Yeezus Complex: Why Kanye West’s “Yeezus” Falls Flat

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It’s only been a few days but after listening to Yeezus many times over, I don’t think I can sign off on it as a “good” album without serious reservations. Surprisingly, I don’t especially mind the hellish atmosphere or the spaced-out industrial grind that permeates the album. I don’t mind the fact that the album lacks the radio-ready singles that have been found on even the least accessible Kanye West albums up to this point. I don’t even mind that Kanye has almost entirely abandoned the warm soul-sampling sound that made me fall in love with his beats over a decade ago. My biggest problem with Yeezus has to do with the sexism and misogyny throughout its 40-minute runtime that has now been amped up to previously unseen (for Kanye) levels.

The overriding issue with Yeezus is that after a career spent deftly blending sharp social commentary with self-deprecating humor and fun, Kanye West now wants to be taken seriously. In the past, Kanye’s albums were smartly subversive. He would reference civil rights leaders in the same breath he talked about his super-expensive pants (one of my favorite Kanye lines from 2007’s Graduation was “I’m the fly Malcom X / buy any jeans necessary”). This juxtaposition always worked — Kanye was fun but he was also smart. I’m aware no one would consider West a crusader for women’s rights in the past, but it never seemed like he flat-out hated women either. If he disrespected a woman, he would often disrespect himself at the same time. For example, on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye toasts to “the douchebags, assholes, scumbags, and jerkoffs (who never take work off)” before imploring the woman he loves to run away from him as fast as she can. Here Kanye was admitting he was a shitty man who didn’t deserve the love of a good woman. Sure, he might have treated women poorly, but he never truly condoned his own actions.

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Fast forward to 2013, the summer of Yeezus. Kanye is now proclaiming his status as a deity and getting real dark with his dissection of American culture. Even “Bound 2,” the most warm and loving (and coincidentally best) song on the album, has lines like “She asked me what I asked for on the wish list / have you ever asked your bitch for more bitches?” This illustrates the central problem with Yeezus: Kanye no longer has his party-starting demeanor to point at whenever he reverts to cliched sexism and misogyny. His socially conscious rhymes about racial equality and civil rights on Yeezus are seriously undermined when he calls women bitches and constantly degrades them in the process. If we agree to take Kanye West seriously on “New Slaves,” a searing indictment of racism (and one of the strongest tracks on Yeezus), then we must also take the rest of his words seriously. In the past Kanye may not have been respectful to women, but there was always the underlying sense that deep down he admired them. No such admiration for women is found on Yeezus.

Back in 2005, you may remember a song where Kanye called a woman a “gold digger.” That may have been an insult, but the song was lighthearted enough to make it clear he was still the fool who stupidly let her walk all over him. On Yeezus, women are treated like trash while Kanye, no longer willing to play the fool he played in 2005, repeatedly affirms his position as some kind of deity. Ultimately I hope that Yeezus is nothing more than a muddled misfire of tone and message, but if this is how Kanye really feels about women then I hope his newborn daughter opens his eyes before he goes back in the studio to record a follow-up.

A Long-Winded Goodbye to Easy Street Records in Queen Anne

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Today Matt Vaughn (owner of Easy Street Records) announced that Easy Street’s Queen Anne location will be closing in just over two weeks to make way for a future branch of Chase Bank. This is terrible news for all Seattle music lovers. This Easy Street location was one of my favorite record stores throughout high school; a place where I discovered many albums that would eventually become staples of my musical diet. There was a little record shop in my hometown of Puyallup, but it was a sparse place in a strip mall lacking in character and owned by a man who didn’t seem to even enjoy music, let alone love it. That record shop was just alright, but it wasn’t a friendly place with an overwhelming selection and a knowledgeable staff who loved their jobs. It wasn’t like any of the record shops I saw in movies. It was no Empire Records or Championship Vinyl. Easy Street, on the other hand, was a REAL record store. Countless rows of product, over-sized posters everywhere, loud music blaring — it was one of a kind, and I loved it.

