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Kanye West On Creativity (kanyewest.com)
100 points by tom_ilsinszki 2761 days ago | hide | past | web | 93 comments | favorite

When I meet someone at a party or a random event, I find that I hit it off most with those who genuinely want to create things with love, passion, and stubbornness and share them with people. Even if they are amateurish.

I ride the train every day and I see so many people just consuming content. Be it whatever they do on their Blackberry or iPhone or book or the local paper. I always smile when I see someone crocheting on the train.

We are a consumer society. I think, most of us, as developers and designers are especially privileged in the sense that we can bring form to thoughts - bring them into actuality.

To create is to be happier. Yes, it's good to watch the occasional TV show - but if you're just sitting there consuming content all day, it's a net trade deficit for you in the long run.

Thank you for posting Kanye West's heartfelt paen on creativity and the impermanence of life.


If you have not ever seen this, Ira Glass of This American Life on 'making stuff even when you know it sucks'. The power of persistence.




> We are a consumer society.

I don't think it's quite that bleak. The trick is that we only create in a small handful of arenas. So most of what we have in common with one another, most of what we do, is consume other people's productions.

But that guy passively consuming on the train might have a woodshop at home and could be reading about woodcraft and fueling his passion even as he consumes.

That guy on the blackberry could be exchanging recipes to further his own.

And who knows what might be going through the mind of the guy reading the paper. Perhaps you've just caught him during his 'offline, recharge' time. Where he steps back to broaden his awareness to stimulate new ideas.

Frankly, you have to take a pessimistic, judgmental (borderline-misanthropic) view of anyone not actively creating at any given moment to decide that most people do nothing but consume.

I'm sure the stereotypical mindless consumers exist. But I know that even creative people go through phases of their life that are like that.

But that's how it is with passion. If you don't have it, there's no sense trying to force a craft.

Thanks for your comments.

I don't think it is a bad thing that we may be a consumer society.

And you are correct in that observing people passively on the train without asking them about themselves is a biased filter.

In my biased worldview, I do believe strongly that most people are happier consuming content vs the pain and joy of producing original content (for example, the creative army behind a hit series like 'Big Love'). Personally, I am happiest when I am making something (whether it be a homemade crappy non-Hallmark but sentimental birthday card or some Cocoa code for an upcoming iPhone app). And it is very, very easy for my addictive personality to sit on the couch and surf on the iPhone until the battery low warning.

On a tangent, is why I believe Facebook/Twitter/et al. are positive - they allow people to share bits of their interests/lives.

Note: A few of the best conversations I have ever had have been with random strangers (non-regulars) on the train/airplane about their lives

Hey man, if there are a handful of creative people, there's got to be someone spending time appreciating it, or there's no audience.

There is not a single creator who does not also consume.

Hmm. I also feel like if everybody was creative we would be way over-saturated.

This might be true if everyone was able to publish top quality albums or illustrations and art- but what if everyone just made their own greeting cards instead of buying them? The world would probably be just fine if not better.

I read your comment this morning and it has stayed with me all day.

There is definitely something more to people who create, as well as consume. Whether they be a knitter, gardener, musician or developer.

Thanks for the Extra Video and read.

What's impressive about Kanye is that when he reached the peak of the particular art form he was in (his music), he was willing to start on a whole new art form, where it was sure that he would initially have to go through a pain process.

That's what we all have to do. Not just keep repeating the same shit in slightly different forms, but go somewhere else and do something new.

You can't know what you don't know till you've been somewhere you haven't ever been.

hi - i don't know much about the guy, except that he's a rap artist. what's the new art form?

He, essentially, wrote and performed a bunch of love songs and ballads on 808s and Heartbreak. Sure, they're Auto-Tuned out of their gourds, but they're heartfelt love songs, all about a girl who left him. On some, he's angry at her, and on some, he's doing his standard "I'm awesome" thing.

But, as you can imagine, most rappers don't do a concept album all about the girl who broke his heart.

I don't think Kanye's work is all that ground breaking. However, it is ground breaking in the mainstream, and he is bringing depth to a shallow mainstream genre. I think that is is main achievement.

