The Internet, gloomy place that it is, was awash in all sorts of chatter this weekend, after Kanye West ripped into Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
“I ain’t fucking with that ‘Suit & Tie’,” he said.
But he didn’t stop there. He then denounced the corrosive influence of corporate sponsorship in creative industries, specifically the music business.
“I hate business people,” he said. “People get on the phone with me and tell me, ‘What kind of business can you do, though? What type of business are you doing? What’s the numbers? How much did you sell? How much shampoo can you sell with your face on it and shit?”
He questioned the whole purpose of making music in the first place.
“Remind me again why we in this shit … Since when [is] making music about getting rich? Since when [is] making art about getting rich?”
Perhaps the higher-ups at his label have been in Kanye’s ear, telling him he needs to play nice with brands so that they might be able to fork over some cash and underwrite his often majestic productions. He mimicked himself having to sell the brands on his newly-wholesome image.
“Can I sell a drink for you please?” he asked, rhetorically. “So you can help me put on a better show. Please corporations. Can you please support me? I swear I’m a nice nigga now. I swear I’ll put the pink polo back on. I swear to you … Just for $3 million dollars. I need it so bad. I need a new pool in my backyard. I tell my fans your shit is cool. And if they believe in me they should also believe in you. What’s my public rating now? Are they liking me again? They forgot about the whole Beyonce thing right? OK cool.”
But Kanye’s got a few points here.
One is glaringly obvious and perhaps underscores a larger issue which is endemic to critical institutions and perhaps our population as a whole — “Suit & Tie” is wack, and it’s even wacker that nobody in any position of real influence has stepped up to say so. The song is a major letdown from one of pop music’s most revered artists.
Back in 2007, ‘Ye told XXL that Timberlake was his biggest inspiration and competition.
“He’s the only other person that gets an across-the-board response and respect level — black radio, white radio,” he explained. “If Justin hadn’t come out and killed the game, I can’t say that my album, singles and videos would be on the same level that they’re on. We push each other. I look at me and Justin like Prince and Michael Jackson in their day.”
If Kanye’s the Michael Jackson in this relationship — think about it, he’s got to be MJ — it’s like Prince releasing a terrible single. He’s been waiting and waiting for this long and what does he get? Some watered-down attempt at being the next Robin Thicke. Seriously.
Beyond that, to see that JT is heading out on a stadium tour with such noticeably weak new material has to be frustrating. “Suit & Tie” is as mediocre a comeback record as there is. And yet he’s using it as a springboard for a major summer tour. Not just any summer tour. A stadium tour. A tour of that magnitude is about as big as it gets, on par with the rock n’ roll icons who we expect to roll through our indiscriminate cities during the warmer months every year. That he’s doing this “Legends of Summer” stadium tour with Jay-Z, whom ‘Ye was relegated to touring arenas with during the “Watch The Throne” tour, is saying something.
But where do the brands come into play and what exactly was Kanye getting at by taking shots at them?
Timberlake was recently named the Creative Director of Bud Light Platinum and Jay-Z has a long history of being supported by the folks over at Anheuser Busch. Back in 2006 he was named a Brand Director there (and might still be). His Philadelphia music festival last year was officially dubbed “Budweiser Made In America.” With two aces in the hole, it’s not stretch to think that the eponymous liquor franchise has signed on to be one of the sponsors of their “Legends of Summer Tour,” thereby giving the artists some of the financial support they need to stage such huge concerts.
All the while, the record industry is changing. Labels both indie and major are looking for any and every way to get other companies involved with their projects, so they might help offset the cost of what it takes to produce, market and sell a record.
Kanye West is not immune to these changes.
Because despite the critical acclaim and the fanfare, Kanye’s new records likely aren’t selling well enough these days to make up what they cost to produce. Def Jam and his team of advisers must be pleading with him at this point, telling him that he needs to partner with a brand to help make his next album or stage his next tour.
And this might be difficult for one, because his public image has taken a beating in recent years; and two, because he may be reluctant to have his music associated with type of brands that can afford to be in business with him.
Kanye’s recent material may not be remarkable, but still, this is one of the most adventurous musicians working today. The guy is doing anything but mailing it in from a creative standpoint. Ten years in and he’s still trying to push the limits of what can be done with a rap song. It’s just unfortunate that the results aren’t what they once were.
Can we say the same about Justin Timberlake? Given “Suit & Tie,” probably not. And it often goes overlooked just how much influence Kanye has had on Jay-Z in recent years.
He may often come off like an entitled crybaby, but if anyone’s getting the shaft right now, it’s Kanye West. That stadium tour should be his and he shouldn’t have to play nice with a corporate sponsor to pull it off either.