Back in high school, I remember when I was really excited for a new album and couldn’t wait until Tuesday to hear it, I would drive all the way from Puyallup to the Easy Street in Lower Queen Anne on Monday night. They were one of the only record stores that would stay open until midnight to sell all of Tuesday’s releases to whoever was willing to show up. The anticipation of those trips and the joy of listening to the album on the hour-long drive home is something I will truly never forget. Midnight at a record store is when only the most dedicated night owls remain, browsing the racks and waiting for the new day to begin so we can purchase an album we hope will be so great that it may just change our lives forever. We all loved music and couldn’t stand waiting around for another day to hear that special new release. We needed it right then.

I’ve been a Seattle resident for over six years and I have lived in close proximity to many other record stores — currently Sonic Boom in Ballard, formerly Cellophane Square in the U-District (RIP) — but through it all, the Queen Anne Easy Street Records remained number one with a bullet. After graduating from college, I actually moved to Queen Anne just a few blocks from Easy Street (a decision no doubt subconsciously influenced by its proximity to the store).  I loved living that close to such a great record store, and especially one where I had so many great memories over the years. Things had changed a bit, and they no longer stayed open late on Mondays to sell records because that devoted midnight customer base had dwindled over the years, but I loved it nonetheless. It was a zen-like space for me, a place I could go to clear my head and wander the racks, hoping to find something but also content to leave empty-handed if the hunt turned out to be fruitless. Now those visits will also soon be reduced to memories and I must resign myself to a lifetime of long-winded, angry rants every time I pass by that Chase branch from now until the day I pass from this earth.

If you’re also saddened by this news (or saddened by the closure of your favorite neighborhood coffee shop, book store, or grocery store), please join me and remember this feeling. Hold onto it. If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, I humbly suggest you make a commitment to buy local whenever possible. Don’t buy a single album at Best Buy or Target in 2013. Obviously there are reasons that those stores exist (for example, if you need a DVD player or some face wash), but there is no reason to buy music from them when there are plenty of incredible locally-owned record stores here in Seattle selling the exact same products. There is a satisfaction that comes with making a purchase, helping a local business, and opening a physical product that you will never get from an iTunes download.

I don’t enjoy being preachy, but please allow me to briefly remain up on this soapbox. If we continue to let large corporations slice off bigger and bigger pieces of the economic pie, we will forever be saying goodbye to our favorite independent businesses and discouraging entrepreneurs from opening new ones. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where independent record stores don’t exist, every coffee shop is a Starbucks, every cheeseburger comes from McDonald’s, and the only place to rent movies is a vending machine outside Safeway. I vote against this kind of future with my wallet every chance I get, and I encourage you to do the same. The Best Buys and the Targets of the world will always be there if you need them, but today’s news is further proof that good things don’t always last, even when they should.

R.I.P. Easy Street Records, Queen Anne. You will be missed but never forgotten. See you soon in West Seattle.

-E

UW-LSU 2012: A Washington Fan’s Perspective

Just over three years ago, the University of Washington was coming off one of the worst seasons ever recorded by a Division-I NCAA football program. In 2008, the final year of Tyrone Willingham’s reign of terror on Montlake, the Dawgs went 0-11 before embarrassing themselves further by losing the only game they absolutely needed to win – the Apple Cup – against an equally dreadful Washington State Cougar squad. The following year, UW had a new coaching staff and a new set of expectations, but all the same players. We opened our season by welcoming #11 LSU into Husky Stadium for a night game, and while we did end up losing, the final 8-point deficit was far closer than any radio personality or ESPN talking head could have imagined from a team with as much pathetic stink lingering in the recent past as the Washington Huskies had. That 11th-ranked LSU team thought they could walk all over the Dawgs, but our fans made a lot of noise, our team stood strong, and we valiantly gave them a fight they weren’t expecting.

 
Flash forward three years to this Saturday, and our unranked Washington Huskies led by quarterback (and odds-on favorite for the Heisman of our collective hearts) Keith Price, will head to Baton Rouge to take on LSU once more. I did not set the stage with the story of UW’s 2009 season-opening loss to LSU as some kind of harbinger of doom, but rather as a message of hope. Both UW and LSU are now much different teams, each notably stronger than they were three years ago. Yes, another loss to LSU this weekend would hurt, but I’d like to remind you what happened two weeks after that loss to LSU back in the 2009 season. The Washington Huskies took the field against the 3rd-ranked USC Trojans and beat them with a last-second Erik Folk field goal, capping a football game and field rush (pictured below) that became one of the most beloved memories of all my years as a collegiate sports fan.

