Black Thought on the Music That Made Him – Pitchfork
August 22, 2023
I move through life in a different way. I’m one of the people who’s such an introvert, sometimes to a fault. I wish I could be that dude who’s like, “Fuck that, I’ll just be in his session and play my beats.” Being that guy is what it takes to get to where people like Kanye are destined to go. His belief in himself was always impressive. He was trying so hard to get on, just refused to quit, and fucking made it. I watched him will shit into existence. Even as a kid, he was still Kanye West.
With 808s, it was the audacity. Like, “What the fuck?” Here’s the thing—I spent so much time being too cool for school. That’s my default setting. I’ve often thought of a musical idea, but the whole getting-out-of-my-head-ness of it all had me going through every possible outcome for such a long time that somebody else would have a similar idea and just do it. The level of bravery to destroy and build in the way Kanye did with that project, it’s admirable. That is the stuff of legend.
I felt my creative world opening up in the late 2000s. The Roots dynamic changed with the onset of our TV gig; being able to end one another’s creative sentences began at that time. We were just beginning to think of different ways we could apply ourselves. That’s when we started to put out Roots albums that were far, far shorter than anything we’d done before but way more dense and more spiritually meaty, on some levels. Because of that, I identified with and was inspired by other albums of that time, like 808s, that had the abandon it took to say, “Fuck it, I’ma come this way.” If it ain’t broke and you got a good thing going, it’s not always easy to push yourself to conjure something more, or different.
I connect with Kanye’s music less now. Maybe it’s because of the rate at which he’s been putting out art and having to keep up. I think his process has become more assembly-line, which in many ways is the Motown model. It works. I don’t know if anything’s lost, but what is sometimes compromised is the personality. The main person it’s supposed to be about is sometimes overshadowed by all these other writers, producers, and people who are contributing. Kanye is less Kanye now than he was when I was a bigger Kanye fan.
This album ushered in a new era of New York hip-hop. It’s so braggadocious, it’s so macho, it’s so Harlem. But it’s also genre-transcendent. He was able to blur the line between the New York hip-hop aesthetic—which was trending less at the time—and the aesthetic that was beginning to trend more: classic UGK, 8Ball and MJG. He was the bridge between dope and trill in a way that was very necessary. New Yorkers who had creative blinders on and weren’t able to see beyond two feet in front of them began to adopt a different perspective in their process. Rocky represents the beginning of that for me.