Indisputable truths: everyone is born, everyone dies, and everyone is weird except for you. Oh, and Kanye West is the most divisive artist of our time.
Some people think he's the generation-defining genius musician that he thinks he is, and some... Well, some people just think he's really bad. But not just regular bad - the kind you can ignore and, you know, just not listen to - they think he's sort of like the antichrist.
Kanye West knows this. In the spoken word track I Love Kanye on his latest album, The Life Of Pablo, he lists out all the split personalities that everyone fights over as The Best Kanye. And here, to celebrate Kanye West's 39th year on earth, we attempt to decipher which Kanye is the ultimate Kanye in this totally definitive, completely biased list of the very best Kanyes that he name-checks in that song.
Happy birthday, mate - let's pick you apart like a warm, tear-and-share brioche.
(Note: That track is a weird remix but the closest that's available to the original I Love Kanye track we could find on YouTube. Sorry.)
10. In The News Kanye
You don’t get points for being on TMZ, mate. Who isn’t in the news these days? I’ll tell you who: Ludacris. Where are you, Luda? We miss you, buddy. Come home.
9. The Always Rude Kanye
Being rude is bad. Unless it’s to photographers who break highly-strung, airport arrival lounge-shouted verbal contracts in which case, yeah, fine. (See below)
8. Set On His Goals Kanye
Setting goals is good. Setting goals and objectives “gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation. It focuses your acquisition of knowledge, and helps you to organize your time and your resources so that you can make the very most of your life” (shout out MindTools.com, I see you). Maybe Kanye does need to bring this Kanye back: The Life Of Pablo was an often-brilliant, often-chaotic jaunt through about five different mixtapes and if that was what he was going for, sure, cool, fair play, but also, more importantly, you know, maybe some structure would help Kanye not have a meltdown that forces him to self-sabotage his own release in the weeks before it comes out. And then, when it does, constantly tinkering with the finer points of tracks, Kanye disappearing into his own cave - his anus, his navel, after years of gazing inwards - to make thousands of barely noticeable changes to tracks that should’ve been locked years ago is probably not the best use of time.
7. The New Kanye
If old Kanye had Twitter he would’ve just Tweeted about teddy bears and how much he hated his old teachers. New Kanye name-checks Belgian artist Peter De Potter and mansplains how to pronounce the word ‘zine’. The music stays great but Kanye loses points for making me have to pretend I know all the names of sometime-Raf Simons collaborators.
6. Pink Polo Kanye
It was lovely, like, when he used to dress like that. The stripy pink polo shirts and the white plastic sunglasses and the glow-sticks and the tacky necklaces, like he was a lad from Huddersfield making his way through Magaluf Town with his mates. His fashion has got better since - even if he doesn’t have the legs for all that ripped white denim - but he gets points for growth.
5. Straight From The 'Go Kanye
Thanks to the perpetually-stoned etymologists over at Rap Genius, this line refers to i) Chicago (“The ‘Go”) and/or ii) Kanye’s old group The Go Getters, a group literally nobody has ever heard of before. But still, if we’re taking it way back - there’s a line on Kanye’s guest verse from 1996, before he’d even left “The ‘Go”, on Grav’s Line For Line, where he’s all like “Mad n----- have dreams of Lex and coupes/Got they signing bonus and bought TECs for the video shoot”. Now - “Lex” is Lexus and “TECs” are TEC-9 machine guns and also that’s possibly the Kanyiest line Kanye’s ever rapped: clunkily delivered with two layers of charisma, it’s a perfect distillation of the posture-skewing he came to embody and constantly reinvent. And that was about seven years before anyone had ever heard of the dude. No wonder he had a persecution complex.
4. Chop Up The Soul Kanye/Chop Up The Beats Kanye
Okay, you know what? I do miss this Kanye. I miss Chop Up The Soul Kanye/Chop Up The Beats Kanye as much as I miss ice-cream flavour Chewits and Wham bars (fuck Time Outs, though) and I thought Yeezus’ Bound 2 was gonna signal a comeback. Well, in the end, that never really happened but maybe it’s better this way: maybe all those great productions were actually saccharine messes with chipmunk choruses and we should be glad to be shot of them. Maybe they were just products of their time. Maybe those Chewits would make our ultra-sensitive 21st Century guts go mad (Whams are still The GOAT, believe that). Or maybe Chop Up The Soul Kanye/Chop Up The Beats Kanye would thrive in 2016’s desolate soundscape and everyone would be happy and stuff. There’s a whole lot of maybes but nostalgia prevails.
3. The Old Kanye
The old Kanye released one of the great modern hip-hop albums, College Dropout, some - fuck - like, twelve years ago. He dressed like he bought all of his clothes from a supermarket and rapped things like “So I live by two words: ‘fuck you, pay me’” and had a jaw like a chipmunk and just seemed dead happy to not be dead. Plus, you know, Slow Jamz, where he rhymed “lying though” with “rhinestones”. What’s not to love?
2. The Bad Mood Kanye
Yes, Bad Mood Kanye. I feel you. That time Kanye West told that paparazzo “Don’t talk to me and don’t talk to anyone I know” and then when he spoke again Kanye snatched away his camera and broke it is perhaps the single greatest moment in rap history. There was a contract offered, the terms explained, and when they were broken, fines were made. It was legit. It was iconic. I think we all wanted to be Kanye that day.
1. The Sweet Kanye
Sleepy Kanye is the single greatest Kanye West we’ve been gifted so far. So why does rap have such an anti-nap agenda? Rap is a genre of urges and impulses, thinking and doing and reality and sex and violence and ageless, reptilian response mechanisms, so why does everyone pretend like they don’t sleep? Kanye just sits there and sweetly naps with his daughter, more than happy to be caught slipping, safe in the knowledge that crib shopping with Kim K and John Legend and Chrissy Teigen is boring and sleep is better. He’s not missing out on anything good. He’d rather just catch up on his Zzzzs and dream. His dreams are definitely just that bit in the restaurant in Being John Malkovich, only everyone’s Kanye West and he just fucking loves it. Thrives on it. He just shouts “Hey, Raf Simons!” to a guy who looks just like him. “Pablo Picasso!” Kanye waves and Kanye waves back. Kanye the waiter. Kanye the valet. Kanye the chef. His date, his wife, is Kanye. His baby has a baby-sized body and Kanye’s Kanye-sized head. If everyone was Kanye West all those other Kanyes wouldn’t matter. It'd be sweet, man. He’d be happy.