 

 

Did I already mention that USC team was ranked #3 in the nation the week we beat them? Did I mention LSU is also ranked #3 in the nation THIS week? Sure, it would be a fallacy to argue that simply because UW beat a 3rd-ranked USC team in 2009 they will beat 3rd-ranked LSU this weekend, just like it would be inaccurate to argue that just because the Huskies lost to an 11th-ranked LSU team in 2009 they will automatically lose to a higher-ranked LSU team this weekend. Sports do not work like that, and such simple transitive qualities rarely apply in games that are often decided by the smallest moments and most (seemingly) miniscule factors. What these things do illustrate, though, is the reason we watch – the hope that something incredible will take place. In sports, like in life, there will always be experts offering opinions (23.5 point underdogs!), but once the whistle blows we all know the result can only be decided on the field.

 
So fellow Husky fans, as we head into what the entire nation has predetermined will be a slaughter, I’d like to remind you that amazing, shocking, and unpredictable things do happen. For my sake, and for the sake of Husky fans everywhere, I hope those amazing, shocking, and unpredictable things take place for the Huskies at LSU this Saturday. Those rare moments are the reason sports fans so deeply enjoy such seemingly trivial competitions, and it’s the reason I have and will always cheer for the University of Washington Huskies. No matter how dark things get (and trust me, 0-12 was plenty dark), there is always that glimmer of hope and that knowledge that on a given day anything can happen. I have believe good things will happen for the Dawgs on this trip to Baton Rouge, and I hope every fan sporting purple and gold this weekend feels the same way.

 

-E

Some Fantasy Football Advice Grantland Didn’t Like

Last week, Grantland sent out a call for readers to submit a 750-word article on fantasy football. The assignment was to write about five picks and sleeper for the 2012 season. I didn’t publish my entry on the blog because it violated the terms of the contest but today I found out I wasn’t selected. Now that I no longer have a longshot chance to become a semi-famous internet sportswriter, I figure I might as well publish it. Here’s what I had to say:

 

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Everyone knows it’s never good to overthink your fantasy draft. Once it begins, all those mock drafts and hours spent scrawling illegible notes all over your apartment like Kevin Spacey in Se7en are immediately out the window and chaos reigns supreme. Someone is going to take your number one pick and the drunkest guy in the room will grab a kicker in the 4th round. Surely these things will throw you off your game and push you into quick decision-making territory. Don’t be the guy who panics – no one likes the guy who panics.

It’s very important to decide on a simple guideline that will govern all quick decisions you have to make on draft day. This year, I’m going with player names. Having two first names is the best possible scenario. Famous examples include Ron Paul, Ron Jeremy, and Ronnie from Jersey Shore (his last name is “Sammi,” right?). Those people have all excelled in their respective fields so this should work out well for me. [Note: People not named “Ron” can also qualify so don’t worry, Ronnie Brown will not be on my list.] Now, time for the picks:

