Kanye West has never resisted the opportunity to communicate his pride, adoration and love for spouse Kim Kardashian in interviews, on social media and through his lyrics. With a new album on the horizon, it's more important now than ever to understand the effect their relationship has had on his outlook and output. To better appreciate West's transition from "there's a thousand yous and only one of me" to "one good girl is worth a thousand bitches," Rolling Stone spoke with Stephen Niday, Genius.com's top-ranked expert on Kanye West, who spent three years painstakingly annotating West's lyrics on the site under the moniker "streetlights" before being hired by Genius as a transcription staffer last year.
Kanye is often credited for inspiring Kim's wardrobe and career choices, but, as someone who follows his work and movements closely, do you think she's inspired his art?
Yeah, definitely. The most obvious thing she's done is make him happy. If you take a look at "Only One," "FourFiveSeconds" and "All Day," you'll see his newer releases are not throwing shots at the fashion industry and he's kind of getting back into where he was in his earlier albums, where he was really happy. You could tell he was really happy to be where he was in life [then]. And I think after his mother passed, several failed relationships, the issue with the fashion industry and people not really taking him seriously — which I think is another reason why he connects with Kim, because people don't take her as seriously as they should — now all of a sudden she's in the picture and he's back to being himself. . . .I think she's influenced his fashion, too.
He designed a pair of shoes for her. They were Giuseppe Zanotti and he designed them specifically for her fashion choices at the time. She also used to wear the Nike Roshe Runs all the time, and he has a shoe [Adidas' Yeezy Boost 350] that looks more or less the same.
What songs do you see as being the ones that really show how he feels about Kim?
The one I really recognize the influence of Kim in is "Lost in the World" off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The part in the verse where he says, "You're my devil, you're my angel/You're my heaven, you're my hell/You're my now, you're my forever/You're my freedom, you're my jail" — that was about Kim. It seemed like it was about her from the beginning. There had been rumours about him cheating on Amber [Rose], and pretty much all of his exes, with Kim. . . .Much later on, in an interview [with Hot 97's Angie Martinez] he actually said it was about her and that, at that point, he knew he wanted to eventually marry her. This song was released in 2010, so for him to feel that strongly for this one woman, and then eventually marry her and have two kids with her, that says a lot about how passionately he feels about her.
It's interesting to hear "Cold," and that line — "And I'll admit, I had fell in love with Kim/Around the same time she had fell in love with him" — was the first time he ever mentioned her, by name, in a song. Then they announced they were in a relationship the day after [it was released]. So that's where everybody thinks it starts. On the timeline of Kim in Kanye's music, that's a huge point.
Another song is "Awesome," which he performed in 2013. Everyone thought it would be on Yeezus, but after Yeezus's release, there's no way it could've fit there. ["Awesome"] was beautiful. A lot of people didn't think it was good on a technical level, but if you really listen to the lyrics and hear what he's saying directly to Kim, it's a really personal song and that emotion is still there. Ever since 2010, he hasn't changed how he felt about her.
"Awesome" has that same stream of consciousness that we're seeing now that might be the vibe of the new record.
Oh, I hope so. After hearing "Wolves" and "Only One," I feel like he's gonna get into this really 808s and Heartbreak-kinda vibe, only the opposite tone. A really happy, ballad album. I would love that so much.
There are kind of three key emotional benchmarks throughout Kanye's career. The car accident that inspired "Through the Wire," the death of his mother that manifested in 808s and Heartbreak, and the backlash to the Taylor Swift incident in 2009 that gave us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. How do you think being a husband and father will translate to what we're going to hear on the upcoming SWISH?
He said in an interview with Charlamagne that it was gonna sound like "cookout music" and I'm not sure exactly what he meant by that, but I imagine it will mean happy, soulful Kanye. That's obviously inspired by Kim because he's at a point in his life where he has a family, and families go to cookouts together! I think most of his music from now on is going to reflect that. "Wolves," admittedly, threw me off a little, because it doesn't fit that description. He said it's going to be the first song on the album so I don't know what to expect, but with Kanye you never really do anyway.
Are there any songs in his back catalogue you think were a signal to how he felt about her before they became official?
There's a line in "Hell of a Life," which is probably about Kim. The very first line of the song is, "I think I just fell in love with a porn star". That's Kim. There was an interview where he said he used to watch [Kim's sex tape]. He was that obsessed with her.
He mentions it in "Clique," too.
It's obvious it doesn't bother him. Who says that? I don't know any other artist who would say that.
Kanye has been fighting for his — and, now, Kim's — validation for years. She did a keynote on objectification in the media this week, while he headlined Glastonbury. Do you think they've got the validation and acceptance he's wanted for them?
No. If you look at Glastonbury, there was a petition to get them to cancel his set. There's still so much opposition — obviously more for him than Kim. . . .He feeds off of it. He started off producing for Jay Z and everybody thought he was just a producer. Then he sold, I think, 400,000 copies of his first album. He won that. People were like, "Oh you and Kim are terrible people and terrible for each other." Then he married her. He won that. People said he'd never have a clothing line or be accepted in the fashion industry. Now he's close friends with Anna Wintour and he has his line with Adidas. He won that, too. He's gotta feel very satisfied right now, but if there's still opposition he's still gonna be fighting.