Kanye West is complicated. He’s a lyrical Picasso. He’s the best producer of the second millennium. He’s a fashion mogul. He’s a father, a husband and a son. He is, in all honesty, a raging opinionated asshole.
He’s also a romantic, believe it or not. His sensitive side made plenty of appearances early in his career (“Hey Mama,” “Roses,” etc.) but not quite the romantic side. Sure, there was a darker edge of romance on 808’s and Heartbreaks, where he rapped about lies, deception and well, heartbreak (duh.)
But come Sept. 2010 ahead of West’s fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy release, love was in the air when “Devil in a New Dress,” dropped as part of West’s GOOD Friday campaign. The forthcoming album as a whole features songs that highlight West’s rise from rapper to God (“Power,” “Monster,” and “Hell of a Life.”) But “Devil in a New Dress,” the eighth song down on the album, takes a classical R&B approach compared to his usual bars.
Sampled from Smokey Robinson’s “Will you Still Love me Tomorrow,” the vibe one catches when pressing play on “Dress” is something you wont find on the average Yeezy track. The light drums and synthesizer take you into the track as West giggles and ad-libs. At first play, the song resembles an Isaac Hayes track more than a rapper’s.
What happens next – the opening chorus, as the female vocalists play in Kanye is, is a simple poetic masterpiece: Put your hands to the constellations, the way you look should be a sin, you my sensation.
Listen, it’s not groundbreaking. No one hears that and throws their headphones to the ground in astonishment. But the opening line of the five-minute plus song prepares the listener for a twisted tale highlighted by love and lust.
So I’m going to step into the fanboy realm right now – the first verse is un-fucking-believable. For me, it’s one of my favorite Ye verses of all time. The rhyme scheme compliments a poetic story, fitted elegantly into 12 lines:
“May the Lord forgive us, may the gods be with us / In that magic hour I seen good Christians / Make rash decisions, oh she do it / What happened to religion? Oh, she lose it / She putting on her make up, she casually allure / Text message break ups, the casualty of tour / How she gon’ wake up and not love me no more? / I thought I was the asshole, I guess it’s rubbing off / Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme / Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron / I’m looking at her like this what you really wanted, huh? / Why we argue anyway? Oh, I forgot, it’s summertime.”
In just one verse, we see several of the staples of West’s discography. There’s the religious aspect in the first lines blended with romance. He carries that love vs. lust theme which he accentuated in 808’s and Heartbreaks and drops it into his first verse: “How she gon’ wakeup and not love me no more?” Then there is, of course, the patented Kanye West God complex.
Religion has been something seen in West’s music from the jump. The song that made him a household name was literally called “Jesus Walks.” God is someone Kanye West looks up to and idolizes. To the general public – and even diehard fans – there’s the perception that Kanye West believes he is God.
But I’m not here to debate whether Kanye believes or does not believe that. I don’t have time for that. Nor do I care that much. But I digress.
But in Devil in a Dress’ first verse, West does what he often does: contrast Christianity with less-than Christian acts: “I seen good Christians / make rash decisions.” I’ll leave this up to y’all to decide what exactly Kanye is talking about.
After a few lines of religion comes the usual aspect of love, some West dove headfirst into with 808’s and Heartbreaks. Kanye West and love have a unique relationship, and if anything, non-traditional might be the best way to describe it.
In “Welcome to Heartbreak,” he grapples with not having traditional love: “My friend showed me pictures of his kids / And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs / He said his daughter got a brand new report card / And all I got was a brand new sports car, oh.” In “Robocop,” West dives into the art of mistrust in romance: Just looking at your history / You’re like the girl from Misery / She said she ain’t take it to this degree / Well let’s agree to disagree / Shorty kind of crazy but it turn me on / Keep it up enough to keep it going on / I told her there’s some things she don’t need to know / She never let it go, oh.”
That was 808’s, but West didn’t shy away from the topic in his following album – specifically “Devil in a New Dress.” Kanye sticks to a common trend that seems to have carried over from 808’s – the negatives of love. The idea of waking up and not loving someone to break ups; it’s nothing foreign to the often poetic West.
Finally, we see the egotistical West. The abomination of Obama’s nation. The man who wrote, “I am a God.” The man who made Jesus get up and walk.
In the first verse, it takes just two lines for us to see this. West starts off by referring to himself as the ‘LeBron of rhyme.” In other words, he’s the king (quiet down, Kobe Bryant fans.)
But he then explains himself, almost as if apologizing for referring to himself as the stud from Akron: “Hard to be humble when you’re stunting on the jumbotron.”
He’s probably not wrong. I really wouldn’t know. The only time I’ve ever been on a jumbotron was this one time before a Celtics game, the camera man was just panning around and scoping out the crowd. It was pretty dope.
But, I digress. The 12 lines in the first verse, just a quick 120 words, are heavy. It hits on religion, love, and yeah, LeBron. It’s a microcosm of West’s discography, honestly: from “Jesus Walks” to “Ultralight Beam,” there’s always been a religious theme. The man wrote a whole damn album on love and yes, yes, he happens to think quite highly of himself.
Not bad for just 12 lines, huh?