It’s official. Kanye West is a nob.
Not that I’m saying he’s without talent. Though for the life of me I can’t see what it is. Without autotune, his singing is close to dire.
The first time he spoke to his Glastonbury audience – about half an hour in – it was …. autotuned! As quickly as it was turned off, it was still a massive giveaway.
Anyway, here’s a question for you: has there ever been a less charismatic Pyramid stage headline performer than Kanye West?
This is a man who clearly believes he oozes charisma. He so doesn’t.
What he does ooze is the attitude of a spoilt eight-year-old brat who believes you should be paying more attention.
And after God knows how many ‘muthafuckas’ and ‘niggas’ I found myself asking: is this what Martin Luther King died for?
That question first popped into my head about 15 years ago when I came across a hip hop channel on cable TV. Naked women, greased up and shining, gyrated while gangsta types threw money at them; or groped them; or in some other way degraded them.
The message seemed to be: we’ve got money, we can buy all the women we want, and you can’t.
And in that same vein, one of Kanye’s songs makes a reference to ‘Audemars losing time’. I had to Google ‘Audemars’. They are a line of watches retailing for as much as $800,000.
Now you might be very familiar with spending twice what your house cost on a watch. Me – not so much.
None of which would matter if the man was an electrifying performer who could silence his critics with the roar of the crowd. But here you have a problem.
Even Elvis Presley would have struggled, alone on a stage. And Elvis had stagecraft and charisma by the truckload. And, of course, he could sing.
Kanye’s stagecraft is virtually non-existent. He seems to feel it’s enough to simply stand on stage, doing nothing, while long intros play out.
There may have been musicians with him at Glastonbury, but you couldn’t see them. The suspicion was that what was happening behind him was backing tracks.
This suspicion wasn’t helped when a self-styled ‘comedian’ invaded the stage during Black Skinhead. So discombobulated was Kanye that he had to start again.
It wasn’t quite as joyous as the moment Jarvis Cocker pricked Michael Jackson’s pomposity during the 1996 Brits. But in a few precious seconds, Kanye was revealed to be a man without humour, and in need of security to deal with a man half his size.
Kanye’s invader, Lee Nelson, is also a nob. But he is an alter ego, and a nob is what his creator Simon Brodkin means him to be.
Kanye – well, what’s his excuse? Watching him on telly (albeit on a 46″ screen with the sound turned up) it seemed to me that the audience was less than overawed.
This impression was confirmed by Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph who reported that “down front, hard core fans were lapping up his confrontational delivery; but from about the middle of the crowd and up the rest of the hillside, there were just gaps.”
And I love this observation: “Perhaps (they were) uncomfortable with the expectation that a majority white audience would chant “all day niggaz” on cue.
Mind you, there were many wonderful musical moments during the set. Unfortunately they were all samples.
There was what sounded like Gary Glitter’s drums on Black Skinhead; there was Foreigner’s Cold As Ice; Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up; and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was a sort of karaoke singalong that showed up Kanye’s ‘singing’ for what it isn’t.
But if you really want to get a measure of Kanye West, study Blood On The Leaves. It opens with a sample of Nina Simone’s singing Strange Fruit, except you wouldn’t believe it was Nina Simone because it’s been transposed to a key and register she never sang in. In itself, that’s disrespectful.
But then, oh my, let’s not forget that the ‘strange fruit’ of the song are lynched black men, hanging from trees. The song is a gut-wrenching crie de coeur for the plight of black Americans, written as a protest song by Abe Meeropol in 1937.
So what does Kanye do with this profound and legendary piece? Here’s a sample of his ‘lyrics’:
So I’m a need a little more time now
Cause I ain’t got the money on me right now
And I thought you could wait
Yeah, I thought you could wait
These bitches surroundin’ me
All want somethin’ out me
Then they talk about me
Would be lost without me
We could’ve been somebody
Thought you’d be different ’bout it
Now I know you naughty
So let’s get on with it
You wait and wait for this to reveal itself as something more meaningful. But you wait in vain. The last verse starts:
To all my second string bitches, trying to get a baby
Trying to get a baby, now you talkin’ crazy
I don’t give a damn if you used to talk to Jay-Z
He ain’t with you, he with Beyonce, you need to stop actin’ lazy
You can try all you want to satirise Kanye West. Or you can try to defend him and find the heart at the heart of his work.
But in the end, he is beyond satire, and he is beyond defending. Oh, I get the heavy beats and the singalong hooks and all that.
But a man so without irony that he can sample one of the greatest songs ever written, a political songs whose message cries down the decades, and bounce off it with this:
All that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that
That going to that owing money that the court got
On and on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie
‘Til death but do your part, unholy matrimony
That is not a man I want to have another conversation about. For me, the jury’s back, and the verdict’s in.
As for ‘the greatest rock star on the planet’, as he describes himself … Give me a muthafuckin’ break.