First of all, I’m flattered you even wanted to speak to me for this biography thing you’re doing, because I don’t feel like I was an important figure in Kanye’s life for very long, if at all. But I guess you’re right, I suppose I had an inside look at him few people have experienced, especially because Kanye is such an extrovert who does all this crazy shit in public, like “slavery is a choice” et cetera, and people hear about him and think what’s he really like? Who’s the real Kanye, if there even is a real Kanye? It’s a question we ask of all celebrities, but especially of a guy like Kanye, who’s an enigma despite having been in the spotlight for almost two decades. There are so many layers to his personality that he feels like a gift you keep trying to open but you just keep peeling off wrapping paper and more wrapping paper until you realize there’s nothing there, that you could spend the rest of your life unwrapping and never reach the center — the substance. Does that make sense? Kanye’s all wrapping paper, no gift. Sort of. But it’s more complicated than that.
Where to start? Kanye brought me into his home when I was 19-years old, a couple years after he released Life of Pablo, a divisive album from the start. Some “music experts,” whatever that term really means, thought it was too scattershot and unfocused, while others viewed said scattershotted-ness as an artistic choice, a snapshot into the fractured psyche of one of the most important musical figures of the 21st century. If you want my opinion, which you probably don’t, I think Life of Pablo was his last great album and his first bad album, an omen for the personal tribulations and musical failures he’d experience over the next five years. I was present for most of those failures, and let me tell you, it was a tense time in the West-Kardashian household. When Kanye and Kim were home, of course. A lot of the time, they were flying all over the world, promoting this or that thing, attending parties and album releases and all the stuff you’d expect the West-Kardashians to do. But when they were home I was right there with them, listening in on every volatile argument and tender moment with their children. I think they viewed me as a harmless fly-on-the-wall. Or Kanye did. I’m not sure Kim ever trusted me, though she grew to tolerate me. In truth, I spent most of my time moving around their Wyoming home like a benevolent ghost, washing dishes and doing laundry and scrubbing their gold-plated toilets (yes, they actually had gold-plated toilets). They paid me handsomely, of course, so I was content.
I met Kanye in a Buffalo coffee shop shortly after he started frequenting Wyoming. I was sitting in a corner, working on an essay about narcissism for my English 101 class at Northern Wyoming Community College. I was doing more nail-biting than actual work, and when I looked up there was the biggest narcissist in a couple of generations, wearing a gray sweatsuit and ordering a mocha frappuccino from a high school junior in the middle of one of the least-populous states in the nation. I’d heard my friends talking about how Kanye had been hanging out in the area. One of them claimed to have seen buying hummingbird feeders at Lowes, while another said she saw him at a dive bar at two o’clock in the morning, playing pool with a gray-haired 60-year old named Dale Peterson, owner of the biggest dairy farm in this part of the state. The general consensus from the locals about Kanye’s presence was that there was no consensus at all. Some of them thought he was a nuisance, an asshole billionaire (maybe) who felt like he could waltz into Wyoming and impose his fantastic wealth on anyone and anything. Other people, though, found him friendly. I remember reading an article in the Buffalo Bulletin about how Kanye used his brand new Rolls Royce Cullinan (retail value: well over $300,000) to jump this guy’s Ford Bronco in front of a local feed store. “I look up from under my hood and there’s Kanye West staring at me with jumper cables in his hand. I ain’t no pop culture guy, but I know Kanye. He asked if I needed some help, so I says sure. Couldn’t have been a nicer boy. I mean just real pleasant,” the owner of the Bronco, whose name was Jasper Peacock or something stupid like that, said.
“I look up from under my hood and there’s Kanye West staring at me with jumper cables in his hand. I ain’t no pop culture guy, but I know Kanye. He asked if I needed some help, so I says sure. Couldn’t have been a nicer boy.”Jasper Peacock, or something stupid like that
By the time I saw Kanye in the coffee shop, spotting him around town had become local sport. So even though I knew he was nearby, it felt strange to see him in the flesh, and even stranger for him to lock eyes with me, smile that big toothy grin he’s famous for and begin walking my direction, stopping only to pour more sugar into an already over-sugared mocha frappuccino. He sat down across the table from me and my increasingly sweaty palms and extended his hand like a sword and said “Hi, pleasure to meet you. Mind if I sit here?” And I did the only thing I could think to do, which was shake my head slowly and bat my big brown eyes, and try to act like I wasn’t stunned that Kanye fucking West was taking an interest in me for reasons I didn’t understand. I can’t remember our back-and-forth verbatim because I was so nervous, but I’ll try to recreate it to give you some good content for this biography you’re working on, or whatever:
“I like your eyes,” he said. “You the only black girl in town?”
“N-No,” I said. “There are a couple others.”
He smiled. Big toothy grin again.
“You got a job?”
“I-I’m a student,” I mumbled. “And I work at the mini-golf course around the corner. Nevada Dick’s.”
“How much they payin’ you?”
“Like, 10 an hour. Plus you know we get tips sometimes.”
He chuckled and slouched back in a rickety wooden chair like he was a king (with poor posture) on a throne. It wasn’t like he was fat, but he’d certainly put on some dad weight since marrying Kim. Maybe it’d been three days since he’d shaved. He took a big sip of his frappuccino and gave himself a brain freeze, so he massaged his temples with his surprisingly big hands, then looked at me.
“Quit,” he said. “Come work for me. Kim and I been lookin’ for someone to keep the place clean on the daily. Kanye fresh, ya dig? Hundred bucks an hour, 40 hours a week. We got a bedroom you can stay in. Shit, we got four bedrooms you can stay in. Take your pick.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Nah. Us black folk gotta stick together. Ain’t many like us around here, gnome mean? And I feel like givin’ back to the black community, that’s something that hits me right here.” He pounded the left side of his chest with his fist. “Can you start Monday?”
“Um, sure,” I said. “Where do I go?”