If you listen to music outside of the mainstream (yes, even rap), 808s and Heartbreak doesn't seem like that original or impressive of an album, and there are works by other artists that are far less appreciated or noticed but could make bigger impacts both musically and socially. I do, however, really enjoy a few of the songs on that album, and I think Kanye is an inspiring person even if he can be a total douche.

The additional point that maxklein made was this was coming off one of the best softcore, pop rap albums of all time. It sold something like a million in a week, and then was huge worldwide.

He could have made another album like Graduation and sold 10 times the records 808 did. If you want to gain some respect for Kanye, go download the Graduation album and listen to it start to finish. Not only is it great, but it is very introspective and self-critical.

Absolutely - the dude's not the best rapper, but he's easily the best lyricist of this generation.


How could you be so Dr. Evil

You're bringing out a side of me that I don't know

I decided we weren't gonna speak so why we up 3 a.m. on the phone

Why does she be so mad at me for, homie I don't know she's hot and cold

I won't stop, won't mess my groove up cause I already know how this thing goes,

You run and tell your friends that you're leavin' me

They say that they don't see what you see in me

You wait a couple months then you gon' see,

You'll never find nobody better than me

It's pure poetry. Never matched or surpassed. He's truly the Bob Dylan of our times.

No. Bob Dylan is still the Bob Dylan of our times. Go listen to Modern Times or Love and Theft again. In the genre, I'll still put Common above Kanye in lyrics, and so would Jay-Z. How about The Roots?

Kayne, as a producer, does great work. His lyrics are usually good. (I'm not a fan of Misogynist hits like Kanye's Workout Plan or Golddigger, but hey.) But Bob Dylan?

Well, I was being sarcastic. I grew up with the rhymesayers and think Kanye's lyrics are a joke. I'd rather listen to Little Wayne, at least he's not pretending to be deep.

They're hit or miss. I don't think the quoted line is particularly good, but some of his lyrics are very clever, or very introspective, or very funny, or all three at the same time.

His beats are better than his rhymes. I generally like his albums when they first come out, but I don't feel they have much staying power.

I'd go with Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Common, Kanye - in that order - for their lyrics. And really, the first three are in a league of their own.

Well, just for Illmatic I'd put Nas above Kanye. Nice call on Talib Kweli, though.

(Admitting to knowing and liking hip-hop is probably instant disqualification for any future YC application. :)

I can't believe I left Nas off that list. I don't think you need to worry about YC applications: "I'm the Buffalo Solider / Smoke you like a dreadlocked Rasta / loadin' a spliff" Surely PG would appreciate the poetry in that.

And this is magically topical, since in my mind it reinforces that Kanye may be a great producer, but even Jay says, "If skills sold / Truth be told / I'd probably be / Lyrically / Talib Kweli."

what's the new art form?

Autotune. He also assembled a team of people hipper than himself to do research and development for him. In this way he's similar to contemporary artists like murakami, hirst and koons in that he's more of a manager, while his employees do the work of figuring out what's hip and helping him incorporate that into his music, videos and fashion sense.

What's Autotune?

Auto-Tune was also used to produce the prominent altered vocal effect on Cher's "Believe," recorded in 1998. When first interviewed about this, the sound engineers claimed that they had used a vocoder, in what Sound on Sound perceived as an attempt to preserve a trade secret.[7] After the massive success of "Believe," many artists imitated the technique. It was evident in songs of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some notable examples are Gigi D'Agostino's "La Passion" and Janet Jackson's US #1 hit "All For You," among many others. After years of relative dormancy, the effect was revived in the mid-2000s by R&B singer T-Pain, who elaborated on the effect in contemporary popular music by making active use of it in his songs, a style that has since gone on to be imitated by numerous other R&B and pop artists[8] such as Kanye West and, more recently, Jamie Foxx in his hit song, "Blame It".[9]


Jay-Z also made a much needed musical commentary on autotune:


Personally, I think the hordes of talentless R&B "singers" using auto-tune have completely destroyed its creative potential. I cringe every time I hear it.

there's more than one form of rap

that's true, but Not just keep repeating the same shit in slightly different forms, but go somewhere else and do something new gave me slightly higher expectations, all the same.

