In truth, Kanye West, love him or hate him, is someone who inevitably comes up in conversation these days. Whether you’ve heard his name today, this past week, or just floating around from time to time, his presence is unavoidable and arguably obnoxious. However, despite his personality, it is critical that we examine this man that claims to compare himself to God. Because, here’s the thing: Whether you like it or not, Kanye West is one of the biggest icons of this generation.
Kanye West is a 21 time Grammy award winner, and has made more than a mark as a songwriter, producer, rap artist, filmmaker, and most recently, clothing designer. Looking at straight facts and music career alone, he is an enormous talent with 352 nominations to prove it. Not to mention hundreds of “best songs” on highly respected lists such as the Billboards and Rolling Stones. This doesn’t mean I condone (or even slightly encourage) his behavior and stream of ridiculous commentary, but it is important to recognize the man, because as Ae Padilla stated, “he is one of the greatest examples of a revolution and a dying artist.” He identifies as a millennial and represents one in every way. Perhaps if we look a little closer, this might be something we are in need of these days.
If I had five dollars for how many times I heard someone say, “Yeah he’s talented and has great music but I just can’t stand his personality,” I would be a millionaire. The thing is no matter how cocky, rude, and most oftentimes ridiculous Kanye is, he is more than his music and talent. Most of what he does is a publicity stunt and it works: People tune into music awards just to see what crazy thing he going to say next. However, when Kanye does something over the top, is he doesn’t just do it for the clicks or the views. All of his outrageous comments are to express something that is truthful and important to him, and he is willing to forgo social norms and niceties to do it. The man is always 100% himself. He doesn’t feel constricted by what is “polite” or “appropriate” as many of us do, but his passion for creative freedom and social justice move him to speak honestly.
The consistent outcome from West doing such bizarre things is that he is talked about. People “hate” him but they tweet about him. He is staying relevant, in a time period where staying on top is mostly about how many times your name can be said in one day. This is why we love to hate him. He is unmovingly Kanye every single time. Kanye believes in Kayne more than anyone in the world. He isn’t afraid to say he is not only decent at something but he is the absolute best. And why not? The man believes in himself and does not feign humility. Insecurity and lack of self confidence is a plague of this generation. Kanye doesn’t care about likeability for one second, yet he still believes the world loves and worships him. Our generation needs a revolution of this kind. Not only does he not care if he is liked, he in facts puts a middle finger to the biggest voice that says we shouldn’t believe in ourselves… society. A prime example of this is that he married the on-going joke of our pop culture.
If we take this one step further, he is not just someone trying persistently to make sure he is himself in everyday life like you and I, which is hard enough, he is in fact working in an industry that will do everything in their power to ensure that you aren’t yourself, but rather what they want you to be. As Rhymefest says in the book The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, “He is constantly creating and evolving in a society and industry that is constantly watching, gathering information, and scrutinizing his and other Black artists every move.” Rhymefest suggested that he is operating within a society that is hell bent on demagnetizing black artists and ultimately making them disposable. The one thing that is most feared is people coming together. Kanye strongly fights back the system by how he presents his music.
Sometimes Kanye’s extremism can make it hard to understand him, but one must understand where West comes from. His persona is formed by Chicago; its history, music, politics, and streets. Chicago is the birthplace of house music. Ryhmefest explained that, “the culture around house inspired Kanye to be open and experimental. It influenced his style of dress and it also taught him the importance of being accepting of folks who roll in different ways. In looking at Kanye it is important to know that a song is not just a song, especially when it comes from oppressed communities where music is an important form of expression. It is a tool for healing and communication, one that connects generations.”
U.S rapper Kanye West attends the Cannes Lions 2014, 61st International Advertising Festival in Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is a world’s meeting place for professionals in the communications industry.
Ultimately, Kanye West doesn’t hold back: He is confident and isn’t afraid to say he is good at what he does. If we learn from this, it allows others to do the same. He is constantly growing and evolving. The man we see performing Yeezus now is not the man we knew with his mouth wired shut from a car accident still dedicated to creating music years ago. This goes to prove how dedicated and committed he is to standing behind his ideas and he teaches others to do the same. He believes in “the idea.” Frequently as millennials we are put down for this way of thinking. We are criticized for not doing much besides constantly being on our screens and social media waiting for our next “big idea” that will lead to our big break, as if it is lazy to not do things the traditional way and be stuck in a system. Kanye encourages people to have those “big ideas” and to turn against the conventional way because that is the future.
There is a case however, for being humble and knowing that you aren’t always right. But Kanye does recognize the people who have supported him in his music (listen to the song “Hey Mama”). He apologized as well, for example, to Taylor Swift after the whole awards show fiasco, though some found it insincere. But that is Kanye, staying true to himself because he only does things that he truly means. He keeps it real. As Ae Padilla again puts it best, “Sure, I think the guy is annoying and self-involved. Ironically attains too much attention. Is an asshole. But he is starting a dialogue, and we must always always be grateful for any dialogue and we must all question said dialogue.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.