June 11, 2013 was a big day in Jon Caramanica’s career. On this day thee New York Times published a feature story written by Jon, titled “Behind Kanye’s Mask”. The feature was so significant and “good” because it was the first time that someone had sat down with the most influential artist of time (or the most hated artist of our time depending on who you talk to) and dug to the bottom of everything.
Jon sets the scene with a beautiful description of Kanye’s home and recording studio. Jon writes, “From Shangri-la Studio here you can see the Pacific Ocean just over the fence lapping calmly at Zuma Beach. And this compound is just as Zen, with recording equipment set up in various locations, including an old bus and a spotless white house with all the mirrors removed.” Immediately the reader is taken from wherever he or she is at to Kanye’s in-house studio overlooking a gorgeous beach. The “Zen” metaphor is perfectly placed in this initial paragraph. Throwing “Zen” out there sets the story up perfectly. Kanye is a Zen master and his fans can easily draw that comparison.
Jon then name drops ‘Ye and describes the massive and spectacular studio they are in. Here Kanye is in the process of recording his sixth solo album Yeezus. Jon gives context to the studio’s history writing, “The original studios were built under the supervision of Bob Dylan and the Band in the 1970s — some of “The Last Waltz” was filmed here.” Before reading any further it is as if this top secret information that Jon is about to reveal. Bob Dylan’s studio. That’s big.
This next paragraph tells us how Kanye is presented in the media, in the limelight and to his fans, “Mr. West has had the most sui generis hip-hop career of the last decade. No rapper has embodied hip-hop’s often contradictory impulses of narcissism and social good quite as he has, and no producer has celebrated the lush and the ornate quite as he has. He has spent most of his career in additive mode, figuring out how to make music that’s majestic and thought-provoking and grand-scaled. And he’s also widened the genre’s gates, whether for middle-class values or high-fashion and high-art dreams.”
The entire 571 words of context leading up to the interview portion is written beautifully. Jon mentions Kim Kardashian and her baby shower. He mentions how Rick Rubin (Kanye’s leader producer) refers to himself as a reducer rather than a producer. Jon mentions the rise of fall and rise again of Kanye. All this context sets us up for one of the best interviews I have even read.
One of the most subtle yet most powerful questions that Jon asks is, “So no regrets?”. Kanye responds, “I don’t have one regret.” From calling out George Bush to interrupting Taylor Swift, Kanye has been bashed in the media and called a racist by many, Kanye still has no regrets. No regrets. Kanye has no regrets. That’s big.
Kanye’s quotes take this feature story to a different level. If Kanye didn’t say what he said in this story then the story would have been overlooked. But ‘Ye speaks about life, creating, his family. Kanye says, “Creative output, you know, is just pain. I’m going to be cliché for a minute and say that great art comes from pain. But also I’d say a bigger statement than that is: Great art comes from great artists. There’s a bunch of people that are hurt that still couldn’t have made the album that was super-polarizing and redefined the sound of radio.” This single quote is flawless. Jon mentioned the death of Kanye’s mother prior to asking the question and Kanye’s response could not have been more perfect.
The entire interview is full of quotable lines from Mr. West. Kanye and Jon end the interview, with Kanye comparing himself to Steve Jobs. Although it is laughable at times, Kanye’s comparisons are not all that crazy. ‘Ye says, “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z.” Admit it, it’s pretty funny.
The lede paragraph, the context, the questions, the responses, all make this feature story “good”. Kanye’s personality and bravado make it great.