“Famous” by Kanye West (ft. Rihanna)

Kanye West is a celebrity who will probably enjoy A list status for as long as he lives. However, this particular song came out around the time when his viability as a musician in particular really started to wane. As such this outing is not primarily known for featuring a creative sample or clever lyricism, as with some of his classics. Rather its notoriety is mainly centered on yet another tasteless jab Yeezy took at Taylor Swift, which we will get to later.

But concerning the actual title, as utilized in the chorus it is intended to point to the idea of the vocalist having issues with stardom. And in that regard it actually reads a lot like Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail” (2013), where the narrator converses with fame as if it were a person. 

Well actually in this case, it is fame that’s rather doing to conversing. And what she is telling Yeezy (via Rihanna) is that she loves him more than anyone, always has and always will. But at the same, she also understands if he ‘wants to be free’.

But that said, unlike how Jay-Z did with “Holy Grail”, Kanye doesn’t really seem overly interested in sticking to that particular disposition in the verses. For instance, after giving a shoutout to Southside Chicago, i.e. his home city, West commences the first verse with the aforementioned Taylor Swift diss. 

And in this instance, he uses the title of the song to note how he “made that b**ch famous”.  What he is referring to is how he rudely interpreted Taylor Swift at the 2009 edition of the MTV Video Music Awards, and subsequently she experienced a boost in popularity. And whereas such may be verifiable fact, again, he doesn’t present it in the most respectful manner. 

Indeed after experiencing a major backlash as a result, Yeezus went on to give a detailed explanation, even bringing his wife into the mix, of how the aforementioned statement isn’t actually a diss. And so we’ll just leave it at that, as there’s more of this song to cover.

Indeed the misogyny, if you will, continues when directly thereafter Kanye mocks “all the girls” that he ever slept with. However, as presented, it is actually they who have beef with him. And the reason why is because they have not been able to become “famous”, i.e. see their own popularity increase exponentially by having a relationship with him.

It has been concluded that in this regard he is likely referring to Amber Rose, i.e. the most famous woman Kanye ever dated prior to Kim Kardashian. And if such is the case he may also be throwing a roundabout insult towards Wiz Khalifa, whom she married afterwards, as the new romantic interest who just can’t keep up with Yeezy. 

However, the rapper concludes the passage by asserting that “we still ‘hood famous”. It’s not clear who the “we” are supposed to be, but, considering the flow of the verse, that may well be more of a complimentary shoutout towards Amber, Wiz, etc.

To set off the second verse, West engages in some more direct forms of braggadocio, alluding to his impressive wealth for instance. He then proceeds to imply that he is dating a certain young lady who, just to note, wouldn’t be his wife, Kim Kardashian. But according to Genius, this was actually a line that was given to Yeezy by fellow Chi-town hip-hop star Chance the Rapper.

Next, the rapper proceeds to assert that he and those like him are “young and… alive” and “never gonna die”. Such statements would be further manifestations of the high level of self-confidence that underlies this entire effort. 

And said assuredness is apparently, as alluded to earlier, primarily due to Kanye being rich. He goes about insinuating his wealth by implying that he bought a private jet. And overall, let’s just say that the vocalist really enjoys the life he’s living.

Meanwhile the bridge, which is actually the lengthiest section of this entire piece, is largely sampled from an old reggae tune entitled “Bam Bam” (1982). And basically Yeezy is using the opportunity to go on one of those extended types of improvised hype sessions which highlighted some of his songs from this era. And finally, the track concludes with a re-utterance of the hook.

In Conclusion

So at the end of the day, yes, Kanye does faithfully stick to the topic of fame. However he does so not exclusively in the sense in which it is presented in the chorus, led by Rihanna. That is to say that the verses don’t seem to have anything to do with the negative effects of fame per se.  Instead, they feature the main vocalist more or less putting forth that he’s so famous that others associated with him are potential beneficiaries of his shine. 

But even beyond that this is intended to be a general inspirational piece – for lack of a better term – geared towards those who are “young”, “alive” and doing their thing.

Kanye West, "Famous" Lyrics

“Famous” Facts

Primary Artist(s): Kanye West
Featured Artist(s): Rihanna
Album/EP: “The Life of Pablo” 

Was “Famous” a single release?

Yes. It was the first single from the album, “The Life of Pablo”.

Writing Credits

“Famous” was written by:

  • Kanye West
  • C. Young
  • K. Muchita
  • W. Riley
  • R. Birchard
  • P. Reynolds
  • N. Goldstein
  • M. Dean
  • L. Bacalov
  • K. Dean
  • J. Webb
  • E. Brown
  • E. Vita
  • C. Bennett
  • A. Dawson
  • S. Bardotti
  • G. Scalamogna
  • S. D. Konchenkov

Awards/Honors

The song had two nominations at the Annual Grammy Awards in 2017 (“Best Rap/Sung Performance” and “Best Rap Song”). It was beaten to both awards by “Hotline Bling” (Drake).

It competed with the following songs for the award of “Best Rap/Sung Performance”:

  • Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s “Freedom”
  • DRAM with Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”
  • Kanye West and Chance The Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price, & The-Dream’s “Ultralight Beam”

The following songs competed with it for the “Best Rap Song”:

  • “Famous” by Kanye West and Rihanna
  • “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz
  • “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West with Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream

Other Accolades

Times positioned “Famous” at number 10 of the list of best songs of 2016. An American online publication, Slant, named the song the second best song of 2016.

Kanye West discusses "Famous"

Chart Performance

  • US (34)
  • UK R&B (6)
  • Belgium (2)

Lawsuit/Controversies

Parts of the song’s lyrics were about West’s interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMA in 2009. This was heavily criticized by many critics but West explained he had a long conversation with Swift before the song was released. He claimed she found those portions rather funny and gave him her blessings.

Covers

  • Vitamin String Quartet (2017)
  • TOYOMU (2016)

Sampling

  • Titus Jones – “Ready for Something Bad” (2019)
  • Lido – “Life of Peder (Part One)” (2016)
Famous

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