Over the years, Kanye West has voiced his opinion on anything and everything including whether the chocolate bit at the end of the Cornetto is the best part (probably). He has stated that James Brown is his favourite artist of all time and that Red Hot Chili Peppers are his favourite rock group. There is one living artist, however, for whom he has reserved special praise.
When chatting with BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, Kanye didn’t hold back on the superlatives when eulogising an unlikely folk hero of his. “I love Justin the way Kanye loves Kanye,” he declared in the third person. The Justin in question is Justin Vernon, also known as Bon Iver.
In the past, the pair have collaborated on a number of occasions, which from Bon Iver’s point of view represented a major departure from his early stripped back folk ‘Skinny Love’ hollering, beatdown geography teacher stylings. However, their most notable team-up was during Kanye’s 2015 Glastonbury headline set, when Kanye introduced him as “one of the baddest white boys on the planet.”
In the same interview, Kanye spoke at length about his time with Vernon on the Pyramid Stage. “I go out and perform ‘Hold My Liquor’ [from West’s 2013 album ‘Yeezus’] with Justin Vernon, who is my favourite living artist,” he told Annie Mac. “I love Justin the way Kanye loves Kanye. So he’s got this machine and this little sampler that he uses, and when he gets up there next to me and we’re doing ‘Hold My Liquor’, and I completely forgot the lyrics, we just go off the rails and have a moment of feeling like we’re back in the studio, or feeling like we’re back in high school.”
It is rare to hear Kanye admit to a faux pas like forgetting the lyrics, but then when it comes to all things Vernon, you find him in a particularly gushing mood. Not content with merely naming him his favourite living artist he also declared that the falsetto folk singer’s collaboration with Francis and the Lights on the track ‘Friends’ was his “my favourite song of the year,” upon its release back in 2016.
Sadly, however, it would seem that we have seen the last of the pair working on music together. After Kanye decided to run for president, Vernon backed away from the collaboration. Speaking to Pitchfork, he stated: “I can’t really kick it with him anymore on a personal level, just the energy,” Vernon said. “But I’ve got mad love for him and we’re still friends.”
He also told the New York Times, that he “got in a friendly argument with Kanye West about the word humble once,” Vernon said. “He said, ‘Have you ever looked up the word humble?’ I was like, ‘Actually, I don’t know if I have.’ And he showed me the definition of it, and it’s far more self-demeaning, kind of the problematic Midwestern ‘Sorry!’ mentality than I realised.”
He continued, “I took a lot out of that conversation. Ultimately, I think it’s great to serve others and everything, but I think there’s a certain point where it’s diminishing returns for the people around you if you’re not showing up and being who you are.”
Though very disparate artists and seemingly people, it is clear that both have unabated artistic respect for each other and a creative kinship that somehow works both in the studio and on the rare live occasion too.