Writer Roundtable: Is Kanye West Having a Comeback Moment?

Kanye

Kanye West is set to debut his video for “Power,” the first single from his forthcoming album, on MTV later this week (Thursday, August 5).

The premiere, following his mini tour of the the Facebook, Twitter, Rolling Stone, and XXL offices recently to preview new material, has put Kanye West in the spotlight in a way he hasn’t been since last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, when he went on a self-imposed exile after his stage crashing stunt involving Taylor Swift.

With the light burning brighter on him, it begs the question: Is Kanye West having a comeback moment?

Hit the jump to read the fine scribes at 1515 have to say about the matter and then comment or tweet us @MTVRapFix with your opinion.

Kyle Anderson, Newsroom Editor: Yes, call it a comeback. Kanye West’s comeback is unique, mostly because his exile was self-imposed. Remember at the end of last year, following the VMA incident, when you just couldn’t find the guy? He went on “The Jay Leno Show” and then vanished off the face of the Earth. The dude didn’t even blog for a while, which for Kanye is amazing. I remember getting really excited when photos of him at some sort of fashion-related auction in France surfaced some time in July. Look! He’s alive!

But Kanye’s woes began with the release of 808s & Heartbreak, which was as polarizing an effort for a mainstream artist as I can remember. Some people were excited about the new approach, but it certainly alienated fans (like myself) who had grown attached to Kanye’s presence and flow. Though it went platinum, it has to be considered something of a commercial disappointment (especially considering the ubiquity of Graduation).

So Kanye has two problems: One musical, the other public.

Now, from a straight hip-hop perspective, the dude has totally minded his Ps & Qs, delivering two of the best guest verses of the past year (I’m talking about “Run This Town” and “Forever”), freestyling in the middle of boardrooms and generally tearing it up at the BET Awards (and “Power” is as savage a track as he’s ever done). But considering who Kanye is and what he is capable of, you have to assume that he wants to get back to that mainstream place where he is one of the biggest stars in the universe, up there with your Madonnas and your U2s. So while he’ll have the hip-hop community behind him (and the hardcore fans, who probably never left), he’ll still have the spectre of “the interruption” hanging over his head. Kanye is halfway there, but he’ll probably need a big-time pop hit, an extremely popular video or a great public moment before he can get embraced by Taylor Swift fans.

Of course, it’s possible that Kanye doesn’t give a damn about anybody any more, in which case he’s already back and better than ever.

James Montgomery, Rock Editor: Can it really be a comeback if he never went away? Like most Americans, I enjoy a good comeback nearly as much as I enjoy everything that makes that comeback necessary in the first place: namely, the epic flame-outs, booze-soaked tirades, public meltdowns, drug-fueled sprees, and stints in rehab that are de rigueur these days. After all, we are, as a society, almost preternaturally mean-spirited, and we derive some bizarre pleasure from watching those we put on pedestals fall so far, so fast. Of course, we’re still human, too, which means that we also enjoy rooting for those same folks pick up the pieces, get back on their feet, and excell once again. And, most of the time, we get to have it both ways. For every great tumble–Britney, Eminem, Paris–there is an equally great ascent. It makes us feel less terrible about ourselves. We love the comeback kids. We always will.

And I bring this up because Kanye West is not a comeback kid, despite the overwhelming public sentiment to crown him as one. I mean, sure, he went through a very public shaming (How dare he talk to Taylor Swift that way!) and did the prerequisite penance–multiple apologies, a vow to disappear from the spotlight to focus on his various personal demons, etc.–but during his entire time away, was he ever, you know, actually gone? It seems that even when he was holed up in Hawaii, we were still being treated to news of his impending album, or premieres of “short films” he did with Spike Jonze, or ALL-CAPS missives posted on his blog. Kanye was just as much a part of our lives when he was in seclusion as he is right now, minus the Twitter account, of course.

He was sort of like the Keyser Soze of hip-hop. He was a spectre, maybe not entirely visible but always tangibly, totally there. Which is why you can’t call everything he’s doing these days “a comeback.” He never went away. His music never slipped. Neither did his cultural currency. Everyone can admit that Eminem’s art had slipped before he released Recovery, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t think Britney Spears was insane when she was shaving her head and beating SUVs with umbrellas. But Kanye? He’s always been on top of the game, he’s always been A-List. And even in his most public of meltdowns, he wasn’t exactly “crazy.” If anything, the sentiment he was trying to convey was correct: Taylor Swift shouldn’t have won that VMA, Beyonce should have.