Kanye leaned forward and pulled a napkin from the silver holder against the wall. He yanked an obscenely large pen from his pocket and started scribbling. On the back end of the pen was a miniature recreation of Kanye’s mug, complete with the ‘80s-style shades he wore during the 808s and Heartbreaks era, an album he called his pop-art masterpiece and, if you want my opinion, an album that has aged quite well over the last decade-plus. He finished writing on the napkin and slid it my way. “Big Horn Mountain Ranch,” he said. “See you Monday.” Then he stood up from his makeshift throne and, with frappuccino in hand and looking less like one of the most famous people of all time and more like a middle-aged father of two, walked out of the coffee shop while white people on couches all around him pointed and whispered “That’s him! That’s him!”
So that’s how I met Kanye. I suppose that’s where the story really starts.
“She wanna role play, ‘til I roll over/I’ma need a whole day, at least roll doja.” – Kanye West, “Hell of a Life”
A couple weeks later, after I’d settled into a comfortable routine of tidying up the cabin and taking care of Kanye’s kids, North and Saint, from time to time, I experienced what you could call the first truly strange moment of my time on the ranch. I woke up in the middle of the night in one of the four bedrooms Kanye was allowing me to sleep in. I was rotating between all of them, because why the hell not, and this particular bedroom was called the Yeezus room. Much like the abrasive album of the same name, this room was all hard slants and sharp things and ice. The walls were covered in aluminum foil and hanging from said aluminum foil were monochrome photographs of lewd sexual acts. Anal, DP, the whole nine yards. It was a bit gratuitous if you ask me, but then again Kanye is a bit gratuitous (understatement), and it was impossible to deny that the photographs matched the artistic vision of an album that features the lyrics “stick my fist in her like the civil rights sign.” I think you see what I mean.
But anyway, I woke up in the middle of the night and walked down to the kitchen for a glass of water. One of the first additions Kanye made to the cabin after purchase was a full-size movie theatre in the basement, and there was a door in the kitchen leading down to it. I noticed light seeping out from the half-cracked door and I could hear muffled noise from the sound system. So I crept to the bottom of the steps, like I’m pretty sure any person would’ve done, and what I saw was revolting and fascinating. Kanye was sitting alone in the middle of the theatre, completely naked, legs tied to his seat and eyes pried open ala A Clockwork Orange. A real horrorshow-type situation. Even more perverse was the fact that he was watching a video of himself and Kim doing BDSM stuff to each other. Real perverted shit with electric nipple clamps and ball gags. Kim was dressed in the red suit that Kanye made popular during his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era and a Kanye mask, while she whipped Kanye’s naked ass and he howled like a coyote. The air dripped with seduction and awe, as I watched capitalism’s finest hero, a man who once proclaimed himself a God and actually believed it, being dominated by a wide-hipped woman as famous as himself. It was too much for my teenage mind to process, so I slipped back upstairs before Kanye noticed my presence, and crawled into bed under my wolfskin comforter (“The dude who used to own this place killed this bitch,” Kanye had told me over breakfast one morning). Then I stared at the ceiling for a long time, trying to convince myself I’d actually seen what I thought I saw, and trying to decide whether or not I should tell anybody about it.
“Like we always do at this time/I go for mine/I got to shine/ Now throw your hands up in the sky.” – Kanye West, “The Good Life”
But it wasn’t weird stuff like that all the time. Mostly Kanye is more of a normal dude that I think most people would expect, though of course he has his kinks (obviously) and his demons, too. I want to give you the true picture of Kanye, as best I know it, so he doesn’t come across as a raving narcissist cartoon character superhero hack, or whatever. Grant it, that is what he is some of the time. But it’s not the full truth. I’m telling you, he’s complicated. A gift that’s all wrapper and no gift, like I said. Sort of. One thing I can tell you that he likes to poop in his golden toilet with the bathroom door open while watching videos of himself on his iPhone, the volume at full blast. He also eats Chobani yogurt (the honey flavor) with a sprinkle of Nature Valley peanut butter granola on top most mornings. And in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed, Kanye and Kim like to cuddle up down in the cinema and watch nature documentaries. It’s strange, in a way, to see celebrities doing things everyday people do. But I sense this feeling says more about our relationship to the idea of celebrity than it does about celebrities themselves. They’re still people, for fuck’s sake. Why wouldn’t they do things that people tend to do? The skewed concept of American celebrity draws a clear line between “famous” people and “normal” people, where the former theoretically exist on a heightened plane cleaved off from the everyday world. The world of traffic lights and grocery store trips and having to wait in long lines for things. Celebrities, being magic, surely don’t have to tend to these mundane activities. But in truth, they do, at least Kim and Kanye do, some of the time, because they’re still people, and at the end of the day they must poop in a toilet, even if said toilet costs more than some people’s houses.
One moment I remember vividly is the birthday party he threw for Saint a few months after I started living on the ranch. It was a refreshingly low-key event, considering Kanye’s reputation for pomp and circumstance. This is a guy, after all, who was lifted hundreds of feet in the air to the ceiling of Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta during a release party for his most recent album, Donda, the musical quality of which did not match the showmanship he exhibited during those aforementioned performances. That’s the problem with Kanye nowadays: the bite doesn’t match the bark. For years, it did. From College Dropout to (debatably) Life of Pablo, all of the obnoxious publicity stunts he pulled in the name of album promotion were vindicated by records viewed as classics by fans and critics alike. Six (possibly seven, depending on who you ask) consecutive genre-bending, forward-thinking, sonically-stunning releases chock-full of killer sans filler, as they say. No other artist in pop music history, save maybe Radiohead, can lay claim to such a prolific run of musical creativity. But at some indefinite moment after Life of Pablo and before his next album, ye, Kanye ran out of steam. Lost the thread. Became more hack than superhero. His rapping grew lethargic and gratingly indulgent. Yawn-inducing. His ability to self-edit, to create trimmed-down albums that were artistic statements instead of mere collections of songs, disappeared. He began to fade, to dim, to wither. I was there during this period, and even I can’t tell you when or how his decline occurred. Maybe it had something to do with being married. With being a father. With his mental health issues. With becoming too fat, happy (relatively speaking) and complacent. A frumpy hog of extraordinary capitalism. The American dream, all bloated and swollen, dressed in a gray sweatsuit and lacking center. Mostly husk.
