If you’ve been one of the lucky ones able to enjoy one of Kanye West’s entertaining Yeezus shows, or if you’ve seen video footage from the tour, then you know Kanye rarely shows his face during the concert, opting instead to wear sparkly Maison Martin Margiela masks that cover his entire head. So why would one of history’s most infamously egotistical (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say most infamously self-confident) performers opt to hide his face by wearing a mask? Kanye shed a little light on the subject during his London Wireless Festival performance at Finsbury Park on the 4th of July.
The insight came during one of Kanye’s infamous diatribes — this one after a performance of “Runaway,” also included in the clip below. Kanye sets the mood for his speech early when he addresses the negative perception of him in the media: “What have I ever done that was so wrong, other than believe in myself?” he asks. He then goes on to express his frustration at feeling as though he has not been given a fair shake at making it in the fashion world because he is a black man and/or because he is a celebrity. He then reveals that this frustration and what it indicates is at the root of his reason for wearing the masks. Here’s the video followed by a transcript, with Kanye’s comments about wearing a mask in bold:
WARNING! This is an unedited Kanye West clip, and as such, it does contain quite a bit of profanity.
If you’re a creator…and you just want to create more, this is exactly what I’ve been fighting for. So if you hear me talk about Louis Vuitton or the Gucci group or anything like that, I’m not dissin’ Louis Vuitton, I’m not dissin’ the Gucci group and sh*t, I’m just sayin’ don’t discriminate against me. Because I’m a black man or because I’m a celebrity you tell me I can’t create in that field. Because you know damn well ain’t no black guys or celebrities makin’ no Louis Vuitton nothing!
They let Pharrell make those glasses, and we liked ’em, right? They let me make those shoes and we liked ’em, right? And they say, “No, no, no n*gga, not no more. That’s too much…Stay in your place. Sit in front of that show and wear this jacket I made you. Stay in your place! Do what you get paid to do! Stay in your place! Don’t embarrass yourself trying to chase your dreams. Save face. Save face.”
That’s why I got this f**king mask on, because I ain’t worried about saving face. F**k my face! That sounded wrong. [laughs] Pause. But they finally got a headline. But f**k whatever my face is supposed to mean and f**k whatever the name Kanye is supposed to mean, it’s about my dreams! And it’s about anybody’s dreams. It’s about creating. It’s not about the idea about being a f**king celebrity, it’s not about the idea of being a black man trying to do fashion and sh*t.
Because these walls that I break down — These walls that I break down, and we will. And I’m arguing with my friend Spike Jonze in the car and he said, “Kanye, what you need to say is you’re gonna try, you’re going to try to break them down. Don’t say you’re just going to do it.” And I said, “I am gonna do it!” I told Kim seven years ago, “I’m gonna marry you!” I didn’t say I’m gonna try. And I’m telling you right now as I stand on this stage, all this sh*t that you heard me talking about, I’m gonna come and back all that sh*t up.
You don’t know how hard it was to get the Nikes — that wasn’t my fault. They try to control y’all, they try to control me, and when I was in my negotiations they told me, “We don’t negotiate with celebrities.” That’s like a terrorist. They talk to you like a f**king terrorist. You know, I just want to make something awesome, I just want to be awesome, and I want to hang around my awesome friends and change the f**king world. And that’s exactly what I plan to do. And if you plan to do the same, put your hands in the air right now. If you just want to be awesome, and make awesome sh*t, and change the f**king world, and this is what you plan to do…
Musicians wearing masks on stage is nothing new, and I’m not just talking about costumed performers like Kiss and GWAR. Take Bob Dylan for instance, who famously began painting his face white during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour of the mid-1970s (photo below). Although I think Dylan’s inverse blackface was more about the divide between a performers public persona versus his or her private one, I don’t think it would be all that inaccurate to describe it as Bob Dylan saying “F**k my face.”
In honor of this masked musician tradition, I thought I would end this post with one of Bob Dylan’s performances from the Rolling Thunder Revue that I think is perfectly fitting for a Kanye West post. (Sadly, this is just prior to Dylan sporting his whiteface makeup — you can check out his badass “Tangled Up In Blue” video if you want to see that.)
Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess
People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe