Decadent Mr. West Laughs At Himself, Recalls A Familiar “Me And My MPC” Moment, And Upstages A Subdued (And Not-So Forgiving) Swift
|By Amir Said (Sa’id)|
By rule, perhaps, boom bap drowns out everything on the bill. And the 2010 VMA’s bill—which featured a bad lip-syncing Justin Bieber, a techno-laced R&B Usher, and a surprisingly engaging set by Mary J. Blige, Swizz Beatz, and Drake, not to mention too many dry (yawn) moments—in many ways was also marked by what might be best described as a battle.
After the fallout from Kanye West’s protest at last year’s MTV Music Awards, what I refer to as the Taylor Swift debacle (TSD), you knew that Kanye and Taylor were a lock to perform at this year’s VMAs. No way would MTV—ever the Don King promoter—miss the opportunity to capitalize off of Kanye’s and Taylor’s “reaction performances.” So a year after massive anti-Kanye sentiment and shock-pity scuttled some of Kanye’s popularity (not to mention his tour money), and perhaps helped Taylor Swift sell 6 million copies of her best-selling 2008/09 album Fearless, the stage was set, literally.
For Taylor, the scene was morbid, self-aware, and a tad heavy-handed. In the beginning, she’s alone, barefooted, wearing all white, and surrounded by darkness. By the end, she’s backed by a traditional band and the sun comes out. The whole bit coming off as more theatre thematic than anything else. Still, it was her reaction. She was entitled to it. And with her moment and through her lyrics, which some (including myself) certainly found odd and self-righteous, given her young age (“you’re 32 and still growing up”), she “forgave” Kanye, but not without reminding him—and perhaps more importantly, us—, that he made a jackass himself. Telling us further that it’s “O.K.” to also forgive Kanye, because he’s an “innocent.”
And then there was Kanye’s turn. Maybe just as much theatre as Taylor, but certainly less self-righteous. Indeed, while Taylor seemingly went for the magnanimous “I forgive you,” you’re “innocent,” Kanye poked fun at himself with the humorous cautionary tale: “let’s have a toast for the douche bags…” And while Taylor—again, barefooted in an all white gown—summed up the “innocent” unfairly shrouded by darkness, Kanye skipped the morose and instead went all decadent. Sporting 1970s Isaac Hayes gold chains and a bright red suit—he’s not only a “douche bag,” he’s the devil, get it?—, Kanye reveled in the glow of attention and had a good time, bangin’ on the MPC, et. al.
But beside the theatre competition of both acts, there was also the music component to this MTV sponsored battle. Taylor’s “Innocent” was engaging. A semi-power ballad directive with a backbeat that summoned up Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levy Breaks.” Furthermore, I’m sure for many, Swift’s lyrics served as a convincing demonstration of her songwriting talents. But alas, I found the song not much more than an impressive karaoke of something in the vein of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,” or perhaps Sarah Mclachlan’s “I Will Remember You” (of course, sans the same vocal chops of both).
Kanye, on the other hand, sensing (rightfully so) that this was, after all, a battle, shunned the backing of a traditional band or orchestra, and instead relied more on his hip hop/rap beatmaking roots, rocking out it with just his trusty Akai MPC sampling drum machine, which was loaded up with a ferocious boom bap drum track and a couple of vocal samples that Kanye stutter-played in true beatmaker fashion. For many, Kanye on a big stage with just his MPC might not be that big of deal, but for beatmakers, that just may have been his finest moment…at an awards show, that is. And as if that wasn’t enough, Pusha T’s surprise assist punctuated Kanye’s keen comprehension of MTV’s battle moment as well as demonstrated his ability to finally meld and merge his boom bap roots with his decadent tour anthem aspirations.
In the end, I come away believing that Kanye West and Taylor Swift both won; or better stated, Taylor didn’t lose and Kanye executed a major step in his plan to recover—or even surpass—his level of popularity, prior to TSD. In retrospect, neither asked for this battle, but both came well prepared for it. Still, you’d have to admit, Kanye was more at home with the situation. But then, he had an advantage: boom bap always drowns out everything on the bill.Articles, Beatmaking, BeatTips Editorial, BeatTips Jewel Droppin', Editor's Choice, The Art of Rapping, The Art of Sampling, Themes, Theories, and Concepts