In 2013, Kanye West’s spoken word was more entertaining than most musicians’ music. All year, he’s been part ego supernova, part prophet, part philosopher, part petulant child, part motivational speaker, and “completely awesome at all times.” He could release one of those records of between-song banter like Robert Pollard’s Relaxation Of The Asshole and I’d listen to it more often than, say, Reflektor. But 2013 brought us much more than Kanye’s typical on-stage monologues. He also started talking to the press again for the first time since 2009, and those interviews yielded gem after gem — sometimes brilliant, sometimes laughable, occasionally both, and never failing to elicit some kind of reaction. He went off so many times that we couldn’t bear limiting this list to just 10. Altogether, it would have been a banner year for Yeezy even if he hadn’t released the best album of 2013. For your entertainment and edification, here are his 17 best “visionary streams of consciousness.”
Much of the time when we talk about Kanye’s “rants,” we note that quite a few of them make a lot of sense. That was perhaps never truer than when he turned down at MSG, bestowing genius status on Jay Z and Drake(!), shouting out Lenny Kravitz (who was in the audience) as a pioneer, and railing against the corporations and fashion barons who screwed him over.
Choice quote: “The only difference between me and Lenny Kravitz is I turned up on these niggas. I don’t give a fuck about looking cool or being cool.”
Intensity level: 1/5 Hunger Games ticket stubs
When the Yeezus Tour rolled into Brooklyn, Kanye took time to school the crowd on inventor Nikola Tesla and filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky while throwing shade on some unnamed businessman.
Choice quote: “Am I the only one that’s not crazy?”
Intensity level: 2/5 Tesla coils
At the end of last winter, Kanye painted a picture of his struggle to gain corporate backing for his creative endeavors, mimicking the posture of a man praying to a god after delcaring, “I hate business people.” It would become a recurring theme throughout 2013.
Choice quote: “I swear I’m a nice leader now. I swear I’ll put the pink polo back on. I swear to you.”
Intensity level: 3.5/5 shampoo bottles
A week before Yeezus leaked, Kanye took the stage at New York’s notoriously soggy Governors Ball fest to decry business-driven album release strategies and opinions from outside his clique.
Choice quote: “Honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more.”
Intensity level: 1.5/5 ungiven fucks
On stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Kanye summed up the themes of his turbulent autumn press campaign, critiquing the media and fashion industries with a passionate oration that began, “What fun is life if you don’t talk shit, right?”
Choice quote: “I’ll crash the motherfucking internet when I feel like it!”
Intensity level: 5/5 ridiculous masks
12. On Hot 97 With Angie Martinez, 11/26
Kanye wasted no time waging war on Nike during his sitdown with Hot 97′s Angie Martinez, during which he confirmed his new partnership with Adidas.
Choice quote: “I am going to be the Tupac of product… I’m going to be bigger than Walmart.”
Intensity level: 3/5 unreleased Air Yeezys
On stage at MSG, Kanye ethered Nike for handcuffing his creative process and interminably delaying the release of the latest Air Yeezy sneakers, hinted at his coming partnership with Adidas, and revisited some of his favorite topics such as corporations trying to control him, comparing himself to historic creative icons, and why he’ll never turn down in interviews.
Choice quote: “Mark Parker tried to son me. Yes. Son me because I am the sun and I will shine bright.”
Intensity level: 3/5 solar flares
Back when Yeezus was still under wraps, at a party for late-night TV cartoons, Kanye delivered a sing-songy speech that drew the line between celebrity and musician.
Choice quote: “I ain’t a motherfucking celebrity. I ain’t running for office. I ain’t kissing no motherfucking baby so I drop your baby and you sue me and shit.”
Intensity level: 3/5 giant video pyramids
When MTV announced its annual hottest MCs list, no one expected Kanye to react to it, but he ended up on the radio big-upping Lil Wayne and Big Sean and hilariously depantsing Sway.
Choice quote: “I just wanna tell everybody I gave Sway his first TV. And he need to remember that.”
