Kanye West needs his own "Sorry, Blame It on Me" single
For a bit of context on how a pop-rapper behaving terribly can recover in the public eye, think back to the halcyon days of 2007. Akon, the singer/producer, was fresh off an incident in a Trinidad 18-and-up club where he engaged in a lascivious bit on onstage grinding with a female fan who, it turns out, was 16 at the time. Trinidad police launched an investigation (that they soon dropped), but Verizon pulled a reported $3 million worth of sponsorship money from his tour with Gwen Stefani in response. In the court of public opinion, "Konvict Music" proved an apt name for his business ventures.
Now, Akon could have chosen to go the R. Kelly route and simply ignore all this while making even more sexually overblown (and brilliant) records. But he didn't. He went full-bore meta and released one of the strangest singles of the year, "Sorry, Blame It on Me," a monument to passive-aggressive R&B wimpsterism. On the track, he self-flagellates in great detail about both his absentee relationships and the Trinidad incident while -- sort of justifiably -- ducking much of that aforementioned blame:
"I'm sorry for Club Zen getting shut down / I hope they manage better next time around / how was I to know she was underage?...Verizon backed out disgracing my name / I'm just a singer trying to entertain / Because I love my fans I'll take that blame."
It was so weird, so contrary to all standard PR-agent instincts to decline comment on anything like this, that "Sorry" left upset fans with nothing to complain about that Akon hadn't already said first in the song. And wouldn't you know, people stopped talking about Akon as creepy-dance-floor-guy and let him get back to producing and writing in peace. Of course, he then promptly bodyslammed a kid at a radio festival and started this all over, but that's another story.
Which brings us to Kanye West, who had a less aggressive but even more public-upsetting run-in with a young girl onstage recently. There might be something for Kanye to learn from in the tale of Akon: It's a lot harder to criticize someone if they said it all first, and loudest (Eminem's character also tried this to great effect at the end of "8 Mile"). And who better to put out a withering self-critique than Kanye West? He's practically already written one, with "Everything I Am" from "Graduation" taking on the topic of his awards-show bad behavior (and, presciently, praising Beyonce).
There's much we'd like to know about what on earth he was thinking that night. West was photographed with a bottle of Hennesey on the red carpet earlier in the evening, and a plain admission of a bit of a drinking problem (or at least a drinking-at-public-events problem) is one of the most classic sympathy-builders in PR lore. It worked for at least one former president. Why not a rapper?
For all his notorious ego problems, West works on the flip side of that coin just as well. A good half of "808's & Heartbreak" was devoted to cataloging his own romantic and emotional failings. He's an insightful lyricist when he wants to be, tackling dark recesses of the insecure rap psyche where other mainstream MCs usually fear to tread. What must it feel like to know that Barack Obama personally finds you to be a "jackass?" That'd be fascinating, and more importantly, goodwill-generating on behalf of a grumbling public.
Real-time self-reflexive commentary is a fine setting for West to work in, as his quick edits of an early draft of "Love Lockdown" and the infamous "Fishticks" episode proved. South Park ethered him as effectively as anyone in recent pop history, and West quickly and thoroughly admitted defeat on his blog. As the VMA episode proved, that didn't quite solve his problem, but maybe that's a new topic for this hypothetical tune -- his inability to fix this personality quirk despite repeated public floggings for it.
Taylor Swift has been a very good sport about all of this, and I'd bet with a few phone calls she'd show up to sing the hook. Maybe T-Pain can pull a Bill Clinton-in-North-Korea and serve as a negotiating intermediary?
-- August Brown
Photo credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press