  1. Aaron Rodgers – I know people don’t typically spell Roger with a “d,” but we’ll let it slide this time because he’s Aaron Rodgers. He also plays for a team that was notoriously poor on defense last year. This means his games remain closer than they should and he will continue throwing the ball later in the game. Rodgers also has the “discount double check” thing going and State Farm is a Pro Bowl sponsor. I smell collusion, but the terms “good” and “evil” mean nothing in the cut-throat world of fantasy football. Collusion is your friend, folks.
  2. Tom Brady – He easily passes the “two first names” test and we all know this guy is good. So good, in fact, that he has become the face of Ugg boots, the official shoe of eskimos, college girls embarrassed of what the “freshmen 15” has done to their ankles, and athletes everywhere. Much like my rationale for Aaron Rodgers, the Patriots defense has left much to be desired in the past and Brady will often be forced to pass throughout the 4th quarter. Honestly, even if the game situation doesn’t call for it, Belichick may throw late in blow-out games anyway because he (allegedly) sold his soul to the devil in 1999 for a future Super Bowl ring and a never-ending supply of hooded sweatshirts.
  3. LeSean McCoy – He doesn’t pass the “two first names” test but the symmetry of LeSean McCoy’s name is reason enough to draft this guy in the first round. In football-related reasoning, we all know Michael Vick is likely to be in a back brace by halftime of Week 2 and the Eagle’s offensive burden will fall to McCoy. Considering he averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown almost every week of the 2011 season, it’s safe to say he will be up to the task.
  4. Maurice Jones-Drew – Yes, I know “Jones” is not a first name, but “Maurice and “Drew” both are. It’s a first-name sandwich and this is America, the land of sandwiches and opportunity, so I say it counts for something. We all know MJD has been holding out, but that is bound to end soon because this guy loves fantasy football. He must be watching his stock fall in mock drafts and salivating at the chance to prove people wrong. Be the risky genius who takes a chance because his value will far outweigh the pick spent on him.
  5. LeGarrette Blount – Much like MJD, this is another value pick. He had an injury in the preseason but it has been deemed “minor.” Still, the injury is likely to scare off the risk-averse owners in your league. Take a chance on LeGarrette Blount. He punched a guy on national television once. It was awesome. You might be saying, “WAIT this guy doesn’t pass the two-first-names test.” Well, my observant friend, you’re right. But I grant him an exception because I knew a guy in college whose nickname was “Blunts.” Not sure why everybody called him that. Cool guy, but he always seemed sleepy. Speaking of sleepy… It’s time for my sleeper pick.

Sleeper: Jason Pierre-Paul. Why? THREE FIRST NAMES. Yes, I am aware he’s a defensive player but trust me, you just can’t go wrong when a guy has three first names. Thank me later.

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Some Thoughts on Life, Death, and iPod Batteries (Inspired by my Grandfather)

I had a lot on my mind earlier tonight so I went for a run down to Carkeek Park. As I sat there on the beach watching the sun set on the water I thought about my grandfather and all he’s ever taught me. The calm of this moment was broken as my iPod beeped and the robotic voice whispered “low battery” into my earbuds. A few moments later, the music stopped and I stashed the iPod in my pocket for the uphill run through the woods back home.

I may be young and dumb, but at this point I am wise enough to know that everything in this world dies (even my iPod). I am also selfish enough to wish this wasn’t true. It may sound stupid, but that “low battery” moment at the beach illuminated the truth behind a thousand cliches from a thousand movies and a thousand bad poems — death is just a part of life. It will happen to all of us, and while dwelling on the end of life is no real way to live, keeping the reality of death in mind will spur each of us to live the most meaningful possible version of our lives. I think that’s what my Grandpa was trying to tell me today on the phone. Whether his fighting spirit carries him through this week or I have to say goodbye to him soon, I’ll never forget the lessons he has taught me. I will carry them with me for my entire life.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned from my grandfather is the importance of telling the people in your life how much you care about them. It may feel stupid to occasionally tell your friends and family that they’re important to you, but if you always speak honestly from deep within your soul, you’ll never be wrong. My grandfather is never afraid to tell a person how great they are and how much he loves them, and it is one of his most admirable traits. He never holds back the compliments, and he overflows with positivity. He is honestly one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met, and I want to live that legacy every single day. He radiates with love and his spirit brightens every room he enters. When I think about my future, I won’t care whether I someday make a lot of money or drive a fancy car back-and-forth between my mansion and my high-paying job, as long as I end up like him. I can only hope that once I learn to be a real man, I can then learn to be a great man. A man like my grandfather.

I guess this bring us to the “teachable moment,” if that is something that can even happen on a hardly-read blog on a Monday night. Tonight I discovered three important nuggets of valuable truth: Sunsets are Carkeek Park are absolutely beautiful, death is just a part of life, and sometimes cliches like “death is just a part of life” exist for a reason. This is one of those times.

Thank you for reading this. You didn’t have to and I appreciate it. If you can find the time, please send my wonderful grandfather your thoughts, prayers, and whatever other meditative-type good vibes you choose to generate. He has been making the world a better place his entire life and he could use the love.

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