But I’ve digressed again. Where was I? Saint’s birthday party. Yes: It was a typically frigid December afternoon in Wyoming, and the ranch was coated in this beautiful silent snow that made the cabin feel even more isolated than it usually felt. Kanye and Kim had invited a bunch of Saint’s playmates to the house for a shindig, but the excessive snow (more than 14 inches, if I recall) kept the partygoers away. A few of them tried to brave the weather but got stuck in their cars and on their four-wheelers and what have you, so Kanye told them over the phone to go home and chill. Saint could get together with them once everything cleared up. I remember how father-like he sounded, how empathetic, not at all like the man who once rapped “I feel like me and Taylor [Swift] could still have sex/Why?/I made that bitch famous.”
Saint, a cute kid and a 50-50 split, looks-wise, between Kim and Kanye, was understandably upset that his buddies weren’t coming over. Dressed in his Yeezy brand pajamas, he collapsed onto a purple beanbag chair in the living room. Saint was pouting by himself when Kanye burst into the room dressed like the cartoon bear he used as an avatar during his first three albums. A big bumbling mascot inside of which was the sweaty, mildly-overweight former king of hip-hop and father of two. He shouted “hit it, Kim,” his voice humorously muffled. In response to this demand, Kim, in the other room, blasted “The Good Life” over the cabin’s speakers, a classic Kanye song from Kanye’s golden days, back when he made music you could proudly bump as you rolled down the strip of some American beach town in your Ford Taurus or whatever shitty car you happened to be driving while Kanye cruised in his Rolls Royce. Upon seeing the saucer-eyed cartoon bear, Saint unleashed a toothy grin that looked remarkably like Kanye’s, jumped off the beanbag chair and danced around the room with surprising aptitude for a two-year old. He and the cartoon bear were really getting it, which was entertaining enough, but then Kim and Saint’s older sister North came dancing into the room, Kim dressed as a giant birthday cake and North made up as a pink unicorn. And right there in the living room in a cabin in the middle of Wyoming, I watched from the corner, smiling, as perhaps the most famous family in the world laughed and celebrated a genuinely special moment. I mentally contrasted this scene and the strange BDSM moment in Kanye’s personal cinema. But before I could descend too deeply into my analysis of Kanye’s personality, he waved me over from underneath the bear costume he mumbled, “c’mon have some fun.” So I did, and for the next five minutes I danced my ass off without a care in the world, as the snow continued to fall on Big Horn Mountain Ranch and Graduation blared from the sound system. It was a small moment in my life I’ll always cherish.
“Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” – Kanye West, “Feedback”
Is Kanye West a genius? I don’t know if I’m qualified to determine such a thing, but then again, who is? Genius is a slippery and loaded term. Often overused on people who show just a mild aptitude for something. Or on works of art that are merely OK. The thing I don’t like about the word is the separateness and exhaultedness it bestows upon the person dubbed as such. It lifts them to a level beyond common humanity. It essentially says “this person has something you and I have never had and will never be able to attain, and this person will always have this certain special thing about them, no matter what.” As a society, we erroneously think of genius as a permanent characteristic. Once a person is dubbed as such, all subsequent actions are viewed through the lens of said person being a genius. I just don’t think that’s the nature of it at all. I think genius, especially creative genius, is fluid. A person can have it one minute, lose it the next. Kanye is the perfect case study for this fleeting brilliance.
I think genius, especially creative genius, is fluid. A person can have it one minute, lose it the next.
From 2004-2016, he created music that was critically acclaimed, almost universally beloved by high and low-brow people alike, artistically focused, and stylistically forward-leaning. Even if you didn’t like Kanye as a person, you couldn’t help but bob your head when someone put on a song like, say, “Touch the Sky.” A banger is a banger, no matter your opinion of the artist. During that same time span, Kanye aesthetically reinvented himself over and over again, going from a pink polo-wearing dropout to a futuristic Michael Jackson wannabe to gangsta rapper to abrasive metallic alien, without missing a beat. His continuous aesthetic evolution, which aligned perfectly with the style of music he was making at each moment, lifted him from the level of mere rapper to something more cerebral and symbolic. His live shows during this 11-year run were intricately produced and masterfully executed. When you went to a Kanye show, you weren’t just paying to see some guy on stage rapping for a couple hours, but for a unique extra-sensory experience that no other artist could come close to pulling off. He was in his own league for the better part of a decade and it was during this decade that I think Kanye really was a genius. Or, to phrase it better, genius inhabited Kanye. It swooped down on him like a golden eagle while he was making College Dropout, and illuminated him through if not Life of Pablo, at least Yeezus. Then it soared away. Who knows why? Maybe it was a mixture of youth and mental health issues. Maybe it was the cocaine. Maybe Kanye really was just blessed for awhile. But the immaculate shine of his first seven albums has been dulled by his last three, all of which are exceedingly pedestrian, lacking the Kanye spark that made his older music fascinating, even if you wanted to wallop him in the nuts with a baseball bat. I don’t think anyone, not even the biggest Kanye fan, could argue that ye, Jesus is King and Donda are in the same universe as the rest of his music. They don’t glow like Kanye albums once did. There’s nothing remotely genius about them. If you want to know the truth, I don’t foresee Kanye making anything that could be considered great ever again. But what do I know? What does anyone know? No one can predict these things. Take Bob Dylan, for instance. He’s made some of the best music of his career after the age of 50. So there’s certainly hope for Kanye. But personally, no, I don’t see it happening. The golden eagle has left the building. But again I’m just a no-name nobody so you should probably take my opinion with a generous helping of salt.
