Colorful Music for a Cruel Summer

Synesthete Kanye West's new film has a romantic synesthesia plot

Posted Aug 06, 2012

In Kanye West’s new short film, “Cruel Summer,” which debuted in May at the Cannes Film Festival, a beautiful, blind Arabian princess (Lebanon's Razane Jammal) is courted by a Lamborghini thief played by Kid Cudi. Her father expels him from the palace but says he may marry the princess if he can help her to see again. He plays music, hoping she will see color synesthetically in her mind’s eye in order to win her hand. The soundtrack for this scene is Salem’s “I’m Still in the Night”: The film is played on seven screens and features a number of synesthesia (music to color) scenes.

The blind often do get synesthetic impressions in their mind’s eye. The most famous example is Stevie Wonder.

The mythic romance was inspired by Mr. West’s own synesthesia and was filmed largely in Qatar. He gave a Behind the Scenes interview posted on Youtube last year: in which he described his colored music and colored musical instruments:

Kanye West

Superstar Kanye West sees colors for music.

Mr. West recently told GQ magazine he'd long been fascinated by the concept of synesthesia — since childhood. And researchers take note — the following quote seems to indicate his colors have been consistent for over 25 years — a big indicator of synesthesia’s validity. "When I was in grammar school I had a colored-pencil drawing of my take on synethesia. I knew I could see sounds and shapes," he said. "I can see sound in front of me. And that drawing I did when I was seventeen years old, this is like that same exact drawing just at age 34, post working on the Throne Tour and having an record label with all these awesome artists."

Kanye Omari West is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a Black Panther named Ray West who later worked as a photographer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and his mother, the late Dr. Donda West, was an English professor at Clark Atlanta University and later chair of the English department at Chicago State University. Mr. West grew up in Chicago from the age of 3 after his parents divorced and was known to be an excellent student.

Mr. West studied art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and later dropped out of Chicago State University, where his mother taught, to focus on music. Before launching his own successful career as a performer, he produced major hip hop and R&B artists from Jay Z to Alicia Keys to Janet Jackson. He has received 53 awards out of 161 nominations, including 18 Grammy awards to date. He famously dates reality TV star and fellow entrepreneur Kim Kardashian.

The New York Post reported today that Mr. West debuted some of the songs from his new film at Dream Downtown in Manhattan on Friday night, pulling out a laptop and handing it over to the deejay.

Some of that new music can be seen on his personal website., including the lead single from the film, “Mercy.”

He was ranked 45th on Forbes 2012 list of the most successful celebrities and his wealth is believed to be in excess of $70 million.

Kanye means “The Only One” in Swahili and he is known by friends as “Ye.” He lived with his mother in China for a year when he was 10 years old.

Mr. West is part of a growing number of elite hip hop artists coming out with their synesthesia. Frank Ocean’s new CD is titled, “Channel Orange,” in honor of the color he sees when falling in love. Mary J. Blige told BET in an interview that she has colored music, as well. Florence + The Machine collaborator Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange, has multiple forms of colored music, including an interesting response to volume. A real synesthesia revolution is underway in hip hop.

Pharrell Williams told me no one should be surprised there are this many synesthetes in music, that it seems to go together. He said his friend Jay Z is also a synesthete.