Last night I devoted almost an hour of my life to reading David Samuels’ massive new piece for the Atlantic on Kanye West. It’s quite interesting if you’re a Kanye fan — or a Jay-Z fan for that matter — as Samuels attended just about every show the two did together on the Watch the Throne tour and is able to offer some great insights from spending that much time around his subject.
In the course of building/researching the piece, Samuels even went so far as to crash an Obama fundraiser to speak to the president about Kanye. You may recall back in 2009 Obama saying perhaps the truest words any president has ever spoken when he called Kanye West a “jackass.” — and, in case you were wondering, he still thinks Kanye is a jackass, though a “talented” one.
I get my chance to ask him the question of the moment, the question that everyone who has bought the album or spent $150 on a concert ticket wants answered. “I have a question I want to ask you, Mr. President,” I venture, once I catch his attention.
“Sure,” the president says.
“Kanye or Jay-Z?”
The president smiles. “Jay-Z,” he says, as if the answer should be obvious.
“Although I like Kanye,” Obama continues, with an easy smile. “He’s a Chicago guy. Smart. He’s very talented.” He is displaying his larger awareness of the question, looking relaxed, cerebral but friendly, alive to the moment, waiting for me to get to the heart of the matter.
“Even though you called him a jackass?,” I ask.
“He is a jackass,” Obama says, in his likable and perfectly balanced modern-professorial voice. “But he’s talented.” The president gives a wink, poses for a few more pictures, and then glides away to meet with the rich Manhattan lawyers in the other room, leaving behind a verdict that he intended to be funny, and also entirely deliberate: even before an audience of one, the leader of the free world is still not letting Kanye West off the hook.
Shamelessly (for obvious geographical reasons), the other part of the piece I really enjoyed was Samuels proclaiming the Watch the Throne show in New Orleans as the best of them all — hands down. As someone who was there that night, I can easily understand why he would think so. NOLA brought the NOLA to the show that night, and Jay-Z and Kanye seemed to feed off that laid-back but sort of unhinged energy.
During the tour, I see plenty of moments like this across America, moments that happen once and never happen again, or don’t happen in exactly the same way. New Orleans is the blackest stop by far, with the poorest-looking audience—fans of all ages who spent their rent money on tickets and dressed up for the occasion, in cheap sparkly skintight gold and black dresses, work shirts, cable-knit college sweaters and oversize sunglasses, team jackets, vests and ties, gray suits and soft black Borsalino hats, like the pages of a catalog of the past 40 years of street-level fashion. Jay-Z looks out into the crowd and seems surprised, and then happy. The arena feels darker, because the skin of the people inside is darker, and because New Orleans is a poor city, so it skimps on the lights. “This thing feel good,” Kanye says, smiling, after one of his songs. Jay-Z is smiling too, happy to see black faces near the stage. New Orleans is easily the best show I see on the tour, and merits seven renditions of “Niggas in Paris,” even though no one famous is in the audience.
Go read the whole thing where you have time. It’s quite a good read.