Kanye West is an egoist. There seems to be, in his incontrollable bravado, a boundlessness that leaves no-one unshaken. Outside of and within music he has performed acts that are remarkable. They seem to consistently ignore any evidence that might even begin to suggest that he isn’t the smartest, most talented, artist today, if not ever. His opinion matters most. More crucially, his opinion about himself matters most.
One thing that needs to be highlighted is his versatility and his personal evolution. Graduation Kanye to The Life of Pablo Kanye is a major leap, an impossible one for many artists. The gap is far too wide and too deep (especially in the mainstream). Admittedly this evolution was incremental but in those spheres of the music industry expectations and pressures are high, being innovative and not sticking to a tried formula requires vision. One of the best and most striking examples of this is the evolution of his rapping style. I don’t purport that during the Graduation days Kanye was the most technical and verbally learned MC out there, or that he told vivid stories to the enjoyment of lovers of heavily alliterated and linguistically rich flows. As he didn’t. Still, the contrast with the minimalism of his late rhymes is salient to say the least.
“It’s a omen I keep it 300/ like the Romans/300 bitches where the Trojans”
That’s all it takes. In these half assed phrases there are no technical elements beyond the cognitive grasp of a 6 year old. There are however elements to which most would object (e.g. the Roman/Spartan confusion). Yet, in these verses, laid so bare of technique and sense, I find joyous elation. Kanye’s stylistic purism is constant throughout the album not only in words (another favourite is: In a French ass restaurant/ hurry up with my damn croissant) but in the music as well. It’s impossible to overlook Rick Rubin’s work in instrumentally stripping down Yeezus at the last minute, keeping only the skeletal structure of the project. To me, such boldness can only be exerted in reliance with ego.
No one would dispute that Kanye West is an asshole; I don’t dispute it, he is. Nevertheless, I’d like to point out that being an asshole has been instrumental in his existing as he is today. It has safeguarded West from adverse influences. His being an asshole is but small price to pay for his music, which he would not have released if he wasn’t so ridiculously confident.
But crucially, to me Kanye West is but a few step short of being an outright martyr. It seems to me that he has accepted to pay a price for his bravado: public humiliation. For example one of the best songs in Yeezus, Bound 2, has been conspued on the internet for the sole reason that Kim Kardashian features in the video. Objectively there was no reason, but for her presence, that the video should create such a large negative consensus. And this trend replicates itself at every controversial action he takes and every controversial statement he makes. You might think (and you’d be quite right) : “ guy get’s what’s coming to him, no story here”.
Do you not see the vicious circle, guy’s pretty fucking good at music, guy becomes arrogant, people pressure him to make a certain kind of music, guy does whatever the fuck he wants, people enjoy the original music, people shit on guy for being arrogant, this reeks of sacrifice. But the positive repercussion of his devotion go much further than simply we enjoy the music he makes The beauty of his sacrifice is that he exhibits such levels of self belief as to counterbalance our own lack of confidance. In all including name he is Yeezus, eternally crucified, eternally reborn to be castigated anew , for our sins.
There is a universal quality in his ego. The American dream has been dead for a while now. We do not consider ourselves as capable of anything so long as we work tirelessly. The world as I feel it today is condusive to self repression, crushed by experts, child prodigies and our own delusions. Our speech has become littered with expressions like, “I’m no expert”, “I don’t know that much about it”, actually most of the time we just shut the fuck up. Because we’re afraid someone might know better, crush us with hard cold facts. We shy away from having an opinion for fear of being inadequate or not knowledgeable enough. Kanye does away with those fears. Surely not openly an activist, Kanye west remains talismanic. Some semi-god like being, at which we look up for guidance as he’s being whiped -SNAP!(Kanye 2020)-and he simply-SNAP!(Kim Kardashian)- ignores us. He takes the lashes that is all. Being who he is so confidently is his sole contribution, he’s the passive saviour.
First one might argue that the price Kanye is paying isn’t that high; isn’t unusual for public figures to be subjected to the whim of the public. It’s quite apparent though Kanye’s affected to a greater extent, people struggle to seperate the amoxious persona with the musician. Thus their negative view of him suffuses their opinion of his music. For an artist that’s a dire price to pay. One might add that his ego is just a marketing tool set up only for Kanye’s benefit. Like something out of Monster & Co he cashes in on enmity. That’s very unconvincing; Kanye’s was superstar famous long before his ego became a gossip subject, surely at this point artistic legacy is more important than first week sales…(and thats assuming that his “persona” actually boosts his sales… which it might not.)
What Kanye West represents, the therapeutic effect of his very existence, is independent of him consciously willing anything (I think he does) simply to be and remain in being is sufficient. One might doubt (I don’t) he indures humiliation for our sake (he is an egoist after all) but the point remains, he suffers, we benefit.Therefore I maintain that Kanye West is in a realm of his own, not quite a social activist but not quite devoid of message, somekind of social passivist (lol wordplay), a sacrificial lamb, uncompromisingly tackling the lack of self-confidence in the modern western world. Surely if the world of literature can forgive Louis Ferdinand Celine for being antisemitic in view of his contribution to literature, we can accept Kanye and love Kanye and respect Kanye for his contribution.
Words and art by Alain Gasha