Kanye can freestyle? Hell yes, he can.
The last time Kanye West popped up in public for a surprise impromptu verse, it was a little underwhelming. There was no freestyling involved. He hopped on a plane’s intercom on a flight from Minnesota and kicked the verse from “Gold Digger”—the radio edit, at that.
And let’s not forget about last summer, when Kanye showed up to drop a couple of surprise verses from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” a capella on the campuses of Facebook and Twitter.
These are the kind of antics that make us love Kanye West (or at least make some of us love Kanye West) but they also create the impression that he’s not particularly great at freestyling. Mr. West certainly can’t complain that his reputation as a showboat comes unearned.
But this Saturday Kanye showed up at The Blue Note in NYC with Mos Def to watch a set from jazz pianist Robert Glasper. They both hopped on the mic for a couple verses, and Kanye surprised us all the way that only Kanye can—by not only freestyling, but freestyling about art and feelings, and doing it really well.
Kanye manages to rhyme about his frustration at feeling alienated as “a black man interested in art,” and even works in how mortified he still is about about the 2009 VMAs, his voice breaking emotively on the line “I felt like a slave as they tried to put my shit up in the grave—nigga behave, nigga behave!”
As well as being mechanically impressive, it’s actually quite moving. It’s unusual to see an artist this successful still plod through life like an underdog, like he’s always got something to prove, like he’s always just shy of setting the record straight. For all our listening pleasure, I hope he never quits trying.