“I could have me a good girl/and still be addicted to them hood ways/and I just blame everything on you/at least you know that’s what I’m good at.” – Kanye West, “Runaway”
It’s no secret that Kanye has struggled with his impulses when it comes to extramarital relations. This is, after all, a guy who juxtaposed a picture of a “big booty bitch,” as it were, next to a family photo with the words “WHICH ONE” underneath on the The Life of Pablo album cover. Yet specifics about his infidelity have always been evasive, at least to the general populous, because Kanye has never rapped about the details of these affairs and none of his mistresses had gone public with their descriptions. But Kim isn’t stupid. She knows Kanye has a moral battle raging in his soul (this conflict is central to his best (and worst) music, after all) and unlike the rest of us, she wasn’t shielded from the lewder elements of Kanye’s disloyalty. I think that’s why she distrusted me: she thought Kanye had sinister motives for bringing me into their home. I was younger, hotter back then. And after what happened, I can’t really blame her. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One afternoon, Kim and Kanye were in the kitchen feeding the kids lunch, which is a story in itself. North and Saint were eating Ayam Cemani sandwiches, a rare breed of chicken with black organs bred by only one person in the United States. The breeder charges $2,500 per bird, because he can, and when Kanye found out about it, he simply had to have one, being a connoisseur of all things bourgeois. I tried a piece of it once and it tasted like garlic and onions, nothing too special. Definitely not worth upwards of two grand. I guess it was the novelty of an all-black chicken that Kanye found appealing.
At any rate, the West-Kardashians were in the kitchen eating this ultra-rare fowl while I was lounging on the couch doing some school work, watching the hummingbirds suck sugar water from the Lowes-bought feeder on the front porch. That’s when the doorbell rang. The doorbell wasn’t your typical “ding-dong” variety, of course, but instead played the ominous intro to “New Slaves” from Yeezus. It was a fitting soundtrack for what happened next, because when Kim opened the door, there stood a short person who looked almost exactly like Kanye, except sort of like a diseased Kanye, like Kanye might look if he was an offspring of the Chenobyl disaster. The face drooped on one side and the eyebrows were thick and uneven, like deformed caterpillars. This…thing…was wearing a gray suit with a heart lapel on the left breast and a green t-shirt underneath, like Kanye had worn during the 808s era. Kim and this strange thing stood at the door talking for quite a while, and Kim kept putting her hands on her hips and running her fingers through her hair and showing general signs of distress. Eventually she demanded Kanye come to the living room and invited the person inside.
The three of them stood there — Kanye, diseased Kanye and Kim — while I laid on the couch with my psychology book in my lap, feeling like a voyeur. I entertained the thought of giving them privacy, but I wanted to know what the hell was going on, so I stayed put. Kim was the first to speak.
“Tell him who you are,” she said.
“Kanye, it’s Kira. Remember? St. Louis, after the show, at the Ramada Inn?”
The strange Kanye clone gone wrong smiled, revealing a gold grill. For perhaps the first time in his life, Kanye was speechless. But he was more than just speechless: for the first time since I’d known him, Kanye looked genuinely vulnerable. I’m not talking about the plastic vulnerability he exhibited during the Dark Fantasy era, when he shot music videos with fake tears streaming down his cheeks. That was vulnerability as artifice. Vulnerability toward artistic ends. What I saw in the living room that day, as Kanye stood in front of his damaged clone, was a distress beyond his powers of manipulation. The kind of raw emotion that could only occur behind closed doors.
The clone stepped forward.
“I did it for you,” it said. “After you fucked me, you said the only way it could’ve been better is if you’d fucked yourself. So here I am. As you. I went through all the therapies and the surgeries and now I want you to fuck me. So you can fuck yourself. And make your dreams come true.”
For the first time since I’d known him, Kanye looked genuinely vulnerable. I’m not talking about the plastic vulnerability he exhibited during the Dark Fantasy era. That was vulnerability as artifice. What I saw in the living room that day was a distress beyond his powers of manipulation.
I’ve always known Kanye’s most loyal fans were almost cult-like in their devotion to a man they see as, and here’s that word again, a genius. Or even a deity. This is just one example of how society’s understanding of that word as a permanent trait can lead to damaging consequences. But what this person, this St. Louis Kira, chose to do was beyond anything I thought Kanye’s fans were capable of. Beyond anything I thought anybody was capable of. The complete dissolution of one’s physical appearance for the sexual gratification of an idol. Celebrity worship pushed to its logical extreme. I know it sounds crazy, like something that would only theoretically happen to Kanye, but I’m telling you what I saw and I have no reason to lie to you. What Kanye did was put his arm around the clone’s shoulder and walk into the kitchen. I don’t know what happened after that. I didn’t see Kim or Kanye for the rest of the day. And the clone-thing, I never saw again.
“I am one with the people.” – Kanye West, “Saint Pablo”
Dale Peterson, owner of one of the biggest dairy farms in the state, came out to Big Horn Ranch a couple times while I was there. The time I remember most was just after Kanye had returned to Wyoming from visiting Trump in the White House. During that visit, Kanye had pitched the idea of a hydrogen-powered plane called the iPlane I which would theoretically replace Air Force One. This was, of course, insane, and thus so Kanye, surely the byproduct of one of his notorious manic episodes. And just one day later, here he was, sitting on the front porch with good ol’ Dale Peterson, the two of them drinking Asterik IIPAs from Melvin Brewing, while Kanye explained in vivid detail his meeting with the president, about how hummingbirds had been his inspiration for the iPlane I, a futuristic invention that from the looks of it will never exist anywhere but in Kanye’s vast and strange imagination.
“Look, there goes one now,” he said, gesturing to a hummingbird. “They so light and fast. I look at nature and see how efficient everything is. Like these little birds, they move from point A to Point B without a wasted motion. You know? And that’s what we need to be striving for as humans. That’s, like, what humanity needs to emulate.”
He went on and on for a long time, but I’ll stop the quote there. By listening to Kanye pontificate on various subjects through the years, from hummingbirds to religion to big bootied bitches and everything in between, I’ve noticed that his train of thought is essentially a never-ending run-on sentence that veers wildly between intelligent ideas, insane flights of fancy, stoner-like epiphanies and shameless self-references. Trying to keep up is exhausting. It’s like Kanye’s mind is a faucet that won’t turn off, and no plumber knows how to fix it. This ceaseless flow has undoubtedly contributed to Kanye’s unparalleled musical accomplishments, as well as his perplexing public actions, like the time he went on SNL dressed as Perrier bottle and performed “I Love It,” a truly awful song even by Kanye’s ever-decreasing standards. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who legitimately has no filter. I’m not even sure he understands the idea of having a filter. He’s just that unmoored from the common human experience.
