On Tuesday night (technically Wednesday morning, as he was running a little late due to some last-minute edits), Kanye debuted the special-effects-filled video for "Stronger" at the Tribeca Cinemas. Legendary production duo and record label execs L.A. Reid and Babyface attended, as well as 'Ye's good friend Swizz Beatz.
Inside, West thanked everyone for coming on such short notice. Make that almost no notice: E-mails about the gathering were sent out about five hours before the 9 p.m. "doors open" time, and warned people not to expect a night of dancing like at his recent birthday bash (which some say was the extravaganza of the year).
"This is not really a party, I just wanted y'all to see the video" before he left for Los Angeles a few hours later, 'Ye told the audience with a smile, noting "this is a rough [cut]" before the lights went low.
When it comes to "Stronger" — directed by Hype Williams, who also did West's recent "Can't Tell Me Nothing" clip — think longer. It took the pair some three months to make the video, from start to finish, and Kanye even had to convince Williams to stay on board because it was taking so long.
"Hype almost bailed three times," he divulged.
But Kanye also was proud of the fact that he had time to craft "Stronger" to his liking. "This is one of the first times we got to make a video like how we make music — we got to go back to it," he explained.
The MC also described the making of the video as part intricate planning, part run-and-gun, guerrilla-style shooting. They originally shot for nine days in Japan; the video's leading lady, singer Cassie, was called out on two days' notice and a genuine Japanese motorcycle gang was used in the video. For some scenes they knew exactly where they wanted to shoot, other shots were "stolen" in the streets — and they even had to ask friends for favors to film in locations such as the BAPE store and the BBC shop.
Among other challenges, Kanye had designs on specific Jeremy Scott shades to wear in one of his performance scenes — and it took him three months to find them, finally spying a pair in Paris. ("I wanted something you can't get in stores," he explained.)
Perhaps most challenging of all, when they started filming, Kanye hadn't even written the second verse of the song.
Later, there were five days of re-shoots because 'Ye said the neon colors in the video reminded him too much of the colors used in recent 50 Cent and Maroon 5 clips.
As he tells it, Kanye knew "Stronger" would be a hit after he played Williams the song's sampled loop, which is from Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (West's DJ, A-Trak, played him the original Daft Punk record on tour last year).
"There were no drums or anything yet," Kanye said. Hype got hyped and started giving 'Ye inspiration to go futuristic — not just for the video, but for his entire Graduation LP. 'Ye said that's when the album started taking shape, whereas earlier he'd been "aimlessly making songs".
"It inspired a whole movement," West said. He went back to some of the songs he had recorded and redid parts of them, and also watched films like "Total Recall" for more ideas. He recalled that when he was writing "Stronger," he started thinking about what he considers some of his recent mistakes.
"I made so many mistakes the past year, I started swimming in wack juice I needed to get out of," he said. "I would read blogs and they would be like, 'His shoelaces are untied, he's a b—h." He added that Late Registration co-producer Jon Brion even hinted that West should try to make music that made people see him as less annoying.
But instead of apologizing, Kanye uses the song's first verse to vent frustration: "Bow in the presence of greatness/ 'Cause right now thou has forsakenness this/ You should be honored by my lateness/ That I would even show up to this fake sh–."
"Instead of coming with, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' that song is an emancipation," Kanye explained.
As for the video itself … Well, there's no way we're going to make Kanye abruptly end his West Coast trip, pack his Louis Vuitton bags, get back aboard a private jet and come straight to the MTV offices because we gave away the whole thing. But we can tell you this: There is an emphasis on performance and looking fly. There is a huge special-effects segment where Daft Punk, dressed as helmet-clad scientists or doctors, are pushing buttons in a control room while a machine big enough to fit a truck inside is working on Kanye as he lays on a table with wires attached to him — wearing nothing but a pair of boxers.
When the clip was finished, one person in the theater yelled out, "Cassie! I think I love you!" But most of the praise and applause were directed at Mr. West and the video. "I'mma talk sh– and play it again," he said.
No one left the theater.
Kanye's Graduation LP comes out in late in August.