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Kanye West Week: “Gorgeous”


Like some deformed, mutant version of a Late Registration song, “Gorgeous” is a baroque but grimy rap track: Fuzzy garage rock guitar, heavily distorted vocals, a guest verse from Raekwon. This odd combination of the mannered and the messy is appropriate for the guy that, according to Complex, was watching porn while he made this masterpiece, and according to Peter Macia of The Fader, uttered this gem: “See, what I like about this is that it’s really beautiful art, but there’s also a bunch of titties.”

So listen closely, underneath the Turtles sample and Mike Dean guitar, there are all these layers of instruments beautifully, organically snapping against one another. “Gorgeous” is just as overproduced as Late Registration, but there’s more tension and counterpoint here, so it never devolves into Jon Brion’s elaborate, Grammy-tugging formula. It still sounds hard, even a bit disconcerting. Kanye and Raekwon’s vocals are sent through a filter that makes them sound like they’re on a crappy cell-phone. The only “clean” aspect of this song is Kid Cudi singing this languid, depressed hook (He’s the Eeyore of rap hooks) that grabs from decades of rap cliches, from “The Message” (“I’m on the edge, so why you playing?”) to “Lose Yourself” (“No more chances if you blow this, you bogus”).

Content-wise, “Gorgeous” is ugly too. A rap-rant about racism, from the all-too common profiling sort, to things specific to Kanye’s rarefied fame. He begins with an eloquent ode to hustling (“all of them fallen, for the love of ballin”), and moves into racial profiling (“Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon”) and wisely, mentions his celebrity to drive the point home: “And at the airport, they check through all my bag and tell me that it’s random.” The airport aside show Kanye’s not immune to this stuff because he’s famous (he returns to this in verse two with “As long as I’m in Polos they think they got me”) and that’s one of the themes of MDBTF: Kanye’s still a black guy in a country and industry that’s still very racist. To raise the stakes, to show he’s not holding back his punches, he ends the verse with a convoluted, Jay Electronica-esque punchline that implies AIDS is a government conspiracy and mixes that with some Booker T. Washington boot-straps, spread the wealth type stuff: “I treat the cash the way the government treat AIDS/I won’t be satisfied til’ all my niggas get it, get it?”

It’s good to hear Kanye rapping about race issues this aggressively, as it’s something he mostly left out of his arsenal around the time he decided Graduation was gonna be stadium rap made for everybody and anybody. Even “Everything I Am,” with it’s touching “man, killing’s some wack shit” verse was more of a Cosby-esque “C’mon people” point than the conspiratorial, angry invective we get here. Getting called a “nigger” by like, twelve year old Taylor Swift fans on Twitter and YouTube will probably remind you of how fucked-up and internalized racism remains and get your blood boiling.

The second verse carries the anger over, but Kanye directs it towards the celebrity-industrial complex. Kanye’s key-line here is, “I thought I chose a field where they couldn’t sack me,” which is a funny way of calling bullshit on all the people that feigned offense when he called out Bush or told everybody Beyonce is better than Taylor Swift. He’s a rapper! He’s going to say some real, offensive shit sometimes. And Kanye is old enough to remember the early 90s when you know, The Chronic was invading the suburbs. So, on some level he realizes how low-stakes his offenses to mainstream media sensibilities really are.

In other ways though, Kanye’s more of a danger than Dre or NWA, because he moves between worlds and can’t be so easily categorized or dismissed. This bothers and scares people. That’s what he’s getting at with that “as long as I’m in a Polo, they think they got me,” line: It’s a game and the minute you don’t play the game, you’re a racist or a nigger or both or you’re going to get your career snatched away from you. Kanye’s comparisons to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali are obnoxious and straight rap braggadocio, but he’s onto something in terms of how complex black celebrities are perceived, maligned, and um, sometimes assassinated.

Verse three continues its critique of the industry, but specifically attacks its cruelty, first hinted at in verse two’s couplet: “We make em’ say, ‘ho’ because the game so pimpish/Choke a Southpark writer with a fishstick.” Kanye begins by rapping celebutante diva-isms (“I need more drinks and less lights,”), throws in a lusty reference to a model and then strangely, humanizes the “American apparel girl in just tights”: “She told the director she trying to get into school/He said “take them glasses off and get in the pool.” That’s a darkly funny fit for a David Mamet play. With a simple order, her dreams and desires are tossed away.

Having shown some empathy, Kanye’s moved to confess his own fuck-ups (“It ain’t funny no more, try different jokes!”) and seems reenergized by his admission, so he talks some shit on up and coming, blog-hype rappers (“You blowin’ up? That’s good, fantastic.”). Jay-Z was trying to say the same thing on Blueprint 3’s “A Star Is Born” but Jay’s much more diplomatic than Kanye, so it had no bite. Raekwon ends the song with some wizened advice rap–a nice, temporary antidote to Kanye’s cynicism–and a Mike Dean solo that isn’t exactly cathartic, squonks along half-victorious in the song’s final moments.

Written by Brandon

December 1st, 2010 at 9:04 pm

6 Responses to 'Kanye West Week: “Gorgeous”'

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  1. I have to disagree with the blog-hype rappers shot not having any bite, the condescending pat on the back way he delivered it I was awesomely dismissive.

    I think it was his way of saying, oh you heating up well this album is going to take all the oxygen out of the environment.


    1 Dec 10 at 9:32 pm

  2. I’m loving the close reading write ups from MBDTF.

    I think a great line that you might have purposely skipped over is right after the Polo line: “but they try and sack me if they ever see the black me.” Like, as long as I’m doing this pop stuff, shit’s cool. It’s so refreshing to see this mega pop star putting a “racism still alive they just be concealing it” song on his critically acclaimed album. The same dude putting out the Runaway short film.

    Production wise though it seems like the track plays the complete background on the song. I hear a lot of production going on but it doesn’t stand out as anything great to me lacks the energy and scope of those rest of the album’s production.

    And chadstanton, I think brandon was making the point that Jay-Z didnt have much bite with his “Star is Born”, not Kanye.


    2 Dec 10 at 4:23 am

  3. crack me*


    2 Dec 10 at 4:24 am

  4. Ahh you’re right, my bad. Damn this guy’s good.


    2 Dec 10 at 3:01 pm

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    5 Jun 12 at 8:55 pm

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