Good or what? Kanye West's Wednesday show at United Center

  • Kanye West lays in a circle of bodystocking-clad women at the United Center.
Kanye West lays in a circle of bodystocking-clad women at the United Center. (Matt Pais/RedEye )
December 19, 2013|By Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins | RedEye Sound Board

After both attending Wednesday's Kanye West show at United Center, we decided to do a written version of "Good or what?" Here's the email conversation that ensued.

MP: Ernest, I feel like every show I attend lately has a Nickelodeon “GUTS”-style mountain and women in body stockings elevating the artist toward the sky. I mean, do something different, people.

OK, no. Wednesday’s Kanye West show at United Center was unusual, strange, fun, unsettling, captivating and challenging all at once. And, of course, his somewhat improvised speech-song-thing about how Chicagoans should never, ever have let Michael Jordan play for the Wizards was spectacular. What did you think?

EW: I’m still in shock at the whole thing. While the Aggro Crag was a nice touch (you gotta wonder if he bid on it) I was a bit annoyed at the beginning. Splitting the show into four “acts,” the Lucha Libre masks (Shout out to Kanye for that homage to the Shockmaster, by the way) and the aforementioned body stockings was a bit much. Actually, I take that back. I’m pro-body stocking.

You’re right about that Jordan speech. He made a great point that Mike wanted ownership and got cast out for trying to be a boss; making the allusion that people should try and be their own MJ was a good note.

Did the pageantry of it all get tiring to you at any point?

MP: Kanye does not bid on things. He walks into a room, points and says, “Mine.”

I did think the show took a little time to get going, and I wonder how many in the crowd were expecting more of a non-stop party. Though if they were they probably haven’t been paying much attention to Yeezy’s material of late. It’s really something to hear thousands of people shouting, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower,” which is a brilliant (if crass) encapsulation of the Chicago-raised rapper’s motto and probably a stereotype of Millennial self-interest. (On the flipside, hearing “Hurry up with my damn croissant” in unison is pure awesome without any analysis necessary.) The guy stays on message—how about that rant about how ridiculous he thinks it is for humility to be praised over confidence?—but he strikes me as a lot more authentic than, say, Lady Gaga, whose sloganeering feels like pushing a product instead of letting loose with rhetoric that he or she is unable to hold back.

Do you think Kanye is, as he claims, “the scariest motherf***er on Earth” because he empowers people? Is it absurd or fitting that, in a list of Chicago products, the order went Quincy Jones, MJ, Kanye, President Obama? And where the hell is my damn croissant?

EW: You told me you wanted coffee cake!

I have said this publicly a lot of times. Kanye West’s lasting influence is that for all the arrogance and eye rolls, he has been consistently preaching the idea of belief in self. From “All Falls Down” to last night’s speech, he wants you to be the best you that you can be. I also agree with your point about Lady Gaga. I’ve seen shows of hers where I had to make sure I hadn’t stumbled into a very eccentric Tony Robbins seminar. Kanye’s rationale is that everyone should be great, and he doesn’t understand why the Powers That Be won’t let him. I get that. West appeals to Millenials because he advocates self-interest and leaving a mark on the world.

Here’s something: "Yeezus" is West’s sixth studio album. His tours are spectacular spectacles. He’s beyond famous at this point. Is he the biggest Chicago act ever?

MP: Wow. The biggest Chicago act ever? Somewhere out there Billy Corgan is shaking his fist at the sky. When you say things like that, he knows.

But I’m inclined to agree with you, as long as we’re talking about the modern era and setting aside, say, the influence of people like Muddy and Buddy and Bo and Curtis. Kanye has literally risen to the top of a mountain, but on it he maintains intriguing contradictions. I believe that his rendition of “Power” from up there was meant to be ironic and showcase the outrageousness of a person ruling from on high, yet at the same time Kanye clearly believes that if anyone would be able to do something like that, it should be him. That doesn’t make him a hypocrite; it makes him thought-provoking (and, at times, a bit obnoxious in his pride that flows like lava). As cliché as it may sound, he’s legitimately an artist rather than a mere performer, and I do think that even his detractors should appreciate what he does to push music forward and recognize that what he says and does is worth talking about, even if you don’t like it.

I think the time has come, Ernest. Kanye’s United Center show: Good or what?

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