On the weekend of Yeezy's thirty-fifth birthday, Aimee Cliff considers whether the rapper's contributions to the world beyond music are a joke, or evidence of a truly forward-thinking mind.
“When I was 17 and at high school, I made a painting that had seven angles to it, to create a 360 degree picture and now I’m 34 I created something similar.”
Kanye West said the above in an interview with Showbiz Spy in May, when asked about his latest project, a short film called Cruel Summer shown in a purpose built seven-screen cinema at Cannes Film Festival.
The stunning cinema, designed by West himself, reflected what Yeezy called the “sensory overload” of our everyday lives; “normally when watching a movie we are on the phone or texting. Normally we have so much going on at us, this film represents that, as there is so much going on all the time. We constantly need more things to look at and the seven-screen experience represents the next generation.”
This is what Kanye West, who turns thirty-five today, is all about. He wants to look at every situation from at least seven angles; he wants to fill in all the gaps of sensory experience, until he can control not just the music you’re listening to, but all of the ways in which you’re interacting with the world. This became apparent during a twilight Twitter rant that took place earlier this year, when the restlessly entrepreneurial, endlessly vocal rapper took to the social network in the small hours to talk about his visionary new creative company, DONDA. By the time he was done, it still didn’t seem clear what exactly DONDA was; the world laughed, and then promptly forgot about the whole episode.
Among the tributes to Steve Jobs and the chatter about designing new cities and summer schools, though, Kanye happened to mention during that particular rant that he was “currently working on a new 7 screen experience.” And, as it turns out, he was. The proof of his work was just shown in Cannes, projected all around an audience who, we can assume from the formidably impressive look of the cinema itself, were no longer laughing.
At the point of frantically sending misspelt tweets in the middle of the night, West resembled little more than the deluded mouse protagonist of 1990s cartoon Pinky and the Brain, continually plotting world domination; he was regarded as little more than that same laughable character who humiliates country stars at awards shows as a hobby.
Once the hangover of tweet-regret cleared, however, it became apparent that Kanye is far from just talk. This year, alongside premiering Cruel Summer and touring Watch the Throne, he’s already designed shoes for Nike as well as for his own show at Paris Fashion Week. Ye said himself that he wants to pick up where Apple founder Steve Jobs “left off”, and though he may not be that level of entrepreneurial and technological genius himself, his hungry, foolish attitude is one that exemplifies what Apple are all about. Not to mention, the rapper was keen to emphasise that the DONDA project was about using his own clout to bring together minds that are far “doper” than his own, rather than merely stroking his own ego.
West depicts himself as having a mind that views the world from several refracted perspectives at once, coming at every challenge from multiple angles, and painting in 360 degrees. While he may not be as good at shoe designing as he is at laying raps on tracks, Yeezy has the divided attentions and the interlinked interests that do actually say something about our multi-platform, scatterbrain, “refresh page” culture. Theme parks and city designing aside, if DONDA manages to connect the dots between some powerful influences and streamline those influences into something specific, then just maybe, by the time the rapper turns forty, we’ll all be laughing on the other sides of our faces. Or at least, we’ll be using those sides of our faces to view his all-new 70-screen cinematic experience.