Kanye West found a way to prevent his content being made readable, even via readability.

Yet when _why did it with his code examples, it was cool! ;-)

But, yeah, someone should clue him up on @font-face or something g I appreciate the crazy typography sometimes, but being able to copy and paste it is always nice..

Creativity is not about checking off a long list of small boxes

Not enough for me, I'm afraid. I suppose someone could run it through OCR and put it into a normal paragraph form, but I'm not convinced it's worth the bother.

I was actually able to scroll through and read it rather quickly. I handwrite in all caps, so maybe that has something to do with it?

Yo Kanye, I'm really happy for you and imma let you finish, but I think Ken Robinson had the best creativity essay of all time. OF ALL TIME!

I'm on the plane listening to the college dropout. It brings back so many memories. When we made it I had all 6 parents, 4 grandparents and my mom and dad. Now I have my dad and my grandfather.

Music is so nostalgic. Every song I listen to brings me back to when I first played them for my mom, when I first played from for Dame, when I first played them Jay, when I first played them for Kweli, when I first played them for my niggas back in Chi, when the album first came out, when I first called Ebro from Hot 97 and begged him to play through the wire, when DJ Pharris blew me up in the Chi.

We used to be the niggas rocking polo shirts, Louie back packs, paper denim jeans, and exclusive Adidas from Sporty LA. We were the underdogs. I never feel like I'm not the underdog. I never felt completely comfortable. I'm tormented by the need to create. With the loss of McQueen I feel like we lost one of those faces of modern creativity's Mount Rushmore.

There were times that the only thing that kept me on this earth was the need and responsibility to create. Maybe McQueen felt his job was done because his last collection was the greatest of the decade. We are all so hurt. I know we're selfish because he brought us so much joy and inspiration.

I know how it feels when the night demons come. We can't let them control our hands and feet. Sometimes when it hurts so bad we have to just lay in the bed. Just lay in bed and don't move please, I know how it feels. I wish McQueen could have just been still. Don't let the psychiatrists give you their drugs because it slows down your wings. Society and public opinion can beat the wings off of angels. When god sees they can't take it anymore he brings them back home.

During this new album process sometimes I turn the music up and drink and cry. When something sounds so amazing and ground breaking I'm reminded of why I live. I drink the pain of now 2 generations and breathe our melodies and messages. The music keeps us alive.

I was blessed with the opportunity to bring my and others dreams to life. It's like performing magic or something. It's surreal. We bring the unrealistic to reality. “Go hard, go hard, go hard” echoes in my dreams. When I wake up and brush my teeth and look in the mirror it's like I see Michael and my mom and Malcolm. Who's that African in the background mom? Oh he created the original layouts for the pyramids but was written out the history books and his MTV award was given to “aliens”.

There's no such thing as fact anymore, only opinion. The closest thing we have to fact is “common opinion”. Everything is an opinion. The way you dress is an expression of your opinion. Your religious beliefs are your opinion. The music you turn up loud is your opinion. For most people it's easier to just agree. For me the hardest thing is to 'just' agree and that is what sparks creativity, the feeling that something can be better, the feeling that something's missing. The feeling that something's needed.

I really like this line, "I never feel like I'm not the underdog. I never felt completely comfortable. I'm tormented by the need to create." Regardless of your personal feelings for Kanye that should resonate with every entrepreneur in the room.

Thanks for making it readable for us. Now, it only needs a steady beat of bongos in the background while it's read aloud. I'll put on my black turtle-neck, beret, and sunglasses.

Really - it almost works as Beat Poetry.

I liked the last paragraph of that:

"For me the hardest thing is to 'just' agree and that is what sparks creativity, the feeling that something can be better, the feeling that something's missing, the feeling that something's needed."

I like the idea that creativity isn't just about creating something in a void -- it's about having a strong viewpoint and the taste to know how things should be.

I'm sorry, but Mr. West is such an insufferable ass that I can't bring myself to read this.

