12.03.2010

Kanye, keepin' it klassy

I love this new song by Kanye West, "Runaway." Love it, love it, love it.



I bought it yesterday and have pretty much been listening to it ever since on repeat -- all nine glorious minutes -- with maybe a few pauses here and there to check out some of the other songs on the album (which, by the way, I think is totally rad, start to finish). I love the piano motif. I love how the groove picks up and builds. I love the general musicality and the beat. The melody is beautiful. He sings emotionally. I can totally relate to the sentiment -- "I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most." I appreciate that so, so much.

But while we're on the subject of what I don't like the most, in "Runaway," it's a pretty significant part: the chorus.

Let's have a toast for the douchebags.
Let's have a toast for the assholes.
Let's have a toast for the scumbags, every one of them that I know
Let's have a toast for the jerkoffs that'd never take work off
Baby I got a plan, runaway fast as you can


I did buy the "clean" version off iTunes, knowing how profanity-laden most hip-hop is, so "assholes" is edited out in my version. (Gee, thanks guys!) I was hoping the clean version would be listenable in mixed company. (And for the record, I'm not just talking about my kids here. I'm talking about my older relatives, or more conservative parents of my kids' school buddies whom I may not know so well, as well as the precious little earbuds of the toddler set.) But I was disappointed to find that I most definitely misinterpreted the meaning of "clean."

Why did Kanye have to go with this vulgar language? It doesn't feel poetic to me, and it doesn't seem to fit with the majestic feeling of the song overall. And, as so often is the case with me and hip-hop, because the language is superficially off-putting, I find myself unable to fully digest the greater artistry of the music, in that I can't share it with those I love. I can't herald the song high and low, the way I usually do with my favorite songs. Instead, I feel like I have to enjoy it in privacy or among "understanding" ears. I find myself really wishing he had taken another couple hours to come up with different language, words that felt as sublime as the accompanying music rather than the cheap middle-school disses we were left with.

But lest you think this blog is becoming a covert arm of the NFL (No Fun League!), I should interject that I'm actually asking for feedback here. I mean, between this and not liking the Call of Duty Black Ops ad, am I just totally losing my edge? Am I overreacting? I would like to just say I should let it go and leave it at that, but the truth is, my mom shuddered a little once when we were listening to Katy Perry's "California Gurls" together, when Snoop Dogg raps about all the California girls' "asses hangin' out." And the bottom line is that I am forced to refrain from playing "Runaway" (or most of the album, really) in the car during carpool because of the language. I just wouldn't feel comfortable if the neighbor kid went home to his mom asking what a "douchebag" was because he heard it on my iPod.

I want to hear and share great, contemporary music. I appreciate that many hip-hop artists, and Kanye especially, are provocative. But how is the song elevated by the chorus harping on douchebags and jerkoffs? Especially when he follows up the jerkoff line with "that'd never take work off," I seriously find myself thinking there was no poetry there at all and he was just saying whatever rhymed, without worrying about how dumb it sounded, because, well, he's Kanye and we all know he says whatever he wants, regardless of the potential consequences. (Editorial note: I was going to write, "He's Kanye and he says whatever the f@#% he wants," but frankly, that felt lazy, and I decided to take 15 extra seconds to come up with words that might be just slightly more insightful and accurate. NOTE TO KANYE: DON'T BE LAZY.)

And that's it: His language feels lazy to me, and it makes me enjoy the song less. I know I'm holding out a lightning rod here, criticizing coarse language, which is a fundamental pillar of hip-hop. But this song in particular is so beautiful, and I love it so much, it's sad that the chorus falls back on cheap language that means I can't easily put it on my most-played playlists.

Perhaps there is a poetic vision behind the jerkoffs and scumbags that I completely missed -- it wouldn't be the first time -- and that's why I'm writing this. So, if you understand Kanye's intentions, please do share. Because I would be very happy to figure out a way to justify My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as an appropriate carpool soundtrack.