President Obama famously joked that Kanye was a “jackass” for his “I’mma let you finish” interjection at the 2011 VMAs. It got to the rapper, who showed his humble streak whenever the “jackass” issue came up, which was always. Ever the diplomat, Obama later reiterated the sentiment, but less as a dig than a term of endearment: “He is a jackass, but he’s smart. He’s very talented.”
“I knew when I wrote the line I was going to be a big star,” Kanye recently told the New York Times, and it’s hard to dispute; the gag’s so straightforward it’s timeless, sung in a Sunday morning sigh that feigns indifference to its own perfection.
Pure Yeezy gold, this – a line that smothers its shameless self-aggrandisement in so much tongue-twisting wordplay it seems to float in your ear canals a minute before the punchline sinks in.
While 2013 LP ‘Yeezus’ was a sonic triumph, its lyric sheet divided fans torn between awe at its perspective and horror at its misogyny. As ever with Kanye, it was pretty complex. This line, which closes the record, invokes the catchphrase of comedian Martin Lawrence’s Martin persona, a crude black stereotype designed to satirise white people’s idea of black people. Could outrage at Kanye’s front be similarly misguided?
6‘All Falls Down’
A comment on how money runs uphill, this ‘All Falls Down’ lyric highlights that although drug money makes its first stop in a dealer’s wallet, our culture of consumerism – symbolised here by Nike Jordans - inevitably lines the pockets of white America’s corporate behemoths.
Taken from his and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch the Throne’ collab, this lyric playfully echoes Ye’s famous statement that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. A perfect blend of self-awareness and hater-mockery.
Uttered on debut LP ‘The College Dropout’, this line has only become more relevant as Kanye’s fame (and ego) inflate. The sentiment rings true: hip-hop has always been about fighting social adversity with exaggerated self-belief. See ‘Yeezus’ track ‘I am a God’ for that logic’s righteous culmination.
Riffing on Malcom X’s “By any means necessary” speech, this lyric effortlessly blends political playfulness with unfuckwithable cool. It’s also a precursor to the twin themes of fashion and racial oppression later explored on songs like ‘New Slaves’.
Distilling a key theme of ‘Yeezus’, the “King Kong” line taps into White America’s latent fear of aggressive black men, which will be familiar to anybody who’s been within hearing range of any Kanye West article unfortunate enough to have a comment box.
This lyric loops together three pivotal figures in the early-eighties black rights narrative, and therefore hip-hop’s: black nationalist party the Black Panthers, conservative president Reagan and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. The pun-heavy verse alludes to how the decade saw Reagan’s government, who feared a communist uprising in Central America, open a destructive drug route to black Bronx neighbourhoods, which funded Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries. Jackass or genius, Kanye knows which stories need spreading. Now hurry up with his damn croissants.