This is a track from Chicago rapper Kanye West's fifth studio album, titled My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The song leaked to the Internet on September 29, 2010.
The song about love gone wrong features indie-folk singer Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. West had Vernon flown to the Hawaii studio where the album was being cut, and had him rerecord the vocals from his Blood Bank
EP track, Woods
for this song.
West first came across the song when Ed Banger Records boss Pedro Winter played West the track and talked about his plan to sample it. West asked if he could use "Woods" instead, and got Bon Iver into the studio. "I called [Vernon] and we ended up becoming like really good friends, playing basketball together everyday, and going into the back studio and just record his parts," West told Rolling Stone. "He's similar to me, like where he just does s--t just so people would be like, 'Oh s--t how did you do that? How did that happen?' He's just a really cool guy to be around."
The song also samples the vocals from Gil Scott-Heron's spoken-word number "Comment #1," a track from the soul musician and jazz poet's 1970 debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.
This is the last track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the song also features in the climatic scene in West's 35 minute film Runaway. In the movie the rapper's character encounters a Phoenix who accidentally has fallen to Earth. He takes care of her and she tries her best to fit into modern culture. The Chicago MC explained to MTV News: "That was the last song on the album and emotionally it just fit the crescendo of everything that I was saying and what I wanted to say to this girl. And it's also my favorite eight bars that I've ever written in my life. I think it's one of the greatest pieces of writing, that verse: 'You're my devil, you're my angel/ You're my heaven, you're my hell/ You're my now, you're my forever/ You're my freedom, you're my jail/ You're my lies, you're my proof/ You're my war, you're my truce,' and the last line is, 'You're my stress, you're my masseuse.'"
West teamed with fashion filmmaker Ruth Hogben and photographer Nick Knight's SHOWstudio in the summer of 2011 for the black-and-white video. Hogben and West first began discussing their plans for the visual around May 2011, before shooting the clip a few months later. However it didn't see the light of day until May 2012. "I think he just wanted something that represented the song really well," Hogben told MTV News. "He explained how he felt about the song and it was a really interesting process because he just talked to me about the song — how he felt about the lyrics, about the beat. He was really very concerned about how he felt about the track, so that's where it started.
It was a really strong collaborative process," she continued. "The conversation was very organic — he says one thing, I say one thing, he sends a picture, I send a picture. So it was a creative conversation that just kept rolling. We had a two-day shoot and then we spent quite a long time working on the edit together, making sure that it was right. We've probably been tweaking and working on it for about six months."
Hogben added that fans are supposed to come up with their individual interpretations of the clip and even the dancers in the video were given the creative freedom to perform in their own way. "It was actually their interpretation of the song," the dancer explained. "Kanye didn't say to them, 'Dance this way.' We wanted an interpretation of how they felt about the song."
The song features a sample from "Hook and Sling, Part 1" by New Orleans pianist Eddie Bo. Though West's label paid a license fee for rights to use it for this tune, according to Bo's label, TufAmerica, they "failed and refused" to confirm licence agreements that accounted for other uses of the sample, including for its accompanying video. As a consequence, TufAmerica went to court seeking damages for copyright infringement.