A Far, Far Too Thorough Breakdown of Bob Ezrin vs. Kanye West

A ridiculously comprehensive analysis of the claims of Mr. Ezrin and Mr.West.

If you are not aware, prolific producer, composer and keyboardist, Bob Ezrin penned (let’s face it nobody pens anymore, he typed) a letter bashing Kanye West’s production skills, his impact on music culture as a whole, as well as hip hop and society in general.  You can read the whole letter here, but we will provide all of the highlights below.  In response, as Kanye is wont to do, Kanye, Kanye’d hard on Twitter, releasing a series of retaliatory tweets that questioned who Bob Ezrin is and what he’s contributed to music (945 producer and composer credits for the record).  Kanye also said Ezrin’s kids are ashamed of their Dad and that he feels sorry for Erzin’s friends because they had to, “suffer an idiot like [him] for so many years…”

So the first punches have been thrown, (via Twitter and an online newsletter) the dust has -temporarily- settled and the question on everyone’s mind is: who came out on top?

Let’s first examine Ezrin’s letter and its claims.

Ezrin says:

Sure, he made some great music for himself and others. But in spite of what the aspirationally-cool media keeps saying about him, unlike other creators in his genre like Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie or even M.C. Hammer for that matter, it’s unlikely that we’ll be quoting too many of Kanye’s songs 20 years from now. He didn’t open up new avenues of public discourse like NWA, or introduce the world to a new art form like Grandmaster Flash, or even meaningfully and memorably address social issues through his music like Marshall, Macklemore and Kendrick. In my opinion, his productions are his best work – and I admit I’m jealous of several of them – but I don’t think he’s on quite the same level as Timbaland and Rick Rubin among several others.

While there is a tiny compliment as a lead-in and another hidden there at the end, this whole paragraph is rather scathing.  Ezrin says Kanye is not on par with Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie or…M.C. Hammer?  OK, there is definitely an argument to be made that Kanye is not on par with the first three hip hop monoliths, but he lost me a bit with Hammer.  I assume Ezrin is speaking to Hammer’s ability to cross over to a pop crowd with his music -and in that way, he pushed the culture forward.  Or maybe he is simply speaking to the fact that so many of us still know the words to “Can’t Touch This.”  But we all know the words to “Take On Me” as well, that doesn’t mean that A-Ha is as influential as Radiohead.  Without a shred of a doubt, Kanye West has been far more influential than M.C. Hammer ever was, though any lens one chooses to gaze through.  Moreover, in a variety of ways Kanye has been more influential than the other three artists listed as well.

When Kanye dropped The College Dropout in 2004 and Late Registration in 2005 he changed hip hop – this is inarguable.  Before these records, main stream rappers needed to have a level of respect from the hood, hip hop was about the struggle and the rise.  Kanye has repeatedly stated, “you can wear pink polos because of me!” And he’s right, you (rapper) can.  Kanye did what he wanted, he rapped about materialism, college, Jesus and the diamond trade in West Africa—he changed things.  Drake successfully functioning as a rapper/singer,  Future with his auto-tuned layering, Childish Gambino’s mixture of pop and hip hop—all of these styles (and countless more) are disciples of what West began to build in 2004.

Points Awarded: 1

He also stated that Kanye hasn’t spurred “social discourse” like NWA, and this claim can, in no way, be refuted.  Although the landscape has changed dramatically since the days of NWA—in many ways because of NWA.  Ezrin also says that West doesn’t address social issues as well as Macklemore, Eminem or Kendrick.  Macklemore has songs on drug addiction, gay rights and white privilege, but I wouldn’t exactly call him a socially-conscious rapper.  “White Privilege II” is his only real political song, the others are basically radio-friendly, inoffensive pop songs for white people.  Eminem had “White America” and “Mosh” and he’s addressed race and certain social issues, but he too has not been an artist known for addressing social issues.  Erzin would have been better of mentioning: Immortal Technique, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Nas or Common for a comparison.  But with Kendrick, he does have a point—To Pimp a Butterfly is a masterpiece and an album that captured the racial unrest and the black struggle in the U.S. more than any work of the last decade (or more).

Ezrin is right that Kanye has not had a massive impact on social issues, although West would argue that by crowbarring himself into the world of high fashion he is breaking down barriers for future generations, and he may be right.

Points Awarded: 1

Ezrin ends this paragraph by saying that Kanye’s “productions are his best work” and that he’s “jealous of several of them” but he doesn’t think Kanye is at the level of Rick Rubin or Timbaland.  Since Kanye doesn’t really produce anymore, this point is rather moot, but, over his career Kanye has proven himself time and time again to be an incredible producer with a meticulous ear for samples.  Timbaland and Rick Rubin are legends; Rubin is essentially peerless, sans DJ Premier, Dilla, Dre, Dj Quik and a handful of others.  So, sure there’s an argument to be made that Kanye may not be on a level with Tim or Rick, but he was a viciously talented producer for years and he’s listed as a producer on over 1,600 songs.  Now many of these he did not directly produce, but there are a few hundred Kanye ultra-bangers in there.

Points Awarded: 2

His songwriting – meaning the stuff with melodies – is sophomoric at best. I was embarrassed for Sir Paul – one of the greatest Artists of our era – by their collaboration, though it was pointed out to me that this got him his highest chart position in decades. So I guess he didn’t mind. But I kind of did!

This one hurts a bit. Kanye is a talented song writer who has many hits under his belt -although he’s had an plethora of duds in the last few years.  If we are comparing Kanye’s songwriting abilities to a Sir Paul he -clearly, like nearly all other humans on earth- falls short, but Ezrin gets a little too “get off of my lawn! at this point.  The section just seems like an artist from one generation not quite understanding the appeal of an artist from another one—and his lack of understanding pisses him off.  However, saying he was embarrassed for Paul McCartney hits hard, because many people were embarrassed for him.  The songs he played on weren’t bad, but his contributions were laughably small.

