So we’re talking about Kanye again. Yes, Mr West is back, G.O.O.D. Fridays are back, and Swish will be with us on 11 February. The track that we have been given to digest this week is “Real Friends”, and we think it is gorgeous.
But while half of us are still counting our blessings, the other half is blaspheming. For the half who already kiss the ground that Yeezy walks on, “Real Friends” represents a return to the sincerity and literalness that was exemplary of a lot of his earlier material: here, Kanye reflects on the strain that fame and fortune have placed on his relationships with his friends and family. In doing so he demonstrates a vulnerability that has been afforded no room in the maniacal, inflated, Narcissus skin that Ye has worn for his last three albums: a persona which is probably at the crux of the second half’s execration of him. But in “Real Friends” the skin is being lacerated, perhaps more than it ever has been. And if anything will ever make the second half flock, it is surely Kanye bearing his cross so candidly, and beautifully.
“I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fuckin’ bitches on, paid that n***a 250 thousand just to get it from him. Real friends, huh?”
The piano sample that underscores the entire song, dug up by Frank Dukes and Boi-1da, takes a leaf from the scripture of J Dilla and Madlib. It is crisp but incredibly enveloping, heightened by the fact that it is kept to religiously despite coming in at a mere two bars. But this is repetition that is employed to perfection, creating a sense of stasis and frustration that dances on a precipice, looking down to a threat of despair that seethes underneath. It is an incredibly sad song, but it also an incredibly bitter song, and there is a lot of anger directed both at Kayne’s ‘friends’ and also Kanye himself. But it is anger that makes a hard time of finding its correct expression. Initially he struggles to take a hard line, expressing little more than exhaustion: “switched up the number, I can’t be bothered, I cannot blame you for havin’ an angle, I ain’t got no issues, I’m just doin’ my thing, hope you’re doin’ your thing too”. Further into the first verse, his anger is pointed only towards himself: “fuck the church up, I’m drinkin’ at the communion, spillin’ free wine, now my tux is ruined”. For someone as religious as Kanye, these lines find him in a dark and pathetic place. And so he eventually blames himself explicitly: “I’m always blamin’ you, but what’s sad, you’re not the problem, ‘damn I forgot to call her, shit I thought it was Thursday’, ‘why you wait a week to call my phone in the first place?’” So the blood on his hands becomes something of a point of refrain: “I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I?” But as the song progresses his flow becomes more quick and agitated, locating guilt in his friends and family too. And with this the song moves gradually towards exasperation, culminating in an explosively acidic third verse: “How many of us are real friends…’Til the wheels fall off, ’til the wheels don’t spin?…I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fuckin’ bitches on, paid that n***a 250 thousand just to get it from him. Real friends, huh?” By most people’s guesses this last detail is real, and so provides a scorning assessment of the place friendship holds in Kanye’s world.
So “Real Friends” is a song with volcanic disdain lying barely dormant within it. It boils closer to the surface with each verse, and threatens to subsume both Kanye and his friends and family. If anything will convert those who dismiss him, it is surely something so self-deprecating, raw, and honest as “Real Friends”. It is a song that we both love already. And if you still hate everything about Kanye, then rest assured: Kanye sometimes hates everything about Kanye too.