Kanye West and the perils of cool-dad syndrome | Bleader

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kanye West and the perils of cool-dad syndrome

Posted By on 01.02.13 at 11:33 AM

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rap dad Jay-Z and rap dad to-be Kanye in the video for Otis
  • Rap dad Jay-Z and rap-dad-to-be Kanye in the video for "Otis"
On Sunday night Kanye West announced that his uber-celeb beau, Kim Kardashian, is pregnant. The tide of responses made it feel as if no one before Kanye and Kim had ever conceived a human child, which mirrors some reactions people have about anything West does these days. The headline to Alexandra Petri's Washington Post blog post sums everything up: "Kanye West and Kim Kardashian having a baby, so the 'fiscal cliff' can wait."

Kanye obviously isn't even close to being the first hip-hop artist to prepare for fatherhood, but I have to wonder what he'll do to change the rap-dad game. It's been nearly a year since Jay-Z dropped "Glory," a song dedicated to his daughter Blue Ivy Carter (who was born just a couple days prior to the release of "Glory") and also features the newborn, or rather a recording of her crying. Will Ye try and top it? Should we expect an album-length ode to the bundle of joy he's expecting?

Whatever happens, West might have a little trouble evading the horrors of cool-dad syndrome, that pattern of behavior wherein a father desperately tries to appear to have an intimate understanding of the latest trends in order to vie for the approval of those who are in vogue. Kanye's grappled with it before: I'm reminded of a piece Grantland's Alex Pappademas wrote about Yeezy's "cool-hunting tendencies" just after he released the G.O.O.D. Music remix of Chief Keef's "I Don't Like." Among Pappademas's many smart observations, he made a great point about West's recent work with up-and-comers Keef and Lex Luger (who produced Watch the Throne's "H.A.M."), noting Kanye's inclination to take the work of his rising counterparts and spin it into something opulent. Pappademas profiled Luger for the New York Times Magazine back in 2011, and not only did he get to hear the original track Kanye turned into "H.A.M.," but it gave him some more perspective on Kanye's collaborative process with hot new artists:

As great as that song ["H.A.M."] was as a song, it was a greater positional statement: By buying a rising Virginia producer's beat and then tricking it out like the Sistine Helicarrier, Kanye was borrowing a little of Lex's insurgent young-gun swag and his basically-unrivaled-at-that-moment Southern trap-sound credibility while simultaneously putting a competing producer in his place. All that live instrumentation felt like the work of a man going extra widescreen on the arrangement to emphasize the difference between a producer and a mere beat maker. Classic underminer behavior.

In the case of "H.A.M." it's hard to say which bird gets hit the hardest when West throws this kind of stone—the desire to stay on top of cool new trends or the desire to position oneself at the top of a pack of talented artists—but his take on "I Don't Like" definitely stinks more of cool-dad syndrome. It's not just that West decided to rework what at the time was more of a local hit, but it's what he said in the "I Don't Like" remix, or rather how he said it. At the end of his turn in the song he gives a shout-out to (among others) some of the hottest insurgent local rappers—including Keef, L.E.P. Bogus Boys, and King Louie—and closes with, "This is Chi, right? Right?"

West sounds a little unsure of himself when he utters that second "right" just before ceding to the bombastic chorus—it's almost like he's turning to the cool kids and waiting to see if he got their approval for name-dropping the right people. Kanye's words may be sincere—in a sense they are, considering it's his remix and it bears his name and voice—but there's a lingering feeling that his lyrics are a little more calculated than they are an accurate representation of his thoughts, tastes, and desires. The "I Don't Like" remix was great for the local scene, and as much as the track's original producer, Young Chop, disliked West's spin on the tune, it could have been a lot worse. Here's hoping Kanye keeps his desire to appear trendy in check as he prepares for the rigors of celebrity fatherhood.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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