Ye’s most recent projects show he might be better as a host than a featured performer
Kanye West is a HUGE Family Feud fan. He said as much last Sunday, when he appeared, giddy and high-spirited on the season premiere of the show’s celebrity edition.
Leading “Team West” against a surprisingly ruthless “Team Kardashian” squad, Kanye was the star of the show: he trash-talked his opponents, won the “Fast Money” round, and even made fun of Steve Harvey’s lips.
The real reason for Ye’s highlight performance though? It was Steve Harvey. The program’s host, who has led the show since 2010, is the world’s greatest ringmaster.
Harvey began his career as a solo act, making a name through his standup work and by starring in his own sitcom, aptly named The Steve Harvey Show. But now, the comedian is the ultimate assist-first point guard: a highlight passer who makes his guests look like the stars of the show, all while flexing his own charm and ability.
It’s a timeless role, and one that—in addition to his outdated three-piece power suits—makes Harvey feel immortal. He could seemingly do this job forever.
Could Kanye take a page out of his favorite show’s playbook? After months of controversial interviews, provocative tweeting and an album that mostly failed to justify his recent behavior, Ye could use a Harvey-esque career shift more than anyone right now.
Kanye’s music used to be his life preserver. No matter how troublesome or divisive his public persona, he was always able to win us back over with an album so incredible that it made us forget why we were upset with him in the first place. With Ye, the rapper’s eighth and weakest record, largely failing to live up to our redemptive standards, it seems like this Sour Patch Kid cycle has finally ended.
Instead, Ye’s recent highlights have come from the background. During the ongoing slate of weekly G.O.O.D. Music releases, Kanye has shined not as a frontman, but rather as a curator—as a host.
Take KIDS SEE GHOSTS for example. The record, which has received near-universal acclaim from critics, is at its best when this dynamic is at play. More often than not, Kid Cudi is at the album’s forefront, handling choruses, weaving in vocal harmonies and dominating the verses on tracks like “Fire,” “Reborn” and “Cudi Montage.”
In these situations, Kanye, like Harvey, plays point guard. Working mostly as a producer, hype man and guest rapper, he exercises a great deal of restraint, giving Cudi the ball and letting him go to work. The result is a beautiful, concise record that feels like a triumph for both artists.
On Pusha T’s DAYTONA and Nas’ NASIR, the result is similar, even if the methods are a little different. Ye sits even further back on these two albums, letting his impeccable, sample-heavy production do most of the talking. More film director than game manager, he sets the stage for his stars to succeed, creating beats perfectly catered to their talents. His guest appearances aren’t distractions, but rather additions to the work as a whole, as well as reminders of who’s pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Kanye is not Dr. Dre. His ego—probably rightfully—might never allow him to take on a fully producer-first, rapper-second role. He might be willing to step back a little though: just enough to let his collaborators stand out as their own distinct artists. If his recent work is any indication, Ye’s career might not need a full adjustment, but rather a slight recalibration, a move toward the host’s podium that still allows him to showcase his own abilities and express his own creative vision.