Earlier this month, Hypebeast released an uncut version of Kanye Wests interview from back in 2013 for the Stones Throw Records’ documentary, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. In the interview, Kanye is being asked questions centered around one of his idols, legendary Hip Hop producer J Dilla and the recording industry as a whole.
But being fresh off the recording of Yeezus, the conversation quickly turns to fashion. After hearing Yeezus and all of his radio rants on fashion up to this point, watching this part of the interview can get frustrating for someone just interested in the music. You’ll quickly find yourself saying “Come on Ye’! Just talk about hip hop! What the hell could J Dilla possibly have to do with Mason Martin Margiela?”
Yet you will discover his answer to this question can change not only the way you listen to music, but the way you experience art in general.
“To the layman who doesn’t necessarily understand the process of isolating different sounds and drum beats and how those are sort of layered like textures, could you describe that?”.
The topic in question appears early in the interview where the interviewer, Jeff Broadway, asks Kanye a question on hip hop production.
From the way he framed the question, it was apparent that Kanye’s fashion fixation was going to make an appearance in a conversation originally meant to be music driven. His answer starts good, citing the multiple avenues a producer can take when they first start out, using examples such as sampling beats and creating drum tracks from scratch. He even elaborates on the different eras of music you could pull from and what types of sounds you could lay on top of it. Then, the eye roller part comes. The fashion nonsense. Why? It’s a music documentary. Why make it about clothes? At this point it is easy to miss the point Kanye is really trying to make. Even though he segues into fashion talk, he’s still talking music.
“ This combination … is how people define their textures and who they are and the hip hop producers are very similar to the fashion designers and that’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in fashion because it’s the same thing.”
“ People will take a military jacket and modernize it, so I’ll take an Otis Redding sample and modernize it… texturally what Margiela was to fashion is really similar to what Dilla was to music.”
If you set aside all of your preconceived notions of what the interview is about or what hip hop or fashion is or isn’t, not only is he right, he is literally explaining why he is right in the same language he uses to describe making beats.
A fashion designer like Margiela does not just simply slap pieces of cloth together, claim it’s high fashion and mark-up its price. He spends hours searching through layers and layers of previously used designs, cloth and textures from different time periods to find just the right pieces the same way an DJ would dig through hundreds of old vinyls looking for those few perfect sounds and breaks.
He takes those pieces and adds the crude, roughly juxtaposed, unrefined color and texture space of a Margiela perspective the same way Dilla would add his perspective on his samples and drums to create that raw punchy, in-your-ear sound (in the interview, Kanye uses a more explicit phrase to describe this feeling).
“ He’d take like a small ring and make it like an oversize bracelet or flip a jacket inside out or cut all of the edges really raw. That rawness, that’s what people are looking for. That reality. That life… He was able to capture all of that and sometimes give you such an amazingly emotional connective like melody… and that’s what he [J Dilla] is…”
While Kanye didn’t clearly define this within his answer, it became clear that he isn’t even comparing hip-hop to fashion. He is comparing one artist’s style to another the only way he knows how. By using the language he learned in hip hop.
He goes on to make further comparisons one would not necessarily think to make, such as Pete Rock to Jean Paul Gaultier and Q-Tip to John Galliano. The comparisons that I personally found interesting came when he threw movie directors in the mix. He mentions directors like the Cohen brothers and Quentin Tarantino and how they are very much similar to the style of Wu-Tang Clan. If you’ve seen any of RZA’s work, from his films to his clothing designs, this comparison sheds the most light on the point Kanye is trying to make. That hip hop is not a genre of music, it is one of many languages in which to interpret art with.
So, who cares right? Even if he’s right to make the comparisons what does that have to do with any of us? It’s thought provoking and you could endlessly make comparisons like this but does it really matter? It’s just Kanye being Kanye speaking on things that don’t change anything in our world, right? Wrong. At least in regards to what I took away from it.
Although this answer is only a 2 ½ minute piece of a 22 minute interview, it has opened up hours of music, movies and culture I never thought to listen to or look at. I always saw hip hop as one genre of music. I saw high fashion as being too expensive and high class for me to truly appreciate. I found certain movies to be confusing with no real direction. But after looking at it in the way Kanye described, it changed things. A movie like Miles Ahead based on Miles Davis, while obviously rooted in blues and jazz music, is strikingly similar to a movie I previously didn’t care to watch like Walk the Line based on Johnny Cash.
This led me to listen to some his music. I hated country before this. But now, I can actually listen to it and appreciate an artist like Johnny Cash more. Listening to some of his music, specifically, his cover of Hurt, Led me to a band like Nine Inch Nails and their music. Something I saw as the complete opposite to a Johnny Cash in every way.
The point is that by removing pre-conceived notions and expectations around what you like and what you don’t like, you can potentially remove the very things that are stopping you from fully experiencing or appreciating it.
In the same way that American Idol can inspire someone to sing, why can’t a hip hop song inspire a building design, or a painting inspire a historical speech. You could be one inspiration away from making something that changes the world. For all you know, that one piece of inspiration could come from that band you’ve always hated with a passion, in that museum your parents always dragged you to on the weekends, or that Kanye West interview you started out loathing.
Kanye’s answer is very simple when understood correctly: J Dilla is an artist. Period. We shouldn’t restrict him or anything else in the art world to a box. Those of us who stop and realize this are the ones who grow up to be the J Dillas in the world.