the entire industry.

Needless to say, any up-and-coming artist given the tremendous opportunity to be produced by or (even more incredibly) to collaborate with Kanye must be excited to the point of spontaneous combustion. Can you imagine? You’re 26 years old, you’ve been working as a singer/songwriter in studios for just over three years, and suddenly you’re on the fast track to success! From doing remixes in your bedroom in 2009, you’ve made it to 2014 having beaten out the Arctic Monkeys and David-freaking-Bowie for the 2013 Mercury Prize! Now one of the most (justifiably) egotistical men in mainstream music just singled you out as his “favorite” act, and he wants you to help him make the next Born in thefreaking U.S.A. How pumped up would you be? How starstruck can you possibly get? This is like something out of the first six minutes of a Fairly-Odd Parentsepisode, wherein Timmy Turner is getting everything he wishes for, and it seems like nothing can go wrong. I imagine anyone in that position has got to be totally bugging out right about now. All aboard the Gravy Train, choo flippin’ choo!

All of the expected sentiment is definitely reflected in Blake’s response to Kanye’s compliment, wherein he said excitedly: “I thought it was nice.”

...Wait, what?

You thought it was “nice”?

I’ve heard people have more enthusiastic reactions to their high school reunions. Heck, I’ve heard people be more excited about the FOOD at their high school reunions.

The artist went on to express more thanks in a voice so monotone that he felt the need to call attention to it at the end of the interview: “I’m really excited. My monotonous tone of voice won’t show you that, but I’m excited.”

Okay, Mr. Roboto. What’s the deal, here?

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