I’ve noticed that his train of thought is essentially a never-ending run-on sentence that veers wildly between intelligent ideas, insane flights of fancy, stoner-like epiphanies and shameless self-references.
So there’s Dale Peterson, a lanky blue-collar middle-aged guy in a cowboy hat, a typical Texas transplant with an accent to match, sitting with his left leg crossed over his right thigh, listening to Kanye, who’s dressed in a sweatsuit, ramble on about the virtues of hummingbirds and the various ways they’ve been an inspiration to him. Dale knows that if he lets Kanye go on that there will never be a gap in the conversation, so as Kanye is taking a breath between spurts of pro-hummingbird rhetoric Dale butts in and says “Hey buddy. Why don’t we smoke a doobie and go shoot some shit out on the range?” And Kanye leans back and rubs his chin like he’s thinking intensely about something, and for a brief moment I saw a flash of the young Kanye streak across his aging face, the up-and-coming Kanye of 2004, the aggressively optimistic Kanye who was determined to become not only the biggest rapper in the world, but the most celebrated musician of all time. The old Kanye. The set-on-his-goals Kanye. The Chicago-proud Kanye who didn’t own a 6,000-acre ranch in Wyoming. As this youthfulness was coursing through him, he leaned forward and smiled and said: “Dale, you know I’m always down to roll doja. You bring some of that wacky Wyoming stuff you had last time?” Dale nodded and reclined in his chair. He reached into the pocket of his Wrangler Jeans (Real. Comfortable.) and produced a small Ziploc of two blunts rolled with what was apparently some of the dankest weed west of the Mississippi. “This is some of the dankest weed west of the Mississippi,” Dale said, tossing the bag onto the table. “Different strain from the other stuff, though. It’s called Velvet Cattle Prod. It smokes smooth, but don’t be deceived: it’ll light your ass up.”
Kanye and Dale chuckled like a couple of college burnouts. Then Dale stood up and yanked on his britches.
“Before we start, I have a present for you, Kan,” he said. “Let me grab it real quick.”
“Damn, Dale. You full of surprises!” Kanye said, as Dale smiled and walked inside. Kanye pull a blunt from the bag and tucked it behind his ear.
Here’s where my involvement in Kanye’s life becomes more pronounced. Up until this point, I really was like a fly on the wall most of the time, save for the occasional birthday dance party on. It’s not that Kanye was mean to me, it’s just that he had his thing going on and most of the time that thing didn’t involve me. But on the porch that morning, while Dale was fetching a gift for Kanye, the wall between celebrity and helper became decidedly thinner. Kanye obviously had some big plan in mind, I could tell by the slightly maniacal look in his eyes and his mischievous grin. He was looking at me like I was actually there, like I was a human being with a soul (which I was), just like he’d looked at me back in that coffee the first time we’d met. There was a brightness in his eyes that hadn’t been directed at me for some time. It always felt good to be noticed by Kanye because Kanye is an egomaniac, and egomaniacs have this strange way of making you feel as though it’s cool, even necessary, to be noticed by them. Like their approval is somehow more important than your own self-acceptance. Remember, I was still pretty young at the time, in my early 20s, and thus still vulnerable to strong forces of personality. I’m not that way anymore. At least I like to think that I’m not.
As Kanye was gazing at me like I was the keeper of a secret he desperately needed to know, Dale Peterson walked back onto the porch, all gangly legs and white hair, carrying an enormous maroon and purple top hat with black and green feathers sticking out of it at jagged angles. He laid the hat on the table and sat down, crossing one leg over the other.
“I made you a little something, good buddy,” he said in his signature Texas drawl. “Given everything, this here’s probably the rarest hat in the world.”
Kanye picked it up gently and turned it this way and that, like it was a diamond from Sierra Leone. Dale smiled.
“It’s made from the hide of an African Hairy Bush Viper, one of the rarest and most beautiful snakes in the world,” he said. “Poisonous as hell, too. You’d be privy to know that I killed it myself, just like that.”
He made a snapping motion with his fingers and chuckled. “And the feathers, well, you probably know about them. Those are feathers from the Ayam Cemani chicken. You and Kim ain’t the only ones who enjoy fine fowl every now and again.” Dale leaned forward and patted Kanye on the back. “I hope you enjoy wearing it as much as I enjoyed making it,” he said.
It was then that I saw Kanye become speechless for the second and last time in my life. He placed the hat on the head and it looked absolutely ridiculous, him sitting there in a sweatsuit and a top hat and a blunt tucked behind his ear. The old Kanye probably could’ve pulled off the look without breaking a sweat. But this new Kanye, this frumpy aging Kanye, was not so graceful, and the outfit gave off the contradictory vibe of a donkey wearing king’s clothes. “Dale, I cannot thank you enough,” he said. “It’s such a kind gesture.” Kanye then stood up, wearing this ludicrous garb, and announced that the three of us should pile into his Rolls Royce Cullinan and go off-roading on his 6,000-plus acres while stoned out of our minds on Velvet Cattle Prod. He gestured toward the vast plains and angular mountains visible from the porch like a weary king surveying his kingdom, which he sort of was. “We need to explore, man,” he said. “Let’s get out there and feel alive. Like Lewis and Clark. Or Colombus.” Dale let out a “Hell yeah!” Kanye clapped his hands and started to get hyped, like he was on-stage, then he turned his gaze toward me, and with large craters under his eyes, asked: “You in, Charice?”
I’ll admit that I wasn’t too keen on this plan from the outset, being that I’m far from the outdoorsy type and the fact that Kanye would be leaving Kim inside to take care of two kids while he, his nanny and his outlandish Texan friend went gallivanting around the high plains like the Dukes of Hazzard, albeit in a much more expensive automobile. But then I considered the fact that this was perhaps the only chance I’d have to go rooting (as the rednecks call it) with a billionaire who once rapped the words “I’m living in the future/so your present is my past/my presence is a present/kiss my ass.” So in the name of adventure I said yes, I’m all in, and in retrospect that was probably both the worst and best decision I made during my time on the ranch.