My feeling on the guy, is that, while he is a pretentious and sometimes insufferable ass, he's also complex and interesting and hard to write off. He says and does a lot of things that are very foolish, but I respect him as an artist because he also dares to do a lot of things other people would be scared to try.

So was Picasso. If you can't separate the artist from the art, you won't enjoy much.

This essay actually betrays a vulnerability; it reveals a Heiligenstadt Testament-like calling. I, for one, am impressed.

He does seem vulnerable, even tortured. Does this go hand in hand with great creativity?

I think it does. If you look at the lives of a lot of artists (and a lot of scientists throughout history!), it seems that a great many of them had miserable lives because of this tortured search for "something that could be better, something missing, something needed."

There's an old legend where I live, in the Czech Republic, of a fire bird. The hero sees the bird and his horse tells him, "If we turn around right now, you'll have a nice life, a quiet, happy life... but if you capture that bird, you'll cry and you'll suffer, and your life will be an amazing adventure." The horse begs him to chose the former, but of course, the hero's journey is the latter.


He does seem vulnerable, even tortured. Does this go hand in hand with creativity?

Yes, but only for certain kinds of creativity. Hacking requires a lot of creativity, but there's not a tremendous amount of emotional content in it, so it doesn't really demand vulnerability. Even a lot of very creative musicians write from the head more than the heart (e.g., Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, others).

A lot of artists, however, try to explore and express something about the human experience. That kind of creativity demands vulnerability, because you have to be sensitive and introspective enough to be able to channel that emotion into some kind of medium.

Does that make his work an less amazing, how many great artists really are nice guys ;) I think it comes with the territory, can't be an agnst artist and a super nice guy.

That makes you look an insufferable ass just the same.

Right on!

I quite enjoyed that and I'm not afraid to admit it.

I've always liked the crafts of those who are perceived socially to be flawed in some manner. Michael Jackson, Kanye West, and now Tiger Woods to name a few. Even with their problems, I'm still drawn to them solely because their art is inspiring and creative.

What he wrote is interesting. He reminds me of the music industry's Andy Warhol.

Surprised to see this on hacker news. Alot of Kanye is unbearable, and this is not one of his best works. But his best songs I believe are pure art.

though some may just not like the guy (for whatever reason), you can't deny the level of creativity that this dude possesses. his concert was the first i ever attended back in 05 in Dallas & every single hip-hop concert i've attended since (about 15 thus far) has paled in comparison (in terms of just sheer originality)

What about other concerts?

Since this is HN I should point out a lack of any alt tag or longdesc. Stevie Wonder will not be reading this.

Stevie Wonder will not be reading this.

Do you seriously think Stevie Wonder sits around reading Kanye West's site? :-)

Well hopefully he reads hacker news, because redstar504 transcribed it above.

Nobody, even Kanye himself, would disagree the guy is a bit of a dick sometimes, but it's nice to see someone that wears his (he)art on his sleeve and strives for the best.

He's the Steve Jobs of Hip Hop.

I disagree. Jay-Z, Tupac or Notorious BIG are the "Steve Jobs" (eg: consistently raising the bar) of Hip Hop

I don't feel Steve Jobs is notable solely because he 'consistently raises the bar', but his approach to creation. Jay-z admitted in his lyrics where he says "I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but i did five Mil, I ain't been rhymin' like Common since" that he prefers to be more profitable rather than to fulfill his desire to rap about what he wants to. Biggie doesn't have a catalog(2 studio albums) large enough to really say that he consistently raises the bar. Also both Biggie and Tupac came from an era that produced Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, The Wu-Tang Clan and many others. It's a bit much they raised the bar when there were others around pushing hip hop at least as far. But I digress, the ways in which you can draw similarities to Kanye and Steve Jobs is that they prize aesthetics, are known for creating what they see as ideal, a disdain for compromise, going against the grain and being extremely successful at what they do. So I think Kanye is far more analogous to Steve Jobs than anyone else in hip hop.

well explained. :)

For real, Biggie and Tupac are really pushing hip-hop to new places - I can't wait to see where they take it next.

Best comment below the post:

i know your not gonna name your album this but this would be cool if you named it “IMA LET YOU FINISH”

what exactly is impressive about kanye west vs every other pop "artist"? does anyone have any examples?

