For most people, associating two things simply makes for a mere moment of amusement. For Joshua Chaplinsky, of Queens, New York, it became an opportunity to craft a timely mashup featuring the history of rap superstar Kanye West and the text of H.P. Lovecraft.
Using Lovecraft’s Herbert West - Reanimator as a base, Chaplinsky turns West into a mad scientist character driven by “ambition and hubris” to resurrect the hip-hop scene, in the process literally reanimating the dead in legends Biggie and Tupac. The result is the parody Kanye West - Reanimator, which Chaplinsky released through Amazon (and, for those near Portland, Powell’s Books) just in time for Halloween.
While Lovecraft's original opens with "Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror." Chaplinsky's take offers "Of Kanye West, who was my friend in college and after he dropped out, I can speak only with extreme sadness." Through chapters with titles such as "From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" to "The Scream of the Auto-Tune," the author pokes plenty of fun at the Chicago-raised rapper while also working a surprising amount of hip-hop history into the framework of the book's 71 pages. Its cover deserves attention of its own, depicting West as a mad scientist, running experiments on what seems to be the severed cranium of Jay Z.
Serving as managing editor for LitReactor.com, writing for the likes of TwitchFilm and ChuckPalahniuk.net, and seeing his short fiction in several outlets, Chaplinsky is definitely not new to the literary scene. But it was his brush with one of pop culture’s most celebrated/criticized figures that got us thinking it was time to have a chat with him. So we caught up with him during a few minutes away from his day job to discuss what spawned his frightful novella, how he grew up on old-school hip-hop and why the author is just begging for West himself to come across his book.
Noisey: What are you doing right now? What is your day job?
Joshua Chaplinsky: I work in film and TV. I'm an assistant coordinator on a show called Royal Pains. It's an office managerial job. And we wrapped a few weeks ago, so the job is basically over. Nice and quiet now.
So when you're not working on that, you do some writing. How did the idea for Kanye West - Reanimator come about?
I was trying to come up with a wacky idea for a Lovecraftian-themed story. I have an associative kind of mind, which I've been told seems like something a serial killer would have, and I saw the title Herbert West - Reanimator and I instantly thought: Herbert West, Kanye West.
So it started with Lovecraft then? Would you count yourself a fan? And was the plan always to incorporate something into Lovecraft text, or were you at some point thinking just something in that style?
I wasn't a huge Lovecraft fan. I'd read some stories, and I was a huge fan of the Re-Animator movie, but I wouldn't consider myself an authority or anything. Initially, I didn't intend on writing a mashup, or incorporating Lovecraft's actual text, but once I stumbled upon the Kanye idea, I knew that was the best route to take. I figured it was an idea ripe for the Internet age.
In your mind, is the book in same vein as a mashup like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?
Yeah, that was pretty much the idea, in theory, although I haven't read it. But I liked the idea of how popular it was. And, as I wrote it, I realized just how good a match the two subjects were — Kanye and Lovecraft.
The trailer for the film adaptation of Reanimator.
So if the idea spawned more from the Lovecraft side of things and this association you found, how familiar were you with Kanye's career when you started this? There's a lot of the history of his career woven into the text. Were you already familiar, or was there a lot of research involved in writing it?
I wasn't very familiar. In fact, I'd probably say I was an anti-fan. All I really knew was what I saw in the tabloid headlines, and I thought he was kind of a jackass. So I had to do a bunch of research.
In doing it, did it reinforce your opinion of him as a jackass, or did you find an appreciation for him?
I suppose I became fond of his mania and saw him as more of a human being, even though what I was creating was a character. I'm definitely less dismissive of him as an artist now. But let's be honest — a lot of what people love about him is his larger-than-life qualities. The crazier he acts, the more they love him.
That seems to be true of a lot of people. I was checking out your website, and it looks like you have played in a couple of bands of your own? What do you play?
I play guitar. I'm not currently in a band. I'm getting a bit old for the rock ‘n' roll lifestyle. But I like having it out there for people to hear. Music was something that dominated my life in my 20s.
Both of your bands lean toward the rock end of the spectrum. The book obviously builds its story on not only Kanye but also a bit of the greater hip-hop scene. Are you even a hip-hop fan, or just more research?
I was really into hip-hop as a young teenager, stuff like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rockm and C.L. Smooth, but if it was made after 1994, it probably isn't on my radar. So there was definitely a lot of research on that end, as well.
Now I’ve got to ask — how old are you?
I'll be 39 in November. I like to exaggerate a little, for the sake of comedy. Just, these days, it's easier to sit in front of the computer and write than to get five people together once a week to practice.
So back to the writing, you've got this idea. What made you realize it could work, that it might be more than a one-note joke and something worth your time?
I started by just swapping out the names. Every time I saw Herbert West, I changed it to Kanye West. But I realized pretty early on in the process that there were a lot of parallels between the two characters, and I could really tailor this story to Kanye's biography, really make it its own thing. Both men see themselves as persecuted geniuses and are striving to achieve greatness despite everyone around them. In a way, Kanye is kind of a mad scientist.
Speaking of which, who put together that awesome cover for you?
The name of the artist is Dyer Wilk, and he did an amazing job. I couldn't be happier. I think the cover accounts for 90 percent of the book's sales. The design was done by Matthew Revert, who is a great cover artist in his own right. I'm super happy with the final product.
Has it been selling well since its release?
I don't have exact numbers, because it's only been a couple months, but it's doing well.
Do you have any indication that the real Kanye knows it exists? Any legal threats?
Right before it came out, I was afraid Kanye would hear about it and put the kibosh down, but now that we're in the clear with the release, I hope he sees it. His wrath could only help sales. People have tweeted the link at him, but who knows? We're pretty much covered under parody law, but being a rich and powerful person, I'm sure he could make trouble for us if he wanted. Seems like the Kanye thing to do. I'm sure he wouldn't appreciate the fact that I have him kill his own mother.
Obviously, the whole thing is meant to be humorous, and you found out in writing it how well it worked together. Is there anything in particular in the book you're most proud of?
I'm just really proud of the finished product, and how well it actually works. It started off as a joke, but I think it's a good joke and it actually has some literary merit. It might sound pretentious, but it is more than a cut and paste job. It has thematic resonance.
Anything else you're working on at the moment you'd like people to know about?
Aside from the Kanye book, which is really a long short story, I've been concentrating on short fiction. I've got about five or six stories out there, in print and online, and a couple more coming before the end of the year. All the links are on my website, joshuachaplinsky.com. None of them have anything to do with Kanye. I'm enjoying the short form, but I'm pondering ideas for a novel in the back of my head. Maybe one day.
Bill Jones can be found believing in his own hype and trying to reanimate the social media game on Twitter - @billjonesink