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Kanye West Week: “Devil In A New Dress”


Here begins the suite of tricky, intensely personal break-up songs that make up MBTDF’s second half. “Devil In A New Dress” is a marked shift from the first bunch of tracks that all, in one way or another, wrestle with the broader “who will survive in America” question/theme. Here, it’s all relationship raps. 808s & Heartbreak with some hindsight.

Relationship issues were introduced in the first half on “All Of The Lights,” but it was consciously outside of Kanye’s personal experiences and closer to something the average American faced: divorce, jail-time, money issues. On “Devil In A New Dress, “Runaway,” “Hell Of A Life,” and “Blame Game,” Kanye nods to his empathetic “All Of The Lights” raps by filling-in the details of his own chaotic and frustrating love life. Curiously, Kanye doesn’t sequence these break-up songs into a straight-forward narrative, he takes an art-film, out-of-sequence approach to them, to maximize emotional impact. So, we begin at the beginning of the end with “Devil In A New Dress” and we end at the very end with “Blame Game,” but we detour with an odd apologia (“Runaway”) and a bitter, sympathetic defense of ostracized, transgressive women (“Hell Of A Life”).

The first verse of “Devil In A New Dress” is Kanye’s internal thoughts about this girl across the table who won’t fucking talk, and the second verse is Kanye, having mulled over those thoughts (though not for long enough), finally breaking the awkward, over-dinner silence: “Why you standing there with your face screwed up?”?

Notice how much of this song seethes with casual, snarky contempt. The kind of shit you say to someone you liked so much that you know exactly what to say to really fuck them up. There are all kinds of bitter one-liners thrown in there, that toss insults hurled his way right back (“I thought I was the asshole/I guess it’s rubbing off”) and mock the girl’s lack of culture (“that’s Dior Homme not Dior homie”). That last one is especially pointed given the whole Chris Rock “Yeezy taught you well,” skit at the end of “Blame Game.”

There’s also a cynicism in the numerous asides about Satan and Jesus that weren’t there when he rapped about religion on “Jesus Walks.” It’s like he dropped his sympathy for sinning, confused Christians and just thinks they’re straight bullshit. That accusatory “we” to “you” shift in the line, “We love Jesus but you done learned a lot from Satan” is quite telling.

Thanks to the odd vocal snippet from Smokey Robinson’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” that Bink slightly pitch-shifted and Kanye recontextualizes, “Devil In A New Dress” becomes the scene in Citizen Kane where Charles Foster Kane and his wife sit in uncomfortable silence over dinner. Smokey’s sort of ad-lib, “you don’t have to say a word to me this evening” becomes the mondegreen: “Haven’t said a word to me this evening.” Another way to approach “Devil In A New Dress” is as a bitter parody of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” Both songs hinge on uncertainty and the mysteries of the female sex, but where “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is vulnerable and open, “Devil In A New Dress” is bitter and self-involved.

That “haven’t said a word to me this evening” line is perfect because it’s the sort of thing that every guy has thought or uttered at a dissatisfied date, or soon to be ex-girlfriend or wife, but it’s really a sign of male egotism. The observation (which is really just a complaint), is about what the other person isn’t doing and how that’s affecting (in this case), Kanye. This is something he cannot control (another person’s mood) and yet, it’s something he seems tied to, like an umbilical cord: Why isn’t she talking? Why isn’t she verbally expressing her approval to me? Shades of the kind of petulant jealousy on MBDTF reject “Mama’s Boyfriend.”

And then, after an intentionally defeated, dusted interlude that sounds like a chintzy mix of Bloozy fawnk guitar and faux-elegant jazz, Kanye, the bitter boyfriend scowling and bitching from across the table, gains all of his confidence back and rematerializes as Rick Ross, who would never worry about a bitch not speaking. Kanye’s always employed guests on his albums in clever, commentary-packed ways that those artists don’t even grasp, and Rick Ross is used here for his addictive devotion to just making shit up and not even trying to sell it. Ross doesn’t actually sound victorious or swagger-filled (though, “I never needed acceptance from all you outsiders” is brilliant), but he does come across as unflappably, even idiotically confident and that’s the point here. The end of this song is Kanye grasping for some confidence, no matter how unstable or transparent, and finding it in Ross.

Written by Brandon

December 7th, 2010 at 8:51 am

8 Responses to 'Kanye West Week: “Devil In A New Dress”'

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  1. You’re right that the lyrics are bitter and self-involved but the Smokey Robinson vocal sample just adds this melancholy, almost bemused mood to the song that makes me hear the lyrics as more kind of sardonic than bitter. Especially the “love me for me/could you be more phony?” which doesn’t sound bitter to me, but more like “Who are you kidding? You wouldn’t give me the time of a day if I wasn’t rich or famous, so let’s not pretend otherwise…” I prefer the GOOD Fridays version of the song because I don’t think Ross adds much to the song – at like less than three minutes it’s just this perfect musical picture of Kanye’s complicated world.

    BTW, I’m really enjoying this series, especially as an antidote to so much of the lazy fucking writing about this album.


    7 Dec 10 at 9:53 am

  2. another strong entry in the series, brandon. i like the idea of ross speaking as kanye, like he repaired his ego and went all fat motherfucker-confidence on us.

    i thought this post was interesting:

    which would make it seem ross/kanye had a relationship right around (and possibly before) ye’s accident. just a thought.


    7 Dec 10 at 12:48 pm

  3. It drives me crazy that Ye started this really beautiful, fucked up story on GOOD Friday and we don’t get some real ending. Or more selfishly, I dont get a real ending.

    I’ll forever protest that instead of Ross, Nicki should’ve closed this from the girlfriends point of view and she should’ve castrated him at the end


    7 Dec 10 at 2:56 pm

  4. I gotta say, I think Rawse’s verse is one of the best on the album. By I think this song has my favorite moment: Kanye’s “Satan, satan, satan” Church Lady ad lib.

    Great work on the album series! Really refreshing to see such an in-depth breakdown of such a jam-packed album.

    Dollar Wells

    7 Dec 10 at 3:12 pm

  5. The best part of the whole album, imho, is that litte interlude where the sample drops out and the guitar riff kicks in. When I hear the part where the sample slowly comes back in, I get chills down my spine every time. Its fucking glorious. And then Ross delivers the best verse ever. I almost wish this was just a Ross song.


    8 Dec 10 at 2:54 am

  6. yes, positively epic! “god bless the man I put this ice over!” whatever that may mean.

    Dollar Wells

    9 Dec 10 at 4:53 am

  7. revisiting this. after a couple months, this is the one song i still listen to constantly. that bassline could be a song on its own.


    28 Jan 11 at 8:04 pm

  8. Great views. I personally don’t think nicki should have had feature in this as one person suggested. Her tone is a bit aggressive for a masterpiece like this. As a person who doesn’t really find Ross lyrical, I gotta say this is the best shit he ever spit. Every time I hear this song I discover new stuff that I didnt know about it before. PS the instrumental version is off the hook!!! Yeezy is the greatest artist of the past decade.


    24 Oct 12 at 1:23 am

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