“Rappers Acting Dramatic”: Kanye West as Cultural Critic

Let him show you a Monica and ChandlerDuring his first musical performance on Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake changed the lyrics to “Suit and Tie” from “Shit so slick got a hit and picked up a habit.” to “Hits so slick got rappers acting dramatic.” While Timberlake did not explicitly say, this was most likely a shot at Kanye West for saying that he wasn’t “fucking with Suit and Tie.'” It was a subtle response during a triumphant night for Timberlake. He is a pro; he knows how to handle these things. However, Kanye’s feelings are not isolated. In picking sides, more people might jump on Timberlake’s side, but I think more people agree with West.

Since “I’ma let you finish,” Kanye has had a reputation as a grand interrupter who breaks down award winners for nothing more than his picks not winning. The VMAs were the apex of this, but his reputation as troublemaker had been around for a while. SNL even had a skit about it in 2007. Back then, it was funny. It got most serious when he jumped on stage in defense of “Single Ladies” (for what was essentially a consolation award for Swift). It might have been more ridiculous when Taylor Swift released “Innocent” on Speak Now. These days, Swift has her own foibles and sometimes cannot take a joke in the same way Kanye cannot take jokes. West will continue to voice his opinions and they will be news stories of varying note, depending on the subject of his ire. In some ways, this undermines one of West’s more underrated qualities as an artist. It undermines his impeccable taste.

Before he was Kanye West “STAR” he was producer Kanye West. One of his trademarks was sped-up samples. It seems like a world ago but a big piece of that West was his ability to pick the work of others and mold it for his own designs. His fashion and art interests backed this up too. This guy liked different things and he was discerning about them. So, it still carries weight when Kanye talks about fashion or shows up at a TNGHT concert for an impromptu lip sync to “Cold.”

(I sent this over to Coleman once, but it still makes me chuckle. I really like to think that Kanye knew all these models when he was starting out, but no one in Chicago wanted to talk to him about dope-ass fashion magazine spreads. Kanye didn’t develop taste; he’s always had it.)

When Kanye says he doesn’t fuck with “Suit and Tie,” we brush it off as whatever. But I think a lot of us aren’t fucking with “Suit and Tie.” This is mostly anecdotal, so take it as it is, but most people I’ve talked with are not astonished by Timberlake’s comeback track. I do not think that has taken away excitement for The 20/20 Experience. It’s just we aren’t going crazy for this song. There are many reasons for this (nostalgia vs. reality of Timberlake’s earlier work, the anxiety of anticipation, the new aesthetic Timberlake is trying to develop), but in essence, West indelicately says what a lot of people have been dancing around: we don’t feel that strongly about “Suit and Tie.” West’s credibility in these matters hasn’t lessened. It has just been adjusted to his new level of celebrity, fame, and how we absorb that.

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