In Defense of Kanye West.
I love Kanye. Seriously. I love Kanye West as much as I love Neon Genesis Evangelion, Inglourious Basterds or Lost. I admit that the man isn’t perfect–who hasn’t stormed a televised stage and stolen a microphone from a teenage girl and humiliated her in front of the whole world, really–but what he is is fascinating. Kanye West is probably the closest my generation will come to a musical personality like Prince: defiantly unique and beyond caring for your petty manners or politesse. Kanye West is here to do one thing, and that’s express himself through song. Everything else, the memes, the public spectacle–it’s all extra to his records.
But, as this article is called “In Defense of Kanye West” and not “In Praise of Kanye West”, I should likely specify what I’m defending him from. Readers, feel free to laugh. Future men who may not have caught my allusion in the last paragraph, there was this incident where–you know what? Google Kanye West Taylor Swift Imma let you finish. You’ll see what I mean. Assuming you spacemen still have Google in your future land. But what am I saying, of course you do–they took over the world in Q4, two years from now. For all intents and purposes, that and the ensuing media storm that rained down on Mr. West is what I’m defending him against.
This is his and my defense. Yes, seriously, that’s it. (Spacemen, look up “Power” on the universal iPod.) Power is one of the greatest songs ever written, and I defy you to say otherwise. As I know a few people will be sorely tempted to say otherwise if I conclude the article here and on this note, I will continue.
Power is a document of depression and how it affects creativity, as well as a defiant refusal to back down or bow to societal norms from an artist whose career has been as complex as his beliefs and actions as a man. Do we hate Kanye for his outlandish public behaviour, acting as though he is entitled to be the center of attention at all times or do we love him for his damned good music which should earn him the title of Center of Attention at All Times? And like the world’s best supervillains, the answer is not either or. The answer is both.
We love Kanye because we so badly need a villain to take center stage in the public spectacle that is the music industry in the 21st century. And Kanye not only accepts that role with good grace; he seems to have bypassed the stage of accepting it and mistaken the mixture of praise and hatred for the public outpouring that accompanies heroics. Indeed, every superhero needs his theme music. But, at least in the good movies, the villains get their themes, too. Often dark and complex, filled simultaneously with pride and self-hatred. Claiming to have the most power in the world, but doubting if the use you’re putting it to is worthy. Kanye West is all of these things in Power and so much more.
These recurring themes of self-hatred and self-doubt are not new territory for Kanye. He spent an entire album, 808s & Heartbreak, detailing his depression through song. Admitting that he is a flawed man, without friends, without pity or sympathy from anyone in his life. He had lost his mother due to complications from an elective surgery and lost his fiancée due to personal reasons. This resulted in an entire album’s worth of hard, uncompromising songs that view depression with an unblinking eye. The loss of creativity, the lost sense of direction. The doubt over whether what you’re doing now on this album will matter to anyone but you even two albums down the line. All of this comes to a head in a freestyle included as the last track on the album at the behest of Beyoncé Knowles (if Beyoncé says it, you do it): Pinnochio Story.
It’s an impromptu admission to a screaming crowd who likely don’t speak English the kind of troubles Kanye is going through. And that’s really the important part of defending Kanye West. The man is currently in as deep and dark a place as any human being has ever been and he’s struggling to survive. Not against any external force such as starvation or poverty. Kanye West the artist is struggling against himself and his own behaviour, trying to keep his persona from being taken over by the egotistics and egoistics he’s known for in public. Sure, it isn’t really a struggle with something as hard to face as what the kids in Africa go through every day. But it’s an artist’s struggle, and it’s one Kanye faces on record and in public, every day of his life.
And this is what Power is depicting. This is what 808s & Heartbreak is depicting. A man, struggling against himself and his better judgment to survive his own self-destruction. My favourite MCs in hip hop refuse to rap about what’s the zeitgeist of the time. I can’t stand the same 10 000 guys rapping about their clothes and cars and how they can have any chick they want while telling me how different they are. However, when Kanye raps about the same things, he’s found a unique point of view that has yet to be emulated or even discussed outside of a few blogs. Kanye raps from the point of view of a man who has found himself sitting on top of the world and hates himself. The cars, the clothes, they’re meaningless when all the power in the world can’t save your relationships with your friends and your family.
So, why do I defend Kanye West? Perhaps it’s because he’s still a fantastic artist, and the art is separate from the artist. Perhaps it’s because I follow in the great Jewish tradition of stirring the pot whenever the debate gets boring. Perhaps it’s just because he has great taste in beats and his rhymes and swagger are appealing. But I know that deep in my heart, while I’d never root for the villain in fiction, in real life it’s awesome.