Yeezus 2020

Trying to make sense of Kanye West in San Jose

I’m living’ in that 21st century

Doing something mean to it

Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it

Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it

I guess every superhero need his theme music

No one man should have all that power

The clock’s ticking’, I just count the hours

Stop tripping’, I’m tripping’ off the power

(21st century schizoid man)

The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open

We ain’t got nothing’ to lose, ma’ fucka’, we rolling

Huh? Ma’fucka’, we rolling’

With some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands

In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen

So goodnight, cruel world, I see you in the mornin’

Huh? I see you in the mornin’

This is way too much, I need a moment

Holy, powers, Austin, Powers

Lost in translation with a whole fuckin’ nation

They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation?

Well that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation

At the end of day, goddammit I’m killin’ this shit

I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit

I don’t need your pussy, bitch I’m on my own dick

I ain’t gotta power trip, who you goin’ home with?

How ‘Ye doin? I’m survivin’

I was drinkin’ earlier, now I’m drivin’

Where the bad bitches, huh? Where ya hidin’

I got the power, make yo’ life so exciting (so exciting)

- Kanye West, Power

“You’re not wrong Walter… You’re just an asshole”
The Dude

All quotes paraphrased from memory

I’ll start at the top of the show. We had seats up in the 200’s, behind what would normally be the stage position. For this show however, as on the rest of the St. Pablo tour, Kanye was hoisted above the floor on a suspended floating platform, which could move around the entire floor of the arena, illuminating the audience underneath it, and tilting back and forth to allow Kanye to lean in different directions throughout the night. The show began with tunes from the recently released St. Pablo, but it took a serious left turn at the beginning of “Famous”. It was maybe the third song.

Three different times Kanye stopped the song, and began almost unintelligible (from where I was) rants. The third time it became clearer what he was saying, mostly because the sound techs figured out he was going to be talking a lot and turned him way up. The first extremely controversial moment was probably when he asked the crowd if we thought anyone in the room had voted for Donald Trump. The majority of the audience booed loudly. Kanye chastised us. “I didn’t ask you to boo, I asked if you THINK someone in here voted for Trump.” Again people booed. Again he chastised us, “I mean just by the number we have to assume at least someone in here voted for Trump, but when I ask that question you all hear something different.”

He went on for some time about the difference between asking your opinion on someone, and asking if you believed something was a fact. “Do you think it’s a fact that someone in here voted for Donald Trump?” Finally people reluctantly responded with a vague but unenthusiatic “yes”. He asked us why we didn’t respond to the question correctly the first time. We couldn’t come up with an easily phrased collective response.
 “HOW MANY people in here do you think voted for Donald Trump?” The crowd, once more confused as to how they might feasibly as a group answer such a specific question, kept silent. He then gave us options, “2 people? 40 people? 400 people??” The audience then began shouting random numbers back at him, myself included. I believed 837 seemed a good number. Kanye believed over 1/3 of people in the room might have feasibly voted for Trump, and that he liked knowing that even though they voted for Trump, and most people think of Kanye fans as Hillary supporters, that in a Kanye show, it doesn’t matter what your political views are, everyone is accepted. “Alright play it again,” he said.

This level of interaction went on for some time, with 1 song being played, and the next song abruptly cut off by Kanye screaming, “HOLD UP! HOLD UP!” Next came the topic of education. Our k-12 education, as Kanye sees it is woefully misguided and underfunded. If it were up to him, we’d fund more education. Also, he kept talking about including all political views in his space, how this was a safe space for people of all views to express themselves. After a 5–10 minute rant he would just look at the band offstage and say, “Next song!” and off we went, until he cut himself off again, “HOLD UP! HOLD UP!”

Then came the meat and potato portion of the night. This rant went on for over 20 minutes. It all revolved around admiring Trump’s campaign, and his strategy throughout. He remarked that Trump, in exposing his own racism, xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia tapped into a way of communicating with the masses that bypassed the media. He went off for some time about “echo chambers” on the internet, and how due to the clickbait nature of facebook shares and likes, we’ve all created insular bubbles around ourselves by surrounding ourselves only with people and sources that tell us what we want to hear. This explained, he felt, the reason why the polls were so off, and also why people were so shocked on election day. He was adamant that the internet was a source of lies, and that every person should learn how to research facts for themselves, because believing the headline of every article we see on our Facebook feed leads to false information being spread. He went off for a while about how those around him warned him NOT to speak out about these things, but he had no intention of keeping quiet.