I hated his latest album (808 and Heartbreak) and the one prior to that (Graduation) was mediocre, minus a hit or 2.

But if you listen to his first two albums, "The College Dropout" and "Late Registration", and compare it to what was being released at the time, you find something completely different.

In addition to the new sound (summary: sped up soul samples), he came with emotion as well as acceptance of his being a upper/middle-class guy (his mom was a college professor) while others would try to masquerade as gangsters.

Basically, what he did was bring relevant hip-hop to the mainstream, showing suburban kids, college students and yuppies that you can relate to rap music without having to act like someone else.

He is a self-made pop artist. He was a producer, and then wrote, performed and produced his own album. Creating pop rap is not particularly common - and he leads the genre with creativity that everyone follows for a few years after.

He's probably the only male in the hip-hop world that makes music with a lot of personal, emotional content. Also he has a pretty good ear for hooks, and is widely regarded as a good producer. Not a big fan myself, but I think that's basically why he's well liked.

Then again, maybe it's the shutter shades.

I think Eminem covers a lot of his own, personal issues. Eminem does hooks well too...

Perhaps I shouldn't have said "only". But Eminem presents himself as a gangsta, and while he does cover a lot of his own issues, he doesn't strike me as particularly introspective. I'm not necessarily preferring one guy over the other here--I'd much rather listen to OutKast or Mos Def than either Eminem or Kanye--but I think Kanye's merger of the traditional content of a lot of singer-songwriters with hip-hop is what makes him stand out.

Oh. Looks like Kanye's attempting a little heartfelt PR stunt to make people believe he actually has a responsibility to create. Fair attempt, but his actions say the exact opposite: that he's doing it all for himself, the fame and recognition. I, for one, don't believe this jackass.

I don't think they're mutually exclusive. Where does this urge and feeling of a responsibility to create come from? Preservation of the ego, legacy, a feeling of importance.. all things that fame and recognition fuel.

It's a bit like economic motivation in capitalism. If someone's greed for money leads to them doing great things to make money (hiring people and redistributing wealth in the process) then that "greed" is considered good, from a capitalist point of view.

In the same way, Kanye routinely admits he has a massive ego, and I think that if that ego and pride leads to him doing some great work (even if he says some stupid shit from to time) then it's worth it. It's not like he's running drugs, touching kids, screwing taxpayers out of money, or whatever.. being an ass and jumping on stages is a small inconvenience for what he brings to the world.

Maybe you're right - but he still comes across as a self-absorbed jerk, and that's his own doing.

If you've read his blog before (when it was kanyeuniversecity) you'd believe.

Who the f- is Kanye West?!

Are you under the impression that you look sophisticated and cultured when you pretend to not know who he is?

No, he's making fun of Kanye's response to Colbert's attempt to have his Christmas album beat Kanye's music on iTunes.


Sometimes I do this when I tell people that I don't watch TV. I really don't watch much TV, but I rarely say so without feeling a little smug, and thus a little asinine.

He's a rap artist who is in love with fish sticks

Thanks. It was a honest question - I had no idea who he is.

Your answer makes sense, I rarely listen to rap music.

Ed: oh, and I don't live in US either, so maybe is a cultural thing.

Fish dicks. In his mouth. He' a gay fish

Aaa now I finally get the South Park episode! It was about this dude?

Haha yeah

He's a dude who has made some of the worst records of all time.

have you even listened to the college dropout?

Of course, what would be the point of making my (admittedly short and detail-less) critique if I hadn't?

"We used to be the niggas rocking polo shirts, Louie back packs, paper denim jeans, and exclusive Adidas from Sporty LA. We were the underdogs."

I laughed.

If those "niggas" are the underdogs, what should we call the "niggas" dying in Haiti?

Congratulations on being unable to pick up context!

I can't believe this is on HN. Leave this stuff to Yahoo or one of the other pop-news aggregates. Come on Paul, a little more filtering please.


On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

What is creativity? Where does it come from?

Sounds like he's studying Scientology.

i hate kanye west.

the mere headline makes me giggle a bit. oh, the irony.

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