Intensity level: 2/5 secondhand televisions
As if that TV business wasn’t awkward enough: Between a deeply insightful meditation on ego and the politics of fashion and a freestyle over Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” Kanye unloaded on Sway when the host (who most certainly does not have the answers) suggested Yeezy should take a DIY approach with his fashion aspirations. The fiery eruption begins about 17 minutes into a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t pass for a rant.
Choice quote: “I’m standing up and I’m telling you I am Warhol. I am the #1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney. Nike. Google.”
Intensity level: 4.5/5 downward spirals
At a listening party for Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name, Kanye went full supernova, delivering Team Yeezy’s fieriest locker room speech of the season.
Choice quote: “I don’t give a fuck about none of these fuckin’ corporations, none of these fuckin’ sellouts.”
Intensity level: 6/5 Clipse discographies on fire
In his first major interview since a 2009 Vibe cover story, Kanye opened the curtain on his creative process for the Grey Lady, generating a series of responses Tom described as “one long highlight.”
Choice quote: “(My instinct has) only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That’s all it is.”
Intensity level: 2.5/5 backhanded apologies
05. On The Breakfast Club, 11/26
The peak of Kanye’s morning radio roulette was his visit to Power 105.1′s Breakfast Club, an epic exchange in which he compared his upcoming album to Born In The U.S.A., pronounced his love for the paparazzi, ordered a boycott of Louis Vuitton, disputed Charlemagne’s notion that money doesn’t equal freedom, compared the coal industry to the music industry, claimed everyone who makes good music (including Drake and Rick Ross) is on G.O.O.D. Music, suggested black people don’t have the same connections as Jews, called himself a “performance athlete,” declared his BS meter at an all-time high, and coined the phrase “visionary stream of consciousness” for his monologues. It was interview as virtuoso performance.
Choice quotes: “EVERYBODY IN ATLANTA RIGHT NOW AT THE LOUIS VUITTON STORE IF YOU BLACK DON’T GO TO LOUIS VUITTON TODAY. [Silence.] THAT’S WHY YOU NEED TO TAKE A MEETING WITH KANYE WEST, BERNARD ARNAULT.”
Intensity level: 2/5 unpurchased Louis Vuitton bags
After Jimmy Kimmel lampooned Kanye’s BBC interview, Kanye mounted a Twitter tirade against Kimmel in which, among other insults, ’Ye compared Kimmel to Spongebob Squarepants.
Choice quote: “SARAH SILVERMAN IS A THOUSAND TIMES FUNNIER THAN YOU AND THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS IT!!!”
Intensity level, Twitter: 5/5 no good pussies
Kanye’s Twitter campaign against Kimmel escalated their feud to the point that late-night TV mediation was necessary. The on-air interview that put this matter to bed ended up spiraling into a lengthy series of boasts and critiques colorful enough to rival the rants that inspired this whole conflict in the first place.
Choice quote: “Don’t try to antagonize me because you know what? It’s not safe for you in this zoo. Never think that I’m not for Chicago for one second and think you can walk up and disrespect me and my family constantly.”
Intensity level: 4/5 Vertu phones
In Kanye’s most widely publicized screed of the year, he exhorted his own infinite creative potential and put the fashion industry on blast. It was a masterpiece of bravado, a full hour of music’s most fascinating talent uncorking his ego and letting it spray.
Choice quote: “I’m the #1 rock star on the planet.”
Intensity level: 3.5/5 leather pants
A rant-as-song is still a rant. And “New Slaves,” our first taste of Yeezus, was 2013 Kanye at his most spirited and incisive, putting everyone from the media to the government to the Hampton spouses on red alert. Experiencing it in guerilla Wizard Of Oz mode only drove home the grandeur of what the man himself called “the best rap verse of all time… meaning … OF ALL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF RAP MUSIC, PERIOD.”
Choice quote: “Y’all ’bout to turn shit up/ I’m ’bout to tear shit down/ I’m ’bout to air shit out/ Now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”
Intensity level: 5/5 Hampton blouses
There are a few dates left on the Yeezus Tour, so more visionary consciousness could still stream at any time. We’ll update this list if we have to.