Kanye by Karl Lagerfeld. Flew to Paris to shoot with Karl & Kanye, then spent a week in Paris with Ye (you'd be getting fucked up too), ultimately deciding to collaborate on lyrics-sourced text art in lieu of interview. Art Director Cian Browne and I worked with Kanye and his then-creative director Virgil Abloh to create the spread.
PHOTOGRAPHY KARL LAGERFELD
TEXT ELLIOTT DAVID
KANYE WEST REGAINED THE POP MUSIC THRONE WITH HIS FIFTH STUDIO ALBUM, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY, WHICH IS BEING RIGHTLY REVERED AS A MASTERPIECE. NOW, HE PUST HIS MONEY WHERE HIS MOUTH IS AND LETS THE ART SPEAK FOR ITSELF.
You don't know shit about Kanye West. Yes, the man obviously needs no introduction. Nor need he say anything to anyone. At least not for a while. He doesn't owe you or me or any of us any explanation: for his fluctuating and avant-garde style; his mercurial and, well, avant-garde behavior; his gorgeous film, Runaway; his fashion endeavors; or his flawless album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But believe me when I say that though you probably know it all , you don't know anything. You have no idea who he is, and whatever you might believe is spectacularly untrue. Even the facts. Or the fall-out. Or the fantasy. Don't believe any of it. Not because it 's false-some of it is, some isn 't. But identity is a fragile, volatile beast. Who we think we are is composed of countless particles of action: conscious choice, arduous work, impulsive decisions, the stories we rehearse and the sentences we speak the second we think them—the fabricated and the organic, the reflexive and the deliberate.
For someone like Kanye, whose every move is documented and televised and forwarded and re-tweeted and whatever, there's a war between the existentialist identity felt by the artist and the one imposed upon him by the people, the armies of talk and the obedient listeners, the digital masses and the Internet babies all growed up. The collective perspective of millions of people can be the greatest enemy of an artist, particularly in that ultimately, no matter what the media machine manufactures, the manifestation of who he is is completely the artist 's own, for lack of a better term, liability. All his tiny decisions and actions chaotically bounce off one another, creating the notion of a whole, which isn't viewed through a microscope as is assumed, but an aggregate zoomed-out lens, and all we want to focus on are the mistakes: the bright flare, the fracture from cracks—all the accidental beauty of error outshines the image itself.
But there's one quantifier that can be held in high regard: risk. How deep of a chance on the unknown one is willing to take, how hard a gamble on intuition and taste, how devout the faith in the self. Who you are as an artist might be articulated through what of yourself you're willing to put out there. Risk it all, and there you are. And there's perhaps no greater risk taker in pop culture than Kanye West.
This is not to deny the obvious fact that West has made some missteps. Not so much artistically as behaviorally. There was a time when we couldn't get him to stop talking. He certainly owns (up to) some responsibility for distracting us from his art. He'd step on stages that weren't his. He'd grab a mic out of someone's hand. He condemned a villain when he had the world's attention. And everyone assumed that's exactly what he wanted: attention. And there's likely truth to that. But why that's a bad thing I can't figure out, as we've certainly collectively decided that Ye is someone who deserves our attention, or at the very least someone we compulsively observe. And rightly so. He's ferociously opinionated and unafraid to speak his raw mind, unwilling to choreograph his ideals for the media's theater. His total lack of filter suggests something like purity, even when what he's spitting is at best venomous. At this point, anything that comes out of his mouth will be skewed and spun just as much as it will be presented verbatim in a clear, legit context.
And that's a dangerous place to be, because contemporary celebrity culture is such that we tend too initially and desperately to push aside the content an artist produces in attempts to gain shallow insight on the individual, to put our mouths and ears up against the clamor of scandal and reverberation of rumor, the gossip and controversy and hearsay that surround anyone we put in our carnivorous limelight, wishing our spotlights were x-rays, always wanting more than enough. To the point that we willingly invent things to satisfy this need, happily supplanting fact with fiction, dismissing the true access to the identity of an artist: their work. We sever this connection in effigy, happily supplanting it with some illusion that faster satisfies our rabid inattentiveness and romantic notion of fame.
But this whole "death of the artist" dialogue has been around for ages: from self-destroyed painters to anti-Semitic poets to wife-beating actors to suicidal authors, from philanthropists to martyrs to madmen. Do we just love to see our heroes fall? If that's the case, don't hold your breath on this one. Kanye West isn't going anywhere. His presence is indestructible because his talent is undeniable. He'll be here as long as he let 's us have him. And he's finally realized this.
We're sitting in a completely empty restaurant in Paris. Dave Cheung opens his eponymous eatery well after closing to satisfy our Chinese craving. We just left Karl Lagerfeld's studio after a long shoot. Me, Ye, and two of his closest. He says to me: "I don't want to do an interview." And I say I think that's a fine idea. Besides, what's left to say? What would you (the reader) even want to hear? We've talked about it all: music, money, art, love, loss, fashion, fucking, everything you've ever heard about, and lots of shit you haven't. "I want to let the music speak for itself," he says. And I couldn't agree more. Everything you could possibly want to know about Kanye is right there on the record. There is no more veracious portrayal of him than Dark Twisted Fantasy. It's his poetry, his art. To focus on anything but that would be a sad insult and a pointless redundancy. But to work with Kanye and create something out of those lyrics, a concrete poem, a piece of art, is more emblematic than any quote could ever be. These are his words. This is a portrait of the artist as a man.