Kanye West Interview Magazine February 2014
12 Years A Slave director, Steve McQueen, spoke with Kanye West for Interview Magazine’s February issue and of course there’s plenty of gems as well as some “super-artistic” Yeezus on fire photos for your viewing pleasure…
Yeezus, West says, marks the beginning of a new period in his life as an artist, though the events of the last year—North’s birth, his engagement to Kardashian—would seem to indicate that it marks the beginning of a new period in his life in general. 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, in the midst of a life-changing year of his own, recently caught up by phone with the 36-year-old West in Los Angeles, where he was camped out briefly between “Yeezus” tour stops. They spoke not long after the unveiling of the oft-discussed video for “Bound 2,” which was directed by Nick Knight and features West and a topless Kardashian writhing on the back of a motorcycle against a backdrop of orange-y purple-hued karaoke-video-style landscapes.
Click through for a creative discussion between West and McQueen regarding “Sonic Paintings”, being black, vices, and much more…
STEVE MCQUEEN: It’s hard to make beauty. People often try, and more often than not, everything starts to feel sort of cheap or kitsch. But you express yourself in a way that’s beautiful. You can sing from the heart and have it connect and translate, which is a huge thing for an artist to be able to do. So my first question is: How do you do that? How do you communicate in that way?
KANYE WEST: I just close my eyes and act like I’m a 3-year-old. [laughs] I try to get as close to a childlike level as possible because we were all artists back then. So you just close your eyes and think back to when you were as young as you can remember and had the least barriers to your creativity.
MCQUEEN: But there must have been moments of doubt or depression or sadness. I mean, with what happened after the Taylor Swift incident [at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards] and all the negativity that came your way as the result of that. How did you deal with it all mentally, physically, and spiritually?
WEST: It’s funny that you would say “mentally, physically, spiritually” because my answer before you even said that was going to be “god, sex, and alcohol.”
MCQUEEN: People can get lost in all of those things. So how did you arrive where you are now after coming through that period?
WEST: Well, I don’t have an addictive personality, so that means that I can lean on what might be someone else’s vice just enough to make it through to the next day. You know, just enough religion, a half-cup of alcohol with some ice in it and a nice chaser, and then …
MCQUEEN: A lot of sex. [both laugh]
MCQUEEN: How do you approach the visuals?
WEST: Well, I’m a trained fine artist. I went to art school from the time I was 5 years old. I was, like, a prodigy out of Chicago. I’d been in national competitions from the age of 14. I got three scholarships to art schools—to St. Xavier, to the American Academy of Art, and to the Art Institute of Chicago—and I went to the American Academy of Art. So the joke that I’ve actually played on everyone is that the entire time, I’ve actually just been a fine artist. I just make sonic paintings, and these sonic paintings have led me to become whatever people think of when you say “Kanye West.”
WEST: I want the power to create what is in my mind. That’s my dream. I want to be able to have a thought or an idea and bring it into reality. I want to be able to walk into a gym and say, “I think this gym could be better if Axel Vervoordt [the Belgian interior designer] worked on it.” I want to be able to say, “I think school could be better if a director did all of the programming, and there were screens the size of the walls, and instead of kids being asked to get off their iPhones, they were encouraged to use them so they can move forward faster as human beings instead of being held back from the future with dated curriculums.”
If I want to design a product, or if I think of a new way for us to view films, then I want to be able to do it. And what happened was that when we made Watch the Throne, it was such an accomplishment, and I had a bit of money in my account, so I just started chasing other dreams. I did two fashion shows in one year—at one of them, I had go-karts that people could ride. I also shot a film in “surround vision,” where I had seven screens—three in front of the audience, one above, one below, one to the left, one to the right. This is after designing Watch the Throne—and I was putting my money towards it. I put the amount of free income that I could put into it, which went into the millions. I went around and showed people what I’d done and said, “Hey, I made Watch the Throne, I made this amount of music for the past 10 years, I have this level of visuals, this level of communication, I can sell this many albums, and I also have these new inventions. Will anybody help me out?” I met with 30 billionaires, 30 companies, and basically everyone said, “F**k you.” I said, “How could this happen? How could not one person want to invest in these different ideas?”
