Kanye West, anthropologically

Kanye West is interviewed by Vanity Fair.

The interview demonstrates that Mr. West is maturing into a fine young man with new powers of self understanding and self control.

None of which interest me at all.  

What I like about this interview is what happens when Lisa Robinson asks Mr. West:

What do you think Jay-Z has done for you?

West replies:

Man, everything–served as a big brother, the blueprint, our reality.  Someone to look up to.

And you were wondering how smart Kanye West is?  He gives three answers, leaping assumptions as he goes.  

"Jay-Z is a big brother."  Good opener.  Family metaphor evoked.  Status difference acknowledged. Deference given.  

West could have stopped there.  But he’s just getting started.

"Jay-Z is a blueprint."  I got whip lash and a nose bleed from this one.  (The doctors say I’ll be fine.  No cards or flowers, please.)  

Normally, when we pile up the comparisons, we build a small universe as we go. Each term is inclined to furnish (and sound) the same semiotic space.  New terms overlap a little.  We build an ensemble.

But, no.  West is done with the family metaphor.  Now he’s on to "blue print" and an entirely new metaphor.  He is telling us that Jay-Z is a world containing worlds, that he supplies that directions, the dimensions, for making music.

Holding a hankie to our bleeding noses, we understand the chances of Kanye West elaborating on this second metaphor are next to zero.  

Sure enough, he calls Jay-Z "our reality."  

Now Jay-Z defines the ontology of popular music.  He supplies the most fundamental assumptions of music and the creativity from which it springs.  

And now West goes full circle.

Jay-Z, he tells us, is "someone to look up to."

The big brother theme returns.  And we’re done.  Thanks for coming everyone.  Please drive safely.  

Now, I know what some people are thinking.  Surely, this is a mixed metaphor.  Surely, this is messy thinking.  And this would have been exactly right 20 years ago.  

But things have changed.  Now we want our creatives to leap cultural frames in a single bound, to find new metaphors while still in flight, to send us careening between cultural references.  Anything else seems a little thin, a little bit too much like culture before Kanye.  


Robinson, Lisa. 2010. “Hot Tracks: Kanye West.” Vanity Fair http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/11/kanye-201011 (Accessed October 11, 2010).

6 thoughts on “Kanye West, anthropologically

  1. Pingback: Grant McCracken: Kanye West, Anthropologically - PSFK

  2. Daniel


    I believe Vanity Fair probably misinterpreted/misprinted Kanye’s response, as Jay Z’s albums are blueprint, blueprint 2, blueprint 3, and Kanye was given his big break producing one of these albums (not sure which).

  3. Meme

    Runaway…one word, amazing!!! Kanye’s blazer at the dinner table was pure classic fashion at its finest. Please inform me of the designer.

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