I want to make it clear that throughout every one of his rants, for the most part, people were attentive. Occasionally the crowd would get restless, and semi boo the fact that he was still speaking, and a handful of people in my section did leave. For the most part however, I’d say that 80–85% of people who were there at the beginning were still there at the end. A couple of times, when the crowd attempted to coax him back into playing music he made it clear that he didn’t wouldn’t be badgered into playing music. In fact, he then chastised us again by saying, “When you clap while I’m talking it makes me think you’re trying to tell me you want to see the OLD St. Pablo tour from three years ago. You’re trying to rush me to play music, but I’m trying to say something to you guys, and it matters.” He said several times that he felt really good, and that was why he wanted to talk so much.

After several starts and stops, he finally shifted from talking about people who might’ve voted for Trump definitely being in the room to, “I have to admit. I DIDN’T VOTE. Ooohhhhhhhh! I can hear ticket sales for the rest of the tour plummeting! I didn’t vote, but if I HAD voted, I would’ve voted for Donald Trump.” At this juncture, there were some boos, but certainly not a full room boo, or even close to it. He went on to claim that what we should focus on is not whether or not Trump is the best at everything himself, but whether he is smart enough to surround himself with the “best of class” as he put it (editorial spoiler alert; NO!).

At this point the Kanye 2020 references started being tossed around, things like, “That’s why if things are like this, I’m gonna have to run in four years!” As well as, “People are gonna say, Kanye you didn’t even vote and you expect us to vote for you?! WHY?” Because, he said, he would focus on working with people towards empathy and understanding over rather than the old “us vs them” mentality. After his longest rant- including the portion about running and supporting Trump over Hillary- he played the song “Power”. It should be noted, all he said was “next song” and that’s the song the band started. This in my opinion was not a coincidence. This song, more than any other during the set outside of possibly “Runaway” was emblematic of the night, and by extension emblematic of Kanye’s larger point:

The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open

We ain’t got nothing’ to lose, ma’ fucka’, we rolling

Huh? Ma’fucka’, we rolling’

Lost in translation with a whole fuckin’ nation

They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation?

Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation

At the end of day, goddammit I’m killin’ this shit

I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit

I don’t need your pussy, bitch I’m on my own dick

I ain’t gotta power trip, who you goin’ home with?

No one man should have all that power

The clocks tickin’ I just count the hours

Stop trippin’ I’m tripping off the power

(21st century Schizoid Man)

That to me, said it all. This was at least in part, a staged rant, even if (much like Trump would often do in campaign mode) he went “off script” at times.* Towards the end of the show he did “Runaway” and I must admit, “You’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long” has never meant so much to me as a line, nor has the “Toast for all the douchebags” portion of the song. Again, not a coincidence, especially considering he did a vocoded rant/rap about loving us, as long as we loved ourselves, in the same way he loves himself, which is how much he loves us, as long we love ourselves…”

I’m definitely forgetting some gems, but after he stopped talking as much for the last 45 minutes or so, the night ended with “Ultralight Beam” (no Chance verse at the end for some reason, boo). At the end of the song he went off one last rant, specifically, to tell “black people that are in the audience tonight, that we gotta stop talking about racism all the time.” TO BE FAIR, he followed it up with, “Let’s admit it, we know it’s a racist a country. We live in a racist country and a racist world. That’s a fact.” He then made some statement about needing to move past that, in order for us to progress as a country.

I want to take another minute to point out that as much as you might be reading this horrified, I can tell you that something about the way he said what he said, had myself and both of my very intelligent, progressively minded friends who voted for Hillary laughing, and in shock and agreeing with him. I need to relisten to as much as I can get my hands on, in order to really understand what happened. I know that at no point did I think about leaving the Arena, even as he repeatedly stopped the music to talk about how amazing it was that he just talked for that long, and that we were still singing his songs louder than he’d ever heard them.

