Kanye Who?

Image: Jason Persse
Image: Jason Persse. www.flickr.com/photos/jasonpersse/

It’s Kanye West and you know it is. In August 2013 the Chicago-born recording artist broke his two year media silence in a series of TV and radio interviews following the release of his sixth studio album, Yeezus. His name was soon all over the internet, and rarely in a positive sense.

“I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation”, “the Braveheart of creativity”, “I am a god.”  Just a few recent quotes often used to show Kanye as the megalomaniacal loudmouth we know and…well, know. Lately, I’ve found myself too often on the numerically disadvantaged defence of the genius/idiot debate. In fact, finding another fan of Ye these days is met with giddy excitement, us both being all too aware that the actions, words and, most recently, music of the 21-time Grammy award winner has had a somewhat polarizing effect, on this side of the Atlantic at least.

The internet community recently praised failed rapper-turned-radio personality, Charlamagne Tha God for criticising the quality of Yeezus and exposing the hypocrisy of West in his on-stage “rants” : namely for dismissing multi-billion dollar corporations whilst asking for their support. He, like so many others, has missed the point. The harsh sonic landscapes of Yeezus, the mid-concert tirades and the outrageous interviews are all products of Kanye’s frustration. He is asking, although admittedly not as succinctly as this, why a brand should be allowed to exploit a hip-hop or sports star as a cultural taste maker only to allow them a tiny share of its success?

Because that’s the problem here—exploitation. I’m sure kids growing up in Chicago today dream of being the next Kanye West but when the cash cow of the rags-to-riches rapper inevitably runs dry, what happens next? Look no further than his interviews to find the historical cohort to which Kanye wishes to belong. William Shakespeare, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs: all icons whose legacy have gone far beyond the confines of their chosen field. Designing a pair of trainers, and then not being paid full royalties for them, isn’t exactly what he has in mind.

Def Jam owner and business magnate Russell Simmons recently wrote that “what’s often times misunderstood about Kanye is that people believe he wants all of this for himself, in fact, quite the opposite, he wants all of this for the rest of us.” Not wishing to enter an debate about altruism here, I would argue it’s somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, Kanye raises a valid point, but who has time to listen to what he’s saying when they’re so preoccupied with how he’s saying it?

“Jerome’s in the house, watch your mouth.” The menacing closing line of both ‘Bound 2’ and Yeezus make reference to a minor character from the 90s American sitcom, Martin: Jerome, a parody of a troublemaking ghetto rapper. The irony is that this is exactly how so many see him now due to his frustration at not being allowed to become anything more than this; for me, this paradox best explains how Kanye West has come to occupy the most unique of positions in popular culture.

Thinking about it, the issue I have is actually with a sensibility that seems to be ingrained into us all: that being a nice person somehow equates directly to being a good person, and vice versa. I admit, listening to an arrogant multi-millionaire complain about his lot isn’t the easiest thing to do but total dismissal, an approach so many seem to take, can’t be justified.

“I have driven my Truman Show boat into the painting.” Looking beyond the suspect verb selection, Kanye typically chooses an apt and powerful image: he has reached the boundaries of the success illusion fed to him and millions of others and is treading into uncharted and unwelcoming territory. What the future holds for him is unclear. Many will pray for failure, controversy would certainly be a safe bet but I, for one, hope for success. In a world saturated by stars who constantly seek to cash in on and, if possible, elongate their moment of relevancy, an artist who is primarily concerned on the impact he will leave on the world is a welcome change, and a total disregard for how well liked he is seems a small price to pay.


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