Kanye West’s persona rests upon his legendary ego. Long before the Chicago-bred artist infamously stole the mic from the dainty Taylor Swift, West was recognized for his pompous, post-Katrina Bush-bashing bravado. This arrogance is as much a part of West’s image as his affinity for shutter shades and use of Auto-Tune.
Def Jam/Roc A Fella
releases Jan. 19
During a recent “VH1 Storytellers” live performance, now available as a CD/DVD combination, West recognized his mixed public perception and all the negative press. But rather than apologize for this impression, “Storytellers” reaffirms West’s position as the King of Swagger. “I realize I make some mistakes,” he admits, “but I grow from them.”
The “Storytellers” series is VH1’s attempt at recreating MTV’s once-popular “Unplugged” franchise. Instead of showcasing a featured artist’s acoustic prowess, the VH1 series allows its guests to preface their performances with an intimate explanation of the personal significance of their work. Recent guests include acts as disparate as Pearl Jam, Coldplay and Snoop Dogg.
Refusing to conform, West’s performance fails to follow the traditional format. Rather than give away the secrets behind 808s & Heartbreak’s bigger hits, West uses the forum to freely broadcast his thoughts, offering commentary on everything from “spoiled little L.A. girls” to his morbid desire to murder the plastic surgeon responsible for his mother’s premature death.
At one point, West admits the forum’s original purpose, saying, “I know I’m, like, supposed to talk about what some of these songs mean … but some of these things are too serious.” While it’s understandably difficult for an artist to dissect his work’s inner meaning under the glare of the camera, endlessly reverting to trash-talking to avoid such introspection quickly gets old. It could be argued that a live Kanye show wouldn’t be complete without such free-flowing remarks, but “Storytellers” would have benefited from more insight into the music and less arrogant spontaneity.
West’s original “Storytellers” performance clocked in at over three hours, but the broadcast version was pared down to 90 minutes. The CD/DVD combination also cuts some songs, including West’s rendition of “Love Lockdown.” Despite these edits, this live act will surely satisfy West fans, especially those who favor his later discs over his earlier efforts.
The majority of the setlist covers the Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak era, with lively versions of “Flashing Lights” and “Stronger.” West’s reworking of “Amazing,” off his most recent record, is one of the album’s more engaging cuts, clocking in at nearly nine minutes and offering zany off-the-wall analysis. The collection of selected songs reaffirms the artist’s appeal, with plenty of infectious beats and many of his more popular efforts. While the performance may have benefited from the inclusion of earlier West tracks, it seems apt that the star chose to appease his fans with his more recent songs.
By offering an engaging live performance packed with plenty of recent hits, West’s “Storytellers” appearance is a must-have for any Kanye enthusiast. While it lacks true artistic engagement, the DVD of the performance still offers a live reworking of some of his most thrilling jams, providing fans with a morsel of entertainment until his next full-length release.
And though West deviates from the show’s intended format, such transgressions are fully expected from the egoist. Hopefully in the coming years, West will mature beyond such a stale persona and finally reveal the inner-workings behind some of the era’s catchiest hits.