I was fascinated, truth be told. Flabbergasted even. Did I disagree with a few of his basic premises on a fundamental level, yes. HOWEVER, I agreed with a hell of a lot more of them than I disagreed with. I also was astonished by the fact that he wasn’t wrong, even on things that I found horrendous to hear. He was right, we were still singing loudly, and for better or for worse I helped validate behavior I still don’t quite understand. HOWEVER, the other side of it is that when he shut up and played for a long time, it was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever been a part of.

The floor beneath his stage was a swarming mass of humans, part dance circle, part mosh pit, and part fanaticism at its highest level. The floor has more space open than people that can fill it, because as the platform moves around, people literally follow it around. I hope this image comes through, he was floating above the people on a platform, and they were packed into each other in order to always remain as close to his floating platform, under his light. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look cult like.

Fueled by Trump’s campaign, Kanye (rightfully so, to a certain extent) has decided that past narrative is no longer a hindrance to the oval office. The sheer idea of a Trump presidency was so beyond anyone’s feasible imagination that literally the only people to forecast it years ago were comedy writers (Simpsons, I’m looking at you) and Back To The Future 2 in the form of Biff becoming president. Like him or hate him, Kanye is clearly in tune with the masses in a way that goes far beyond his wild opinions, or insane views. His product, his “crack music” has been getting more and more potent over the course of the past many years. For every “I miss the Old Kanye” fan out there, there’s hundreds of new fans that started listening to him Post Graduation, and for whom College Dropout and Late Registration are oldies to be studied, not the soundtrack to their lives. Every track off the new album had large swaths of the audience singing every lyrics, including ad lib lines. They don’t miss anything, they LOVE this Kanye, like they love themselves.

For these fans, much as for Donald Trump supporters, his wild tweets and crazy stage persona are not taken at face value. I am not one of these fans, however I have to admit that even I found myself rationalizing some of his horrible statements, and re interpreting them in a more positive light, just because I literally “felt” like I understood what he “meant” to say. It finally dawned on me that in a way this could be a model for the campaign rallies of the future, and that if it was, A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD ATTEND. After Donald Trump’s campaign, the rules have changed, and maybe Kanye knows something we don’t.

I decided to write this all out in the hopes that it paints a clearer portrait of what ultimately was a very strange night, but also a very interesting one. I don’t know what to make of any of this, and I left baffled, astounded and quite dumbfounded. I do however know that he also very clearly talked about how the night was going to be spun by the media as a debacle of epic proportions, even though it clearly wasn’t. Once again, he was not wrong… just an asshole. Yeezus 2020 could easily be a real thing, and God Help Us all.

*

  • Off script moments hard to place but impossible not to mention:

Someone threw a “Views” hat on stage, possibly in an attempt antagonize Kanye into making fun of Drake. Instead Kanye used the hat to exemplify how people will try to create division, and instigate separation. “I could sit here and say all sorts of, ‘I’m the greatest ever etc,’ but a track on St. Pablo has Drake on it! How dumb would that be?!”

He stated that he would never call security over to kick someone out, unless that person was themselves being violent.

He got mad at people for throwing things on stage, most seemed fairly soft in nature, but the gesture seemed to upset him. He said he didn’t mind the hat though, and wore it for most of the night.

At some point he complained about a best friend of 7 years disagreeing with him and how it pissed him off. Don’t ask me.

He screwed up “I Love Kanye” twice, and restarted it. He said it always messed it up and it drove him crazy. Then he still messed it up but he got through and was really excited about it.

During one song he stopped the music to tell us that he had just said the dirtiest things ever in the song, and we all cheered for it. Then he asked the band to start the song again so he could repeat the lines again.

At one point he chastised the audience for trying to tell him what to do with his “platform”. I don’t think the 3 way pun was intentional, but the comedy hit me hard.

He made several jokes about ticket sales for the rest of the tour plummeting, and about how the media was going to talk about the show as though he had lost his mind.

He said several times that he’s been told not to speak to audiences at shows, but that he doesn’t care, and that our actions proved him right… I still did not leave.