12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, in the midst of a life-changing year of his own, recently caught up by phone with the 36-year-old West in Los Angeles, where he was camped out briefly between "Yeezus" tour stops.
They spoke not long after the unveiling of the oft-discussed video for "Bound 2," which was directed by Nick Knight and features West and a topless Kardashian writhing on the back of a motorcycle against a backdrop of orange-y purple-hued karaoke-video-style landscapes.
STEVE MCQUEEN: It's hard to make beauty. People often try, and more often than not, everything starts to feel sort of cheap or kitsch. But you express yourself in a way that's beautiful. You can sing from the heart and have it connect and translate, which is a huge thing for an artist to be able to do. So my first question is: How do you do that? How do you communicate in that way?
KANYE WEST: I just close my eyes and act like I'm a 3-year-old. [laughs] I try to get as close to a childlike level as possible because we were all artists back then. So you just close your eyes and think back to when you were as young as you can remember and had the least barriers to your creativity.
MCQUEEN: Let's go deep very quickly then: Talk to me about who you were and who you've become—both before and after your accident, the car crash. Who are those two people, Kanye before and Kanye after? Are they different people? Was there a seismic change in who you were after you nearly lost your life?
WEST: I think I started to approach time in a different way after the accident. Before I was more willing to give my time to people and things that I wasn't as interested in because somehow I allowed myself to be brainwashed into being forced to work with other people or on other projects that I had no interest in. So simply, the accident gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do. I was a music producer, and everyone was telling me that I had no business becoming a rapper, so it gave me the opportunity to tell everyone, "Hey, I need some time to recover." But during that recovery period, I just spent all my time honing my craft and making The College Dropout. Without that period, there would have been so many phone calls and so many people putting pressure on me from every direction—so many people I somehow owed something to—and I would have never had the time to do what I wanted to.
MCQUEEN: So basically, it allowed you to focus, and you realized at a certain point that it was now or never—and that you had to do it now.
WEST: Yes. It gave me perspective on life—that it was really now or 100 percent never. I think that people don't make the most of their lives. So, you know, for me, right now it seems like it's the beginning of me rattling the cage, of making some people nervous. And people are strategically trying to do things to mute my voice in some way or make me look like I'm a lunatic or pinpoint the inaccuracies in my grammar to somehow take away from the overall message of what I'm saying ...