By Neal Kitterlin.
The most entertaining show around. Currently on top of the world and somehow seemingly both invincible and perpetually poised for a fall. Consistently facing legal action yet always one step ahead of real consequence. Flawed – there’s always going to be something there that makes you feel uncomfortable. But in spite of, and probably in no small part because of, these imperfections it’s always compelling – there’s always something there to hook you in.
The preceding paragraph applies equally to the National Football League and Kanye West. So with that tenuous connection established, let’s talk about last week’s fantasy football goings-on through the lens of Kanye’s most recent album, Yeezus.*
“On Sight” – Representative line: “you’ll give us what we need, it may not be what we want”. Yeezus kicks off with loud electronic dissonance, a commanding beat, and a wobbly out-of-nowhere sample, announcing immediately what kind of album you are going to be listening to. Within the first couple minutes you should know immediately whether this is something you’re into. The ornate arrangements and layers of My Beautiful Last week’s fantasy slate kicked off with two touchdowns and over 100 total yards from Giovanni Bernard. If he was on your team, you were feeling good about your chances for a nice week, and he could have gotten more if not for a minor injury and Cincinnatti’s insistence on giving a share of the carries to BenJarvus Green Ellis.
“Black Skinhead” – Representative line: “Number one question they asking – fuck all the question they asking”. If you watch your football with the sound on, you’ve probably heard the beat from this track on an ad for some cellphone. Even if you hate Kanye in principal, you’ve probably bobbed your head to this one when it comes on – if you love him, you’re probably made at least slightly uncomfortable by this particular song’s cooption to cell wireless devices. The track can be read as a blast of righteous anger and indignation, a hypocritical repudiation of the fame and celebrity Kanye embraces and reaps the rewards of, or an inferior treatment of the same racial issues Ye addresses more successfully two tracks later on “New Slaves,” or a mixture of all three. You can’t ignore a beat this good though, whether it’s moving product or soundtracking Kanye’s id. On Sunday, C.J. Spiller announced his return to fantasy relevance with over one hundred yards on just a handful of carries. It’s like he was daring us to continue to ignore him, to leave him out of the lineup one more week, to start Fred Jackson ahead of him. His game isn’t perfect, he hasn’t and probably won’t justify his draft position in most leagues, but we can’t safely bench him anymore without thinking twice about it.
“I Am a God” — Representative line: “In a French ass restaurant, hurry up with my damn croissants”** The track begins with a hollow sound, an anticipatory silence like wind blowing over a desert plain before a sparse and foreboding beat joins in, then a cacophony of voices, background screams, deep bass announcing “I AM A GOD,” the ultimate boast, but with it comes the responsibility to deliver, and an abiding loneliness. Two players hit the pinnacle of fantasy greatness this weekend – one widely started but with low expectations, the other barely started at all. Andre Johnson silenced all the people in my league who laughed that he was an old man by putting up a monster game of over 200 yards and three touchdowns. The breakout from Johnson was not entirely unexpected, but the seven touchdowns thrown by Nick Foles, on the other hand – no one saw that coming, and there were surely a whole lot of fantasy owners cursing themselves for leaving him on the bench. Honorable mention on this point would also go to Mike James, who rushed for over a hundred yards and had a passing touchdown.***
“New Slaves” – Representative line: “I know that we the new slaves, I see the blood on the leaves”. Politically charged, impeccably produced, featuring a vocal from Frank Ocean, “New Slaves” inches close to perfection before Kanye ruins it with one of the most cringe-worthy lines in his catalogue, at least to my ears, the casually homophobic, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”. It’s still probably my favorite track on the entire album, but nothing with Yeezus is ever entirely simple. Maybe it’s just part of the complex dynamic of fame, race, and the choice to participate in what can be viewed as an exploitative system, and figuring out your place within it. Those particular questions aren’t exactly alien to anyone who thinks deeply about professional football. I think I’ll leave it at that and move on.
“Hold My Liquor” – Representative line: “Dark and lonely now/On Chicago, south of town”. This is the most Chicago of all the tracks on Yeezus, with a hook by Chief Keef and a cold desolation that feels like the onset of fall and the giving way to winter. It also marks the spot where Yeezus dips away from engagement with the outside world and moves into the deeply personal. The lone verse details an emotionally empty sexual encounter with an ex – we are into full Weeknd territory here – as Justin Vernon croons and Chief Keef reminds us that we never really have control, never really know anyone. Because football doesn’t really feature many depressing introspective moments, I’ll link this song to the Chicago Bears and good games from Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, as the unexpected injury of Aaron Rodgers and quality play of backup QB Josh McCown gave Chicagoans hope to avoid the now customary losing streak that accompanies the onset of the cold months after the Bears get off to a hot start in still-warm September.
Because I apparently had a lot more to say than I expected, I’ll cut this off at the half-way point and finish up with the last half of Yeezus next week.
*Yeezus is by far the album I’ve listened to the most often this year. Nothing else even comes close.
** I’ve devoted far more time than is warranted to considering whether Kanye intended this line to be as hilarious as it is, and to whether it makes it better or worse if he did.
*** Picking up fantasy points on trick plays or from players who are playing out of position, such as the hulking James throwing the ball for a score, is great fun. It feels like finding money in your pocket or on the street.