Kanye West Has a Goblet
An all-access, totally non-exclusive interview with the would-be king of hip-hop.
Cut to a Thursday in July and West seemed to have banished the night demons, at least for the moment, with the raw force of 10,000 lumens. We were at his apartment and he was showing off his brand-new projection-screen television. At about 13 feet wide, it takes up a huge chunk of wall space. The image on the screen was a breathtaking overhead view of some vaguely familiar metropolis. It looked like we were peering through a window. "Watching Dark Knight in the day!" West said proudly.
By Friday night, the charms of the screen had yet to wear off—he'd hardly had a chance to use the thing between an editing session for the music video for his new single, "Power," and a dinner with Jay-Z. Now he had an audience he seemed especially interested in impressing: some girls visiting him from Stockholm named Helena and Carolina. "Why girls from Stockholm be so fresh?" West asked. He was mixing Grey Goose with Ruby Red grapefruit juice, pouring the cocktails into vintage Versace glassware and hitting them pretty hard. One of girls—I never found out who they were, exactly, or how he knew them—showed West some photos of her mom. The alcohol was making him cheeky. "Hey, I don't know what to say about this," West said. "Let me see more of you!"
The girls were drinking, too, and one of them spoke to me briefly in a garble of English and her native tongue. "Hey, Kayne's nya album ar magiskt.... that shit is crazy... det basta som gjorts pa lange....lyssna pa det and get back to me!" she said. He'd been playing her some beats that RZA had produced for the upcoming record, and she loved them.
The new album promises a marked change in tone from the last one, 808s and Heartbreak, a set of brooding electro-dirges written in the aftermath of West's mother's death and his breakup with a longtime girlfriend. On early songs and rhymes he's shared so far, West has restored the uptempo swing and goofball punch-lines he deep-sixed last time out. "I'm Socrates but my skin more chocolatey," West raps on "See Me Now," a relentlessly buoyant track he dedicated to "the summer, the BBQs," to fun.
Even "Mama's Boyfriend," an Oedipal stew of jealousy and anger, contains a viciously funny tirade, delivered from the adolescent West's perspective, against the "ol' Old Spice wearin', short-chain wearin', dress-shoes-and-jogging-pants wearin'" new guy his mom's brought home. The song ends with a Nashville-worthy narrative twist when West finds himself caring for a boy whose mom he's dating.
Drinking vodka with the Swedes, West was exultant. He bopped his head hard to his own music, rapped along a little bit. TheAvatar Blu-ray was playing. West yelled, at no one and everyone, "Nigga my screen is 13 feeeeeet! Don't talk to me!" He raised a toast – "Skal!"—then announced that he was headed off to a club.
I wasn't invited—even an all-access pass has its limits —but from the headache West was nursing the next morning, it seemed like he'd had fun. "Hangovers ain't good man," he said around 10 a.m. on Saturday. It was unclear how much, if any, sleep he'd gotten. He made his way to a closet and began trying on suits again.
Correction, Aug. 25: The article originally stated that West has given only two major print interviews since his mother's death, to People and Details. West also spoke to Vibe. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.
Photograph of Kanye West by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.