Points Awarded: 2

Instead Kanye’s greatest achievements have been in the form of excessive behavior, egomaniacal tantrums and tasteless grandstanding. What he is a true artist at is living his life out loud – and shoving it down the throats of the rest of us whether we give a shit or not. He’s like that flasher who interrupts a critical game by running naked across the field. Is that art??? Maybe it is.

Here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty; Kanye West as the fame-seeking, attention addict.  It’s not his success that makes people dislike him, it’s his manic proclamations, his obscene narcissism and his inability to leave the spotlight for ten seconds.  Comparing many of Ye’s recent antics to a flasher running across a field is an apt analogy, he’s constantly looking for attention at every turn – through any means necessary.

I don’t even know why I’m so angry about this. Except maybe I lament for a world where being truly, world-shakingly excellent at anything – at least in the field of popular music if not elsewhere – is no longer absolutely necessary. You can be a star today just by creating a public life that people pay attention to. That’s it.

Ezrin makes some great points here. He posits whether or not Kanye is known for his musical talents or simply for his public life.  And I really don’t know anymore.  There was a time when it was unequivocally about the music, but over the last 3 or 4 years it seems things are slowly shifting in another direction.  People read about Kanye all the time, but how many people have listened to The Life of Pablo?  (Sidenote:I have, and it has some moments, but it doesn’t seem near finished yet.)  Everyone walking down the street knows who Kanye West is, but I would wager only 2 or 3 out of ten could name three Kanye songs released in the last few years.

Points Awarded: 3

Kanye is a star for the new world, he’s snapchat personified—and it’s a shame in a way because his talent has taken a back seat to his persona.  This rant by Ezrin, however, like many before it will do nothing to dent Ye’s armor.  His fans will stay his fans and those who hate him for his antics will still hate him.

Total Points Awarded: 9


Now it’s time for a tweetfest-de-Kanye!

A few people have, sure.  But he’s a producer so no Kanye, he’s not a household name.

Well judging by his comments and his remarkably prolific production career that spans 45 years, he knows a little something about rap, but is far from a seasoned hip hop head.

Points Awarded: 2

In typical Kanye fashion the tweets run abound in a manic fashion.  He starts by insinuating that Ezrin has “no connection to anything” which is just patently untrue, the man produced Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Lou Reed’s Berlin, and has worked with: Peter Gabriel, Deep Purple, Roger Waters, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Janes Addiction, Deftones, U2, Cher and tons of other since the mid 60’s, and he’s still very active in mainstream music today.  Following this tweet Ye vaults over the line -as he always does- and says that Ezrin’s kids are ashamed of him.  I believe Kanye is attempting to state that Ezrin’s kids are obviously Kanye fans and they are ashamed of their father going up against such an icon.  Kanye loves to fabricate hearsay.

Points Awarded: 1.5

First off Kanye saying Macklemore is a “nice human being” after being insulted by being mentioned with him does laughably little to soften the blow.  However, Kanye is right, Macklemore is not as important musically as he is.  His “welcome to pop culture” tweet is essentially saying “you don’t get it” this is the world now, this is art, life is art, I am art.  The last tweet again goes off the rails a little bit as Ye is empathizing with Ezrin’s friends for having to suffer being in his company for “so many years.”  This one gets a boost for the left-fieldness of it all.

Points Awarded: 3.5

This is how it’s been going recently, Ye’s tweeting -and I don’t mean this as a joke at all- seems like the rantings of someone amidst a manic episode.  He jumps from topic to topic without fully formulating an opinion and his lets his emotions dictate his expression until the end when he settles down and remembers to focus on the positive.  All in all, his response was too hasty, too erratic and too un-focused, but it was also classic Kanye.

Total Points Awarded: 8*

*One bonus point was awarded for overall entertainment value.

 

FINAL RESULT

Bob Ezrin: 9      Kanye West: 8

Ezrin made claims that so many have made before him, and although a number of them hold water, they are incomplete, and his entire letter would have hit much harder if it was less angry overall.  There was a hint of jealousy throughout that muddled its thesis a bit.  But he hit Kanye hard at certain points, he didn’t do enough for a K.O., but he landed more shots.  Ezrin’s claims were far more specific and thought-out in comparison to Kanye’s, and this signifies the difference between generations to a degree.  Ezrin took to an online newsletter to vent his frustration (he may as well have sent his thoughts via carrier pigeon.)  He took his time and composed a post of moderate length that illuminated all of the points he wanted to make. Kanye heard about the letter, read it and jumped run on Twitter and began ranting without having any idea who Bob Ezrin was.  Now Kanye, simply by taking time out to issue a multi-tweet response to Ezrin lowered himself.  Ezrin won because his points, regardless of their validity, were focused and deliberate and Kanye took time out to engage with Ezrin but his response was half-assed.  And make no mistake, Kanye could’ve won this -easily.  He could’ve knocked Ezrin right out.

Ye’s response was signature that’s for sure, but he would’ve scored a decisive victory if he’d only tweeted:

It’s the response of someone who is truly confident in himself and his place in the cultural zeitgeist.  This is the, “yes, I’m, above you; I’m great. I am the Kanye West and you can’t do anything about it” tweet. It would’ve been far more effective than hollow, substance-less ranting.  But Kanye will be Kanye.  And Bob Ezrin, -to be clear- is no slouch, the man is a staggeringly prolific and malleable artist that has been a staple in the industry for going on five decades.

Till the next Ye feud, I bid you adieu.

 

by Jesse Mechanic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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