Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy drops today, and the rapper is scoring some of the best reviews in his already highly-praised career. (Pitchfork rated the album a perfect 10.0 — the first time in eight years the site has handed out that distinction. Take that, Lauer! While ‘Ye himself hasn’t tweeted in several days (and skipped G.O.O.D. Friday this weekend), we have to think this all feels like a resounding win.
We’ll likely be unpacking and digesting Fantasy for quite a while, but one critical part of the story that’s just coming to light is the intensive process behind it. Complex writer Noah Callahan-Bever spent some time in Hawaii, living with Kanye and chilling in his Honolulu studio, and in the process scored a fascinating look at the making of what might be the album of the year. How DO you create a masterpiece?
Callahan-Bever received generous access to peeking into West’s world, observing as he went about the process of making his fully-loaded LP with a team of collaborators (Pusha T, Q-Tip, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who was flown out three separate times). Callahan-Bever calls this meeting of the minds a “rap camp,” which even included communal breakfasts at Yeezy’s Diamondhead pad and daily games of basketball. Highlights from the profile “Project Runaway” below.
On Kanye’s sense of humor in the studio: “What does elicit a visceral reaction—hard, heavy laughter—is the wall of Kanye Commandments posted on 8.5″x 11″ sheets of paper on one side of the studio. They include the obvious—’No Tweeting’ and ‘No Pictures’—and some…well, some less obvious ones, too. Not that ‘No Hipster Hats’ and ‘Just Shut the Fuck Up Sometimes’ aren’t rules to live by.”
On Kanye’s sleeping habits: “During my five days in Hawaii, Kanye never slept at his house, or even in a bed. He would, er, power-nap in a studio chair or couch here and there in 90-minute intervals, working through the night. Engineers remained behind the boards 24 hours a day.”
On how Kanye works with others: “Kanye’s process is communal—he literally goes around the room asking everyone there what ‘power’ means to them, throws out lines to see how they’re received, and works out his exact wording with whomever is around to help. But his output is most definitely entirely his own—one listen to that consistently unique cadence, word choice, and sense of humor reveals that. Rappers, producers, and entourage are all welcome to offer ideas or phrases, but the funny thing is, nearly every suggestion is met with, ‘That’s really not at all a word I would ever say, but don’t stop offering ideas, thanks!’”
Pusha T, on trying to become a bigger douchebag for Kanye: “I wrote ‘Runaway’ four times—and what he does not know to this day is that I was going through a relationship scandal in my life. So this man is asking me to write a song about a relationship and to say that I’m the biggest douchebag ever. He’s telling me, ‘Yo, you need to be more douchebag. We need more douchebag!’ I didn’t want to say to him, ‘Dog, I don’t know if I even have douchebag in me right now.’ I’ve been jammed up, and it’s hard for me to even tap into that part,because I’m remorseful. [Laughs.] And he’s fucking beating me for fucking more. All I hear in my head is, ‘More douchebag. More douchebag. More douchebag!’”
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, on working with Kanye in Hawaii: “I was surprised at how relaxed I was the whole time because he’s a really cool guy, and really down to earth. I’m just a fuckin’ lumberjack dude from Wisconsin, I’m not going to go out there and try to be this awesome rap guy. I’m just doing my job. My favorite thing about Kanye is he just doesn’t quit. He does not quit on a song. Sometimes in pop music, there’s so much clutter and so many people trying to do something that’s gonna get on the radio or whatever, but he’s truly about approaching the song and finishing it and doing the coolest possible thing that he wants to express. He’s not just a rapper. He’s not just a producer. He’s a musician.”
Nicki Minaj, on getting to know the real Kanye: “I didn’t think that he was gonna like me. I always figured that he was one of those conscious rappers, so I thought that he wouldn’t want girls to be dressed overtly sexy—and I go to the studio and he has nothing but pictures of naked women on his computer that he’d invite me to look at. They were really artsy pictures, but you know he loves nudity, so it was a complete shock to me, ’cause I thought I had him all figured out, but I didn’t. He was watching porn when we were in the studio—no shame in his game.”
Kid Cudi, on not being a fan of sports: “Kanye always asked me to play basketball, and I’m not athletic at all. What was I going to be, scorekeeper? So I would sleep in until they got done playing. I always had jet lag out there while other people were in the Hawaii groove already, but it worked out, because by the time they were done hooping, I was refreshed and ready to go. I dodged any sport they were trying to play, that’s for certain. [Laughs.]”
Read the entire profile, “Project Runaway”, over at Complex.