Kanye West dropped a new album two weeks ago and like every Kanye release it’s impact is just starting to be felt. I wanted to take a moment to write about some of the things I learned from Kanye’s newest album Ye and what they can teach upcoming rappers, singers and creatives of all stripes (that means you!).
Stop Chasing Perfection
The first thing I learned from Ye is to stop chasing perfection. A lot of artists suffer from wanting to craft the perfect song and it’s really difficult to break out of that mold. We think by hiding our flaws, the world will accept us more, but as I get older I’m realizing it’s the opposite: the more we show who we really are, flaws and all, the more the people will give us a chance.
There are tons of moments on Ye that don’t sound perfect such as when Kanye mumbles some lyrics or Kid Cudi sings out of key on Ghost Town. While these are relatively minor flaws, I wonder why Kanye didn’t do any retakes?
If we’re being cynical we can say cause he just doesn’t care and rushed it but I think a more charitable reason is that it was hard to duplicate the feel. I know I’ve recorded songs that were intended to be reference tracks and I mumbled whole verses and it was painfully difficult to get the same feel when I went back and added real lyrics.
What Kanye is showing us is instead of chasing perfection, chase a feeling. Chase and capture that lightning in a bottle cause chances are you’ll only capture it once.
Indifference is a Killer
Something Kanye’s known since his first album, The College Dropout, was that when the audience is indifferent to your music you’ve lost. This reminds me of a saying my dad would always tell me, “it doesn’t matter what people are saying about you, so long as they’re talking about you, that’s all that matters” (I’m pretty sure my dad borrowed that from someone).
Kanye doesn’t mind if you feel negative or even positive toward his music, as long as you feel something that means you’re paying attention. In fact, Kanye has an old lyric that goes, “Everybody feel a way about Ye, well at least y’all feel something.” What I think Kanye is getting at is that we live in a world where it’s so easy to miss and dismiss an artist, for instance, how many albums come out every Friday that most of us ignore? ASAP Rocky dropped an album during these Ye’s super cycle which has largely been forgotten.
A lot of artists get stuck in their old ways because they get used to doing things a certain way and then they wonder why they keep getting the same results. That’s why Kanye always goes somewhere new to record his albums, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy it was Hawaii and with Ye it’s Wyoming. Kanye can easily record in his home studio or a studio near Calabasas, but Kanye knows if you want a different output, you need different inputs.
You don’t have to rent an expensive resort in the country to record your next album, you can just go to a friend’s house or even record in a different room in your house or work with a different producer. Anything to help you switch it up would presumably yield different results.
Say It Out Loud
On the intro on Ye, Kanye says, “Say it out loud to see how it feels”. I think this is not only a mantra for the album and maybe even the ethos of Kanye West but also helps explain Kanye’s controversial remarks regarding slavery and Donald Trump. Again we get so stuck in our own point of view that we don’t even consider other ideas. I don’t think Kanye wants us all to become Trump supporters but he wants us to at least consider it.
Leaving the politics aside, I think Kanye wants us to question our preconceived notions about the world. He had a great quote during the interview with Charlemagne where he said something like “when we’re young say 3-4 years old and we dance on top of a coffee table and are told to get down. It adds a rule into our heads that you don’t dance on coffee tables. And as we grow up more and more things become like the coffee table, where we’re told what we can and can’t do”.
Kanye’s solution is to take an idea you don’t accept and simply say it out loud to see how it feels. For example, if you usually flow one way on a song, try flowing in a completely new flow for your next song. It may not be perfect or up to your standards but at least it’ll be new. This brings us to our final teaching from Kanye.
Don’t be afraid to sound stupid or be silly. There’s a couple silly or down right stupid lines on Ye and I think Kanye should get credit for attempting to be a goofball. I know that the perception of Kanye has changed for some people but I think it’s because they’re too uptight and take things too seriously. If you’ve ever seen a kid play, you know they can play with a piece of string and have a good time. Kanye wants us to be more childlike, use what we have and play with our art, rather than just make it.