MCQUEEN: How do you think your parents influenced you and your thinking? Your mom was a college professor, and your dad was involved in the black power movement, right?
WEST: Yeah. Both of my parents were educated, and both of them were always telling me about the manipulation of the media. My mom had books she would read to me. My bedtime stories dealt with things like the nose being knocked off the Sphinx—this is the type of bedtime story I would hear when I was in fifth grade. Of course, my father is also educated, Christian, once a Black Panther, a militant black—he understood what it meant to be discriminated against because he was black. He also understood what it meant to be discriminated against by black people because he talked white. He was very keen and sensitive to this at all times. So if we take it back to the days of what the media calls “meltdowns”—which I don’t call meltdowns at all, I call them “turn-ups”—at things like the MTV Video Music Awards …
MCQUEEN: Of course, your mother passed away all too soon. How did her passing affect you?
WEST: It’s funny, because I think about … You know, the sketchbook, the train of my ideas, is named after her. It’s called Donda. And it’s amazing because my grandfather, who just passed away this year, was named Portwood, and he had the sensibility, as a Southern black man out of Oklahoma, to name his daughter Donda. And then Donda had the sensibility to name her son Kanye. How futuristic and worldly are both of those names? And then the teachings and the confidence that was instilled by my grandfather into my mother, and from my mother into me—which will now, of course, be instilled by me into North—will create the best winter coat against doubters and dream-killers ever made.
MCQUEEN: It’s interesting how when Malcolm X ventured out of the United States for the first time, he went to Europe, he went to Africa, he went to Mecca, and then, when he came back to America, he realized that, to some extent, for him, it wasn’t about black or white, it was about people. In talking to you now, it seems like you feel the same way—that it’s never really been about race for you, but at the same time, it has very much been about that, if you know what I mean.
WEST: My mission is about what I want to create. It’s for people, for humanity. It’s about things that can make the world better. I’m not saying that I’m going to make a better world; I’m just saying that I will provide some things that will help, and my glass ceiling that I’m facing is based on my color. You know, I was looking at some cheesy-ass MTV videos a while ago, and it was so funny because it was like, “Wow, these videos are pre-Michael Jackson”—and people forget that Michael Jackson had to fight to get on MTV because he was considered to be an urban artist. This was, like, the greatest pop star of all time, and they told him, “We’re not gonna play your video because it doesn’t fit our format.”
MCQUEEN: I would say that most black people don’t walk around thinking about being black. People tend to think of themselves as individuals, and it’s only when they’re confronted in certain situations that they become “black.”
WEST: And that’s not just a black thing—it’s a world thing where the biggest slavery that we have is our opinion of ourselves. That’s why my attitude is so shunned. It’s not a matter of me believing in myself that’s so scary to everyone, it’s the idea of everyone else starting to believe in themselves just as much as I do that’s scary.
MCQUEEN: Do you think you have another 10 years like this in you? Can you extend that interest and success that you’ve enjoyed in music into whatever other fields that you want to venture? Is that possible?
WEST: One-hundred percent. Easy as cake, easy as pie. Too many people are scared. But it is my job to go up every night and talk about this kind of shit. It is actually my job. I’m like a broadcaster for futurism, for dreamers, for people who believe in themselves. We’ve been taught since day one to stop believing in our own dreams. We’ve had the confidence beaten out of us since day one, and then sold back to us through branding and diamond rings and songs and melodies—through these lines that we have to walk inside of so as to not break the uniform or look silly or be laughed at. So I hope that there are people out there laughing. Laugh loud, please. Laugh until your lungs give out because I will have the last laugh.
Read the interview in its entirety HERE and flip for even more pics…
Read the interview in its entirety HERE