So we proceeded to get stoned off our asses. We faced a blunt of Velvet Cattle Prod before piling into the Cullinan with Dale (who’d grabbed his shotgun) behind the wheel and setting off into the great nothingness of rural Wyoming. We drove straight for a long while, stirring up dust and heading on a steady incline toward icy mountains in the distance, until the West-Kardashian cabin was merely a speck in the rear-view mirror. Kanye spent most of the drive monologuing about six-foot otters in South America, a creature he’d discovered the night before while watching a nature documentary snuggled up with Kim. As with everything, he wasn’t talking about the otters themselves, but the otters as symbols, and how those symbols related to Kanye West. And because the three of us were stoned as hell, what he was saying took on an epic quality it probably wouldn’t have otherwise, especially considering the flamboyant snakeskin hat on his head.
“These otters, you look them, and they’re these big vicious creatures. And they eat baby crocodiles and big fish ‘n shit. But they hunt in packs. And the only way they can get what they want on an individual level is to work together. And that’s really the way I be seeing me and my family right now. Kim and Saint and North and shit. You have to put your personal interests aside, maybe let another otter get the fish this time, so the next time around, the rest of your pack will help you get the fish. You know what I mean?”
We sat in silence for a few seconds, taking in the marvelous scenery as the sun began to set. Dale shifted in his seat.
“Damn, Kan,” he said. “That’s some deep shit.”
“Always, Dale,” he said. “Always.”
I think the thing I miss most about Big Horn Mountain Ranch is the sunsets. They were always vibrant and magnificent, and they took on a surrealistic quality simply because I was watching them from Kanye West’s property. I made it a point to watch as many sunsets as possible, and many times that meant sneaking onto the porch by myself in the evenings, with the sounds of West-Kardashian family life echoing inside the cabin — the kids shouting, Kanye laughing, Kim singing. It was, I don’t know how else to put this, pleasant. Pleasant to have this moment to myself, in this strange and beautiful place, all while knowing everything I was experiencing was temporary. The sunset was a daily reminder of this temporalness, that one day I would leave the ranch and move on to other things, then eventually grow up and grow old and die. But it was also a reminder to live in the moment, to embrace the beauty while it was in front of me, to allow myself to see how brilliant everything can be when you take the time to notice it.
Dale stopped the Cullinan right next to a small hill in the middle of the plains, after about an hour’s drive. The three of us hopped out and hiked to the top of the hill, Dale in his Wranglers, Kanye in his stupid hat, and me in black yoga pants and a blunt tucked behind my ear. We sat down at the top and lit up the Velvet Cattle Prod and watched our star cast magnificent orange and yellows and reds across the plains. The North Star was shining bright in the wide-open twilight sky. An owl hooted from somewhere across the plains. Every few minutes an unidentified animal chattered then stopped. The air was cold, but not unpleasant, as we passed the blunt around and sat in silent awe of the world laid out before us.
Then Dale declared he was the right level of stoned to go shoot his shotgun at some rocks. “Anybody care to join?” he asked, standing up and brushing the dust off his jeans. I’d never shot a gun before, and Kanye had never been into firearms, so he said “nah, Dale, go do your thing. Charice and I just gon’ chill up here.”
With Dale gone, I was alone — I mean, truly alone — with Kanye for I think the first time since I’d come to the ranch. We hadn’t even had a one-on-one conversation together, so the silence felt loaded.
“You know why I approached you at the coffee shop that day?” he asked.
“No, why?” I said.
“Cause you black.”
He stared at me for a second then burst into laughter.
“I’m jus’ fuckin’ with you,” he said. “That’s not the reason. Well, that’s not the whole reason. I seen somethin’ in you that reminded me of myself when I was your age. You know, I’ve always thought of myself as the underdog. When I was comin’ up, no one wanted to sign the kid in a pink polo. No one thought I had it in me, for real. I wasn’t gangster enough. I wasn’t black enough. I couldn’t rap. I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. Then I released College Dropout, got all the Grammys ‘n shit, and the rest is history. Now look at Ye. Billionaire black man. Ranch in Wyoming. I had to work for it, for real. No one believed in me. Not my high school gym teacher. Not those record execs. No one.”
I looked at the lines on his forehead, his full lips. Maybe it was the Velvet Cattle Prod, but Kanye really was a good-looking guy. Strong jaw, symmetrical face. For the first time, I felt physically attracted to him. I smiled and laid down, looking up at a sky becoming more star-filled by the second.
“But what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, gazing upward. “I’m not Ye. I don’t have your talent. I don’t have your drive. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I’m going to fucking community college and I work at a mini-golf course. Once I’m done helpin you and Kim out, I ain’t got shit to go back to.”
Kanye looked toward the plains and stroked his goatee. A blast from Dale’s shotgun echoed from the bottom of the hill.
“You ain’t ever gotta stop workin’ for me,” he said. “You stick with me. We gon’ be alright.”
I stared at Kanye, stunned by the proposition. Forever in Kanye’s orbit sounded like a cushy but impossible proposition. His plentiful flights of fancy made any promises of life-long allegiance ring as hollow as his soul might be.
“Like forever forever? I mean, I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve got my own life to live. I can’t stay moochin’ off you forever. I’ll never grow.”
“I respect that,” he said. “I do. I get that.”
A couple more shotgun blasts rang out. I heard Dale holler like the transplant Texan that he was. A legitimate: “YA-HOOO!”
“I know you saw me in the cinema that night,” Kanye said. “I just ain’t say anything because I didn’t want to embarrass you.”
“Embarrass me?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah, because that puts you in a weird spot, right? Like how do I bring that up to somebody without making them feel weird? How would you have responded if I told you I know you saw Kanye West doin’ some weird sex shit? And the thing is, I don’t even care you saw me.”