So, sure, it’s great to have Kanye back in our lives once again. And I can’t wait to hear him tell his side of the story on his new album. And while calling what he’s doing “a comeback” may make for a nice headline, it’s not exactly correct, either. Why won’t you let him be great?

Shaheem Reid, Hip-Hop Editor: Yeezy we always knew you’d be on top again! When I think about the Kanye “comeback,” I have to chuckle to myself and say that Kanye West never went anywhere. The MTV News “Hip-Hop Brain Trust” dubbed him one of the “Hottest MCs in the Game” just last winter. Sure, in the wake of the last September’s monumentally documented and talked about VMA stage crashing, the Louis Vuitton Don said that he was taking a self-imposed break. But Kanye didn’t really take a breakm did he?

In less than a year, Kanye is already surging. 500,000 followers on Twitter in just a matter of days, heavy radio rotation and the all-important anticipation. ‘Ye is already a frontrunner to sell close to a million copies the first week of release whenever his next album drops (rumored to be September 14), whatever it’s named.

Kanye was holding it down in Hawaii for months, but Martin Louis The King (my favorite Kanye nickname) wasn’t laying on the beach in flip flops, shorts and a shirt that might have been inspired by a top out of Don Ho’s closet. Nah. ‘Ye was at work. crafting a full-length lyrical overture with his latest LP and a myriad of outside cameos. After he hand-delivered harmonies and melodies by singing on 808s & Heartbreaks, the Chicago game changer was crafting b-boy bars like “My outfit so disrespectful, you can gon’ head and sneeze because my presence blessed you” with some of the legendary producers in hip-hop like The RZA, Q-Tip and…himself!

When it comes to music, Kanye is one of the most undeniable and dynamic in any genre of music, his fans haven’t forgotten that easy. His core has remained in tact and whatever casual fans Kanye may have lost in the wake of the Swiftgate ’09, he’s probably regaining them as we speak. No one man should have all that power.

Jayson Rodriguez, RapFix Editor: Well, yes and no, in regards to this being a comeback moment for Kanye West. Musically, we can’t say he ever went away, though his material has arrived intermittently post “I’mma let you finish.” Kanye has really only appeared on Rick Ross’ “Live Fast, Die Young” and his own single, “Power.” Both are phenomenal efforts and when you’re that talented as he clearly is you don’t have to drop records everyday for it to impact the culture and ring throughout the blogosphere.

What’s amazing about each selection, though, when parceled out, is that both are examples of why he hasn’t gone anywhere but also why he’s coming back a changed man.

The usually Kanye-ism are present, including on “Power,” where he’s rolling with “some light-skin girls and some Kelly Rowlands.”

But there’s an edge to Ye’s delivery and vocals that was never present before.

He’s dealing with the pressure of becoming the bad guy, albeit momentarily.

So, while the quality of his output hasn’t dropped off, he certainly took a step back beyond himself (and away from any microphones!) and examined his space in the gamut of pop culture.

And he decided he didn’t like what he saw, so he spoke out in song.

It’s the way he’s spoken out that’s been particularly illuminating; not with a chip on his shoulder but with a self awareness that comes with maturity: “Reality is catching up to me/taking my inner-child, I’m fighting for custody,” he forcibly spits on “Power.” “With these responsibilities that they entrust in me/ as I look down at my diamond encrusted piece.”

“Power” was his exercise in self-affirmation: he was no longer the underdog fighting for respect, his stage crashing isn’t gonna cut it anymore; now Yeezy realized, he’s an establishment guy who’s every action is being watched closely and deconstructed, and not just by the paparazzi.

His verse on Ross’ record was built on the foundation of “Power.”

It’s impossible to hear one without thinking about the other.

The message: ‘Ye’s on top. The penthouse. The one with the view of Central Park. And he’s signing a long-term lease.

Rather than this being about coming back, it’s more like he’s re-positioning himself; all you have to do it look at the recent footage of him performing at the offices of Facebook, Twitter, and Rolling Stone.

He’s in a tailored suit. He’s attempting to elevate hip-hop once again, both aesthetically with his look, with the sound of his new music, and the lengths he went to for his “Power” video.

Technically, yes, Kanye is back, but ultimately, the truth is that he’s grown up.