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Reimagining Kanye as a mad scientist resurrecting rappers

We talk to Joshua Chaplinsky about his compelling book that casts Kanye West as the central character in a sci-fi novella

Those who do not study history, even fictional history, are famously doomed to repeat it. Back in 1922, the American public was gripped by the magazine-serialised story of a brilliant, narcissistic man undone by his own mad experiments; now, in 2016, we’re all gripped by the same thing. The first of the two men I mention is H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West, and the ‘star’ of Herbert West — Reanimator. The second is Kanye West, a hip-hop superstar and Kim Kardashian’s spouse; and now, the subject of Kanye West — Reanimator, a cut-up novella by Litreactor’s Joshua Chaplinsky which, per the book’s blurb, “reimagines the classic story (by Lovecraft) with everyone's favorite petulant genius cast in the titular role.”

There are only a few good stories, and our favourites tend to be ones that we recognise. If they’re frightening or funny, then so much the better. Where the original West attempted to raise the dead with a serum, Kanye uses “a fresh beat.” The bodies that Herbert defaces are nobodies’, but Kanye is shown killing Jay-Z. That the original language is replicated in places also means, coupled with all its modern references, that it’s hysterically bone-dry. I laughed hardest at this deader-than-deadpan exchange between the rapper and his right-hand man, presented to you without context: “ ’You can’t spell matriculation without matriarch,’ he would tell me. ‘Yes you can,’ I would reply”.

While it’s true that the fictional Herbert West was serialised in a horror journal called Home Brew, and that the roughly one-third-fictional Kanye West has only ever been serialised in Us Weekly, the two men’s stories are startlingly similar. Germany may have given us the word for schadenfreude, but it’s Hollywood that made it into an industry: Kanye West’s eventual downfall is plotted so fiendishly in OK!, Star, InTouch and Life & Style that it’s almost a bona fide horror story. Hubris is a helluva drug; overdose on it, and a man is liable to need a resurrecting miracle.

Was Kanye West: Reanimator written from the perspective of a fan? Are you an actual fan of Kanye West, as a musician?

Joshua Chaplinsky: I’m not personally a fan of Kanye's music, no — my tastes in hip-hop skew early to mid-90s, but I find him a fascinating character…

I sometimes couldn't tell whether it was a loving homage, or whether it was a skewering.

Joshua Chaplinsky:  To be honest, I always thought he was kind of an ass! But researching this project did give me a greater understanding of him as an artist. I wanted to poke fun, but I didn't want to alienate Kanye fans by being mean-spirited. 

I don’t think it’s mean-spirited, per se, at all, which I think is why I couldn’t tell how you actually felt about him.
Joshua Chaplinsky: It's definitely a fine line, and mileage has varied with readers — but for the most part, the response has been positive; from lovers and haters of Kanye alike.  

You mix fictional eccentricities with the ones that we know he actually has, you describe Kimye's wedding is a great example. Did you do a lot of research? 

Joshua Chaplinsky: If by "research" you mean reading Wikipedia and TMZ, then yes — yes I did. 

I do a lot of my research there too so that definitely counts. Did you feel capable of psychologically profiling Kanye by the end? A lot of people on the internet seem to love doing so.
Joshua Chaplinsky: I would say I feel I’m just as qualified as anyone else on the internet to give an armchair profile of his public persona, but can any of us truly know the real Kanye? I doubt even Kanye knows the real Kanye if I’m perfectly honest. 

I was wondering when you started the project, and when you realised it had the potential to be a book? I was trying to think of any "Kanye milestones" which might have happened since that might fit in with Kanye West: Reanimator.
Joshua Chaplinsky: The idea came to me about two years ago. Initially, I dismissed it as a one-note joke, but I kept coming back to it and expanding on the idea. It wasn't long before I realised I had to write it.  

Did you see the fashion show he did at the site of the former smallpox hospital? There were complaints because some of the models passed out on their feet and had to be revived. That seems not unlike a cruel experiment on capabilities of the human body. Perhaps you're onto something. 

“I would say I feel I’m just as qualified as anyone else on the internet to give an armchair profile of his public persona, but can any of us truly know the real Kanye? I doubt even Kanye knows the real Kanye, if I’m perfectly honest” – Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky: So much has happened in Kanye-land since the book came out! He’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

Would you ever consider mining the continual gift of Kanye’s life for a sequel? A revised edition?

Joshua Chaplinsky: I don't think I would go back to it unless someone drove a dump truck full of money up to my house — mainly because there is no Lovecraft template for me to base the continuing story on. I feel as though Lovecraft and myself were co-writers on this project, and to continue without him would be disrespectful. There were sequels to the movie Reanimator, for sure, but aside from the glorious Dyer Wilk cover that references the movie poster, the book is in no way informed by the film. 

Why Lovecraft in the first place, aside from the obvious surname parity?

Joshua Chaplinsky: I was looking for inspiration for a story for a Lovecraft-themed anthology when the idea hit me. It was as simple as Herbert West, Kanye West. And as I wrote, it I began to realise just how similar these two characters were. They’re both emotionally stunted geniuses (in their own eyes, at least), and they’re both hellbent on achieving their goals, no matter what the cost. I was surprised at how well Kanye actually fit into the Reanimator story. 
Do you think he's read it? Surely he's enough of an egotist that he's at least read the Amazon page?

Joshua Chaplinsky I know people have tweeted it at him and Kim, and I've tagged him on a bunch of social media stuff, but who knows? I even sent copies to the Kardashian fan mail address.
Oh my God.
Joshua Chaplinsky: At this point, I'd love for him to acknowledge its existence in some way. Even if it was to just call me out as a jerk. 

Did you have any reservations about including the chapter that features his mother, Donda [in which Kanye murders Donda in order to bring her back to life]? That was the only section that made me wince, a little; although it also made me laugh.

“At this point, I'd love for him to acknowledge its existence in some way. Even if it was to just call me out as a jerk” – Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky: I didn't necessarily have reservations, but I was aware that was a touchy subject, especially in light of how much he loved his mother. I figured if the book ever came to his attention, that would be the bit he would object to most. I was a little nervous, but part of me actually wanted him to find out. As they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.  

My last point is less a question than it is an observation. I saw somebody yesterday observe on Twitter that Kanye might become a Bruce-Wayne-style millionaire super-villain after Kim's robbery yesterday. I can't decide if this sounds like it might be a continuation, or if it’s a whole new chapbook. 

Joshua Chaplinsky: Oh, Kanye would be the ultimate dark hero or supervillain. If that happened in real life, in my opinion, it would be his biggest contribution to the entertainment industry yet. Give the people what they want, Kanye!