“Nah. Why would I? I know exactly who I am. I know exactly who Kanye West is. And what Kanye West gets off to is nobody’s business but mine. I could give a shit if they showed that sex film in primetime at Tribeca. Or if you ran to the media and told the world you saw Kanye West doing some fucked up bondage with himself. The fact of that becoming public knowledge would do nothing to change who I am in here.” He pounded on his chest. “I live my life wide open, man.. Everyone else be lyin’ to themselves. To everybody else. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who ain’t lying to everybody all of the time. People always be trying to frame me in, like Kanye West should only be one thing, or that he contradicts himself, or that he’s crazy, or a genius, or idiot, an asshole. Or a God. Or the devil. Man, I’m not any of those things. I’m all of them. At the same time.”
He looked at me with those big glossy eyes, so Saint-like, and it was at that moment that I felt his soul. Then for reasons I have to at least partially blame on the Velvet Cattlele Prod, I kissed him.
He was taken aback by my advance — I could feel his full lips recoil — but then he softened and returned the gesture. He put his large, surprisingly soft hands, on my young cheeks and kissed me right there under the stars as my soul spiraled upward and hovered above us, like an apparition or a devil. I laid back and he put his hands on my body and we made out (quite passionately) for a few minutes. I wasn’t thinking about Kim and the kids at all, being swept away by a wave of passion as I was. But soon my morality returned and I pushed Kanye away and whispered “No, we can’t do this. This is wrong, this is wrong” as another shotgun blast boomed from below. Kanye didn’t object to my resistance, which was surprising, because I assumed that by this point he was thinking of me as another sexual conquest. Another Kira from St. Louis situation. But no — he was thoughtful. He sat up and scratched the back of his head. I could smell his anxiousness.
“No, you right,” he said. “What the fuck we doin’? Why did you do that?”
I wasn’t thinking about Kim and the kids at all, being swept away by a wave of passion as I was. But soon my morality returned and I pushed Kanye away and whispered. “No, we can’t do this.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I wasn’t thinking. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool,” he said.
The silence grew until it felt like the wide expanse of the Wyoming sky was pushing down on us.
“I don’t regret it, though.”
“Me either,” I said, reflexively. “I don’t think I do either.”
The cool wind caused the hair on my arms to stand up.
“Can I be real with you for a second?” he asked.
“Aren’t you always real?” I said.
He chuckled. “See,” he said. “You be learnin’. But I’ve been keeping this inside for a while now because I’m not really sure how it would come across, or who I could even say it to without worrying about someone running to the tabloids and smearin’ me. You know? But I feel like I can trust you. You seem, like, airtight.”
“What I’m gettin’ at is, I don’t know if marriage, as an institution, is right for Ye. Like, I love Kim. I love my kids. Don’t mishear me on that. But marriage is just another convention. And I’m an unconventional thinker, on principle. Most people be thinking one way. I always be thinking another. And marriage is a way for them to put Ye into a box. Do you hear what I’m sayin’? And tryin’ to put Ye in a box is like trying to contain fire inside a woodshed.”
“I like that,” he said. “Ye in holy matrimony is like fire in a woodshed. It starts small, but eventually consumes everything. Burns it all to the ground and moves outward, searching for other things to illuminate.”
We stared at each other for a second.
“That’s like Ye with everything,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, chuckling. “Yeah, you right.”
He looked me up and down with glistening eyes, like he loved me. In that moment, maybe he did. But just with everything in Ye and in life, the moment passed, interrupted by Dale cresting the hill with the shotgun slung over his shoulder.
“You fellas missed a hell of a time,” he said, sitting down next to us and gazing up at the sky. “Sure are a lot of stars out tonight.”
“Damn right, Dale,” Kanye said, putting his arm on his shoulder. “Say, what do ya’ll think about sleeping out here tonight? There be plenty of room in the Royce. And who knows when we’ll have the chance to do something like this again.”
“Ye in holy matrimony is like fire in a woodshed. It starts small, but eventually consumes everything. Burns it all to the ground and moves outward, searching for other things to illuminate.”Kanye West
I hesitated for a moment, thinking about Kim and the kids, about how they’d probably assume we got lost and would be worried sick about us. If I would’ve been older I would’ve said no, that’s irresponsible, we need to get back to the cabin. But when you’re 19, every night feels pregnant with meaning. You’re young enough to believe that the stars have something to tell you, that just one more adventure, just one more night of bliss, might reveal the revelation you’ve been seeking. Not to mention I was extremely high on Velvet Cattle Prod and beholden to Kanye’s aura, his shifting purple red and black aura, so I said “You know what, let’s do it,” and Kanye smiled and pulled the second blunt from his pocket and the three of us laid on top of that hill for hours, smoking and talking about everything and anything, hummingbirds and the future and the meaning of life, while the hoots of owls and the chatterings of unknown animals rang up out of the wild expanse. After our highs had mellowed out and the sky was brilliant with stars, Dale slipped away to the Cullinan to pass out. Kanye and I laid there in silence, taking it all in, and just when I thought he’d fallen asleep, that the night was coming to a close, he rolled over and kissed my neck.
Of course I kissed him back, and before I knew what was happening we were making love, and he was so much gentler than I would’ve expected, so thoughtful. My body and mind were floating above everything, and when we finished he stroked my hair and nuzzled his chin in my neck and told me he loved me, and in that moment I think he did. Then we did it again, in fact four more times, each recurrence better than the last, and each one followed by a declaration of his love for me, before we descended the mountain hand-in-hand and fell asleep in the Cullinan, Kanye in the driver’s seat and me in the back, so Dale would have no inkling of what’d transpired the night before, while that crazy white Texan slept in the passenger seat under the stars in the wildest state in the nation, dreaming about who knows what.
