First off, congratulations to Kanye West for making Time magazine’s 2015 100 Most Influential People list. Unquestionably, the “boundary breaker” deserves to be there, and as Elon Musk, who authored West’s Time bio, points out, “Kanye West would be the first to tell you he belongs on the list.”
I take no issue with West’s inclusion or even his ego, only his voice on the accompanying video of his Time write up. Yes, his voice. It’s affected, nasal, all treble and no bass, a far cry from how he sounded in interviews when “College Dropout” debuted 11 years ago, or even when “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” dropped in 2010. The new voice isn’t how he sounds on his most recent album, “Yeezus.” Where did it come from? And better, when can it be sent back?
Watch Kanye’s TIME interview here
The new voice sounds like exactly what it is: a Black man trying to imitate a stereotypical white voice. To be clear, I’m not playing into the idea that to sound educated or intelligent is to sound “white.” Kanye sounded educated and intelligent with the old voice, the one with bass. But I absolutely think West, on his well-documented quest to be beloved by European designers, and Europeans, in general, is playing into the idea that white is right with this new voice. And it’s strange to me that this accomplished, intelligent, articulate Black man raised on the South Side of Chicago got way “on” and now, after at least a decade of speaking publicly and everyone knowing what he actually sounds like, feels the need to code switch to stay there or get to wherever’s next.
West debuted this new voice two years ago when he appeared on the short-lived talk show hosted by his now-mother-in-law, Kris Jenner. And he was largely roasted for it by his Black fans. Some gave him a pass for trying to sound “professional”— which he absolutely did with bass in his voice — when speaking to Jenner and appealing to her middle-aged studio audience. Maybe it would have gone over better if the viewing audience hadn’t been listening to Kanye for a decade and didn’t know the obvious difference.
Watch Kanye West’s first MTV interview from 2002
Despite the backlash — which I didn’t expect West to care about — the new voice remains. And it makes viewing Kanye’s Time interview feel like I’m watching a skit from the long-defunct Chappelle Show.
I tuned in to see the interview, because love or hate Yeezie, he always has something interesting to say. Occasionally, it’s poignant or ballsy, other times, it’s just baffling. For Time, it was the latter. West yammered on about the “masses,” ie: you and me, and how his new line of overpriced, hole-y yoga apparel appeals to us. It was “bad, real bad. Joe Jackson.” The new voice just made it worse.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk.