Kanye West thrives on change, but at least one thing has remained the same throughout his career—his love of the Mercedes Benz. Benzes are his longest-lasting muse, his renewable source of inspiration. In Kanye’s world, a Mercedes is the primo emblem of success. A Benz tells the world you made it. As a writer, Kanye’s great subject is himself, and the Benz has remained a key part of his image. Benzes populate his dreams, his bars, his would-be presidential portraits.
It helps that a lot of words rhyme with “Benz.” Sure, his decades-long passion for German engineering may also be a lazy verbal crutch. Regardless, many of the funniest, most quotable (and revealing) lines of Mr. West’s career have involved his “other, other Benz.” Below, we probe the Kanye psyche through 10 lyrics about the great love of his life.
Lyric: “I ain’t messin with them girls no more, it’s weak / The Benz coupe is so sweet / When I roll down the street / Tears roll down her cheeks / She said, ‘You must love that car more than me’”
Kanye’s Benz fetish began at an early age. In this rough demo from 2001, Kanye flaunts his awkward flow, casual misogyny, and Benz worship for all to see. However clumsy, these bars hint at one of Kanye’s most compelling themes—his inability to make relationships work. Benz love comes easy; loving another human being, however, proves harder for the man who would later write lines like, “I don’t know what it is with females / But I’m not too good with that shit.” On “Out of Your Mind,” Kanye shows a direct contrast between how much he values material possessions and how much he values people, women in particular. As is often the case with Kanye, the Benz wins out.
Lyric: “First nigga with a Benz and a backpack”
Kanye’s mission statement in a single turn of phrase, this line announced him as a rapper who could pass as both a socially conscious “backpacker” and a purveyor of mainstream party tracks like “Breathe In Breathe Out.” Most rappers before The College Dropout fell readily into one of these columns; Kanye blurred the divide, and in doing marked the path for a whole new type of rapper. Here on his first record, he has room for MCs as varied as Mos Def and Ludacris. He’s the one man on earth who could get Bon Iver and Rick Ross on the same song. From the very start, Kanye’s ability to bring disparate sounds and artists together defined his cultural influence. The Benz or the backpack? With him, you don’t have to choose.
Lyric: “Killin y’all niggas on that lyrical shit / Mayonnaise-colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips”
Here’s the line that jump-started Kanye’s career as a rapper. As he details on the outro on “Last Call,” this lyric convinced Jay-Z that his baby-faced producer friend could also rap. “I saw [Jay-Z’s] eyes light up when I said that line,” he says on the track, which serves as an oral history on the gestation of The College Dropout. According to interviews, Kanye was about 21 years old when he first spit this line to Jay-Z, and he considers it the moment he first began to formulate ideas for his debut album. Yes: It all started with a Benz lyric. The line is what we now think of as textbook Kanye—quotable wordplay, low-brow cultural references, and a paean to his vehicle of choice.
Lyric: “Will I make it from the student loans to a Benzo? / Like old folks pissing, I guess it all Depends, oh”
Kanye West milked three albums out of less than a single year of college. Many of us had the gift of being in college as these albums came out, and their influence on college life was enormous. The songs, that bear mascot, those Polo shirts – these are some serious memory triggers for undergrad life. With lyrics about student loans and Benzos, Kanye showed how an artist could connect with college students and more traditional mainstream rap audiences at the same time. Kanye was a master marketer; his college trilogy cultivated a generation of young fans who’ve since grown up with his music. Kanye being Kanye, this lyric is also a joke about adult diapers.
Lyric: “Fuck a bus, the Benz is parked like Rosa”
Kanye can’t help but compare his life to the historical figures he most admires. He is Steve Jobs, Martin, Malcolm, Picasso, Kubrick, Disney, Tesla, you name it. So when his Benz is parked, it’s parked like Rosa Parks, get it? Like so many of his Benz zingers, the line heralds Mercedes as the ultimate status symbol. The bus represents our humble beginnings, the Benz our aspirational goals. In a recent interview, Kanye said he was saddened by the idea that his son may never know the everyday pain of missing a late-night bus. For Kanye, it’s one thing to graduate to a Benz; it’s another to be born into one.
Lyric: “I’m in the car with Leo and the Benz swerve / I heard Bar was friends with Esti Ginzburg”
A number of passions other than music compete for Kanye West’s time. These include fashion and, uh, doing something else with fashion models. On “Christian Dior Denim Flow,” a G.O.O.D. Fridays single, Kanye names no fewer than 15 models he’d like to copulate with in just one verse. His knowledge of the profession is encyclopedic and downright Rain Man-esque. In this rhyme, he concocts a fantasy about meeting Israeli model Esti Ginzburg through Bar Rafaeli, another Israeli model and Leonardo DiCaprio’s then-girlfriend. Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era was all about maximalism and excess. Fantasies don’t get much more indulgent than driving around in a Benz with Leo and two supermodels.
Lyric: “They ain’t seen me cause I pulled up in my other Benz / Last week I was in my other other Benz”
“Otis” is an ode to opulence, a joyous and outlandish theme song for those who started at the bottom and now own the top. Kanye gets at that feeling in just four words “My other, other Benz.” That quotable, impossible to forget phrase does so much with so little. In a song where Jay-Z and Kanye trade bars to see who can go more over the top, Kanye wins with the flick of a wrist. The dude has so many Benzes it’s tough to keep track of them (you can also hear shades of Tracy Morgan’s “after-after party” bit here). How many people on earth have this problem? Very few. But with a rapper as infectious and heart-on-sleeve as Kanye, his ludicrously lavish problems become something we can all pretend we have.
Lyric: “Don’t be reaching, don’t be touching shit / We in Kanye West’s Benz / ‘Cause I will turn you back to a pedestrian”
Let’s be clear: If you’re reading this, you probably don’t matter that much to Kanye West. He’ll make you walk home if you so much as turn the AC down. In Yeezy’s Benz, you touch nothing (save for maybe him). The Benz is his model train, his stamp collection, his vintage bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild. You see it with your eyes, not with your hands. Kanye granted you access to his sacred safe space, and he can cut you off just as fast. Once again, he contrasts a Mercedes ride to a lesser form of transit – this time, it’s walking. The Benz elevates transportation to high art. Anything less is, well, pedestrian.
Lyric: “Soon as I pull up and park the Benz / We get this bitch shaking like Parkinson’s”
Yeezus begins as an abrasive blast of noise—an emergency weather alert that warns you to take shelter. Then Kanye starts to rap, and these are among the first words we hear on his follow-up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He repels you sonically, then lyrically. Among Kanye’s most vile lines ever, the lyric introduces Yeezus-era Kanye as a villainous libertine who bears little resemblance to the Polo-wearing kid we loved in 2004. Like David Bowie, he’s shape-shifted into a wild new persona. He’s still rapping about his Benz, but his words have grown toxic, not celebratory. The line angered advocacy groups for its “inexcusable level of stupidity.” As a way to unveil a new album and sound, though, the lyric is a powerful means to grab listeners by the throat. Like the screeching noises that open the record, it filters out the unadventurous and easily offended (who won’t like the rest of the record, anyway) and announces a new, nefarious creature.
Lyric: “She say, ‘Can you get my friends in the club?’ / I say, ‘Can you get my Benz in the club?’ / If not, treat your friends like my Benz / Park they ass outside ‘til the evening ends”
Kanye’s Benz love reaches pure absurdity on “Send It Up.” Like a kid who demands his stuffed animals get a seat at family dinner night at Red Lobster, Kanye wants to bring his Benz inside the club. If you can bend the laws of spatial dynamics for him, he will use his clout to get your friends past the bouncer. Otherwise, they can stand in a parking lot until 4 a.m. The comical gall, the brash display of power, and absurdist wordplay define Kanye. At his best, he’s a conduit for our most depraved and selfish impulses. We can be irrational, childish beings, and for those moments we have Kanye West. Some nights, despite our better judgment, we just need to get our Benz in the club.