Starting tonight, BBC Radio 1 will run a four-part interview series with Kanye West. It’s a big deal: West rarely conducts broadcast interviews since he got burned on Matt Lauer’s Today programme in 2010. George W Bush wrote in his memoir 'Decision Points' that West calling him a "racist" for his actions around Hurricane Katrina was one of the most “disgusting” moments of his career. The hip-hop monolith was invited on the US TV show to explain himself, but Lauer’s leading questions led to a car crash interview in which West squirmed and stammered. Later, in a lengthy Twitter outburst, he announced he was done with the press.
Still, as West rapped in 'Mercy' earlier this year, “Don't do no press but I get the most press”. And he’s not wrong. Kanye print interviews are so scarce they immediately become popular culture events. Jon Caramanica’s interview in the New York Times earlier this summer in which West compared himself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and a nucleus was one of the most quotable and fascinating interviews of the year. Kris Jenner’s TV show on which West showed a picture of baby North for the first time didn’t count: Jenner is Kim Kardashian’s extremely PR-savvy mother.
So for the next week Lowe will attempt to illuminate the character of Kanye West, and from the look of the trailer it’s going to be interesting. In the clip West goes from laughing and joking about his hit-and-miss dress sense to a fiery, dead-pan announcement that he is the “number one rock star on the planet”. It’s a compelling lurch that suggests West’s narcissistic persona could well be an act. Here are the 10 questions we really want answers to this week.
Do you regret how quickly ‘Yeezus’ was finished and do you think it could’ve been a better record without the deadline?
Legendary producer Rick Rubin was brought on to help West with ‘Yeezus’ at the 11th hour in the face of a looming deadline. It was “raw” and “unfocussed’ at the time, according to Rubin. "We ended up working probably 15 days, 16 days, long hours, no days off, 15 hours a day. I was panicked the whole time". In the preview clip from Lowe’s BBC interview, West states: “'...Dark Fantasy’ could be considered to be perfect. I know how to make perfect, but that's not what I'm here to do.” It would be interesting to hear how he rates ‘Yeezus’ retrospectively.
Will there be a sequel to 'Yeezus'?
Rubin said in an interview with The Daily Beast that there were originally 16 songs for the 10-track album. "But that first day, before he even asked me to work on it, I said, 'Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe this is just the first half," to which Kanye excitedly said, "That's what I came here today to hear! It could be 10 songs!" When asked whether there was a sequel in the works Rubin was secretive. “Might be,” he said.
What’s happening with 'Cruel Winter'?
Pusha T says it’s on. Hudson Mohawke says it sounds “amazing”. Pusha T says it’s off. Big Sean says it’s on. There have been rumours around the follow-up to ‘Cruel Summer’, the compilation featuring artists on West’s GOOD music label, all year. But has West’s experimental new direction taken him further away from an interest in a collaborative template that would be more traditional and less avant-garde?
How would you respond to criticism about your controversial performance at a wedding in Kazakhstan?
West was blasted by the Human Rights Foundation – and NME’s Jenny Stevens in this week’s magazine – for playing at the wedding of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson. Kazakhstan’s human rights record has been controversial during Nursaltan’s 22-year rule for the government's treatment of prisoners, religious minorities and stance on civil liberties. The rapper was reportedly paid $3million for the set.
What did you think of Jay Z's ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’?
The two biggest hip-hop albums of 2013. One was given to Samsung Galaxy owners three days before the rest of the world after Jay Z signed a $5million deal. The other leaked days before its official release. Both referenced Christianity in their titles, but only one artist set himself up as God (‘I Am A God’). One is a departure from previous work, the other, a lazy rehash of old norms. Would West tell the truth about his long-time collaborator’s latest album?
Will you be headlining Glastonbury festival next year?
Obviously West’s isn’t going to reveal he’s headlining the festival, but we want to hear his reaction to the question. Rumours about the superstar’s inclusion on the bill heated up when Eavis said the headliners will be acts who’ve never played Worthy Farm before. Unlikely perhaps, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
What did you think of Kendrick Lamar’s verse on ‘Control’?
Lamar declared himself ‘King Of New York’ in his verse for Big Sean’s ‘Control’, bombastically upstaging the Cali rapper. Though West’s from Atlanta, I imagine he’d be interested in the little tyke putting himself above rappers from both the East and West coast. There’s also a latent diss within West’s absence from the list of rappers K-Dot names as those he’s setting himself up against. I can’t imagine West was happy about his exclusion, especially after he ranted so publicly against MTV for voting him 7th best rapper. Lamar recently announced he will be supporting West on his solo tour around North America, an interesting choice considering he's not on West's record label.
How has fatherhood changed you, and your work?
West has been very private about North West, ducking questions about fatherhood in the NYT interview, saying he hadn’t “fully developed” his thoughts yet. Perhaps he’d be ready to talk about it now, and how it’s affecting his drive and creativity.
Do you care what people think about you?
Arguably the reason West won’t do press is his fear of being presented in an unattractive way. He tweeted extensively about Matt Lauer’s TV interview. “HE TRIED TO FORCE MY ANSWERS. IT WAS VERY BRUTAL AND I CAME THERE WITH ONLY POSITIVE INTENT. I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused. I don't trust anyone but myself! Everyone has an agenda. I don't do press anymore. I can't be everything to everybody anymore."
At the same time he belligerently expressed a lack of regret and contrition for anything he’s ever done in the Caramanica interview. I hope Lowe manages to show how the starkly insecure artist sits with the bragging solipsist.
How do you feel about attacks on your ego?
The overwhelming personality trait West projects is one of arrogance. It is, apparently, his essence. It's the reason people hate him, and the reason people find him hilarious, ridiculous, unique, brilliant. He plays to it, naming recent album ‘Yeezus’, posing as Jesus Christ for Rolling Stone, gate-crashing other people’s moments inappropriately. The list is endless. But is it all an act? Does he genuinely believe he's the next Steve Jobs? And why does he do it? That is his real enigma.