“Things used to be/now they’re not/anything but us is who we are/disguising ourselves as secret lovers, we’ve become public enemies.” – Kanye West, “Blame Game”
As anyone would guess, Kim was livid when we approached the cabin the next morning, around 8:30, reeking of stale weed and dirt. I guess she’d heard us coming from a ways off because she was standing on the porch when we got there, Saint in her arms, looking like she was ready to slice all three of our throats. Dale sheepishly averted the situation, making his way around the side of the house with his shotgun slung over his shoulder. I heard him fire up his Dodge Ram and peel out in the gravel driveway. I felt extra ashamed, considering what I’d done, so I hung back in the yard and tried to avoid eye contact with Kim, who was glaring at me with the intensity of a nuclear explosion. My mind was wracked with anxiety as I considered what she might do when she found out. If she found out. I didn’t know if Kanye planned on telling her. Based on his history, I figured he wouldn’t, but the thought of Kim knowing that I’d betrayed her family filled me with so much guilt that it felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head.
Kanye, however, did not seem concerned. This is a man who’s never known a moment of self-consciousness, after all, and he marched right onto the porch in his dirty sweatsuit and that stupid snakeskin hat with all the gusto one would expect from a raving narcissist. I sat down out of sight and buried my head in my elbows and listened as an argument erupted on the deck. I couldn’t make out any of the specifics — the only thing I heard loud and clear was Saint wailing — and as the fight grew in intensity, I started bawling. Bawling because I was so young and stupid. Bawling because I’d betrayed Kim and her family. Bawling because I knew I’d ruined any possibility of having a platonic relationship with Kanye in the future. I cursed ever meeting him in that stupid coffee shop, with him drinking his stupid over-sugared mocha frappuccino, with him in his stupid sweatsuit, in this stupid, empty state. I thought about every decision I’d made in life that had led me to this point, and I cursed every single fucking one. As I cried the tears hit the dust and formed miniature dirtballs, which I crushed with my finger. I began to wonder if this had been Kanye’s plan all along: to invite me into his house just so he could have sex with me. Another bitch in his stable of bitches. I wasn’t sure about any of it, but despite it all, it felt like I loved him. Or hated him so much my emotions were tricking me into loving him. Fire in a woodshed, I thought. That’s all he is. Illuminating the world. Incinerating everything in his path. Including me. And Kim, too.
Then Kim came out. She was wearing a stained gold sweatsuit and had tears in her eyes. She had no make-up on but she was still very beautiful. I’d always liked her. Thought she was more real than people gave her credit for. But she’d been leery of me, like I said. And now all of those skeptical feelings seemed justified. She was numb, plastic, like a woman hurt too many times by an insensitive lover. She glared at me down there in the dirt, crying like an idiot. “You need to leave,” she said, in a toneless voice. I pulled myself off the ground and nodded. I began to walk inside, to gather my things, but Kim stopped me. “We’ll send them to you,” she said. “Walk around the side of the house. Go. Now.”
So I went, feeling lower than I’ve ever felt. I never heard from Kanye or Kim again. But as I looked back at the cabin one last time with tears in my eyes, I saw Kanye, with Saint in his arms, looking at me through the window. We locked gazes for a moment, and he neither smiled nor frowned before turning inside. I haven’t seen him since.
Oh goodness, I think I’ve said too much. I never meant to tell you all that. But now it’s out there, so I’m sure it’ll go in your book. And then what’ll happen to me? It was years ago now, of course. Five years to be exact. Now I’m in my mid-20s. Grown. Still using some of the money I earned during my time with Kanye to get by. But I’m doing pretty good for myself, I think. I moved out of Wyoming as soon as I left the ranch, came out here to the Oregon Coast to get away from it all. To start anew, I guess. It’s going well. I’m in nursing school. I’ll graduate this fall and I’m hoping to get a job at Lower Umpqua Hospital. It’s good. Peaceful.
I mean, sure I miss the excitement of living with Kanye. But that’s not something I could’ve done forever even if I hadn’t ruined things. He’s like the sun, really. He exudes life and light, but if you stand in his shine for too long, you’ll get burnt. Or even sick. But I can’t place the blame solely on him, because in reality, I unraveled too much. I got so close to him that he’d been forced to push me far away. To the coast, even. It’s nice out here, though. Pretty not in its vastness, like Wyoming, but in its angles, its air. Much of the shoreline is jagged, rocky. I’ve found peace in the rockiness, though I don’t think the same can be said for Kim and Kanye. They’re divorced now, or so I’ve read, after having two more kids. Maybe they’ll get back together, but who knows? Kanye’s music still hasn’t returned to his pre-Ye levels of greatness. So it goes. Some things are over when they’re over and that’s all that can be said about that.
We locked gazes for a moment, and he neither smiled nor frowned before turning inside. I haven’t seen him since.
But other things continue on. Even after we ourselves die. Not long after I moved into a studio apartment on the West Coast, I began feeling nauseous quite frequently. Like every morning I would wake up and vomit into my non-gold plated toilet. The thought of a continuation of Kanye growing inside of me crossed my mind, but I didn’t want it to be true. At least part of me didn’t want it to be true. I wasn’t ready — economically, socially, developmentally — to handle something like that. Yet despite the fact that I was objectively unprepared, and that the smart thing to do would have been to have it taken care of, a wilder side of me glowed with the idea of having a living connection to Kanye for the rest of my life.
I went to the doctor and she confirmed my suspicions. Nine months later, little Omari Chauncey Glass was born at Lower Umpqua Hospital. He came out screaming, as most babies do: Six pounds and six ounces of pure West genes. No doubt it was Kanye’s. The thick eyebrows to the strong jaw to the little scowls he makes from time to time. I mean just last night I was looking at that face of his as I was putting him to bed and I felt like I was back on that hilltop on Big Horn Mountain Ranch. I could feel Kanye’s breath on my neck, his warmth pressed against mine, as we laid intertwined under the stars, making something eternal together. Or at least something that felt eternal. Something that nobody else has known about until now, I guess, and now you’re going to run off and tell it to the world in your book. Oh, hell. I wasn’t going to tell you about all of this. But go ahead, I guess. Print it. I’m ready. I’m not ashamed anymore. I’m finally living my life wide open, so come what may.
I drummed up a little contest for the two adults in the car. I grabbed a tin of Mr. Planters cocktail peanuts from the passenger seat. Placed a single nut in my mouth.
And all of a sudden my dead grandpa and I were walking side-by-side down a desert highway.
The best music and literature consumed by Ourland’s editor over the past year.