Have you heard of this Kanye guy? Probably not, so I’m pretty happy that I get to introduce you all to his music so that you’ll know what’s up when he finally hits it big.
All joking aside, I’ve wanted to write about Yeezy ever since I started this blog, and I knew that today was the day when I saw that he was part of a last minute surprise AIDS Day concert in Times Square (I didn’t attend because it’s rainy and gross out, bummer).
I first heard about Kanye during my junior year of college, when my sorority was having a fraternity mixer that had some kind of prison theme – certain actions would get you thrown in “jail,” which was behind the bar, and you had to stay there until something from a prescribed list of actions or events would happen. One of them was, “take 2 tequila shots.” Another was, “when a Kayne West song plays.”
Most of us didn’t know who that was. “Um…but how will we know when it’s a Kayne West song?”
“We’ll tell you,” the two social chairs told us.
Then, a raised hand. “Yeah, it’s not Kayne West. It’s Kanye West.” Eye roll.
What happened at the rest of this mixer is irrelevant and involved calling campus emergency medical services, so I’ll just stop here. Good story, right?
In the 11ish years since that happened, I – and everyone else in my sorority and basically the whole planet – has become more than familiar with not-Kayne. He’s a polarizing figure in the media. People love him because he makes good music while others hate him because he makes mainstream music. People love him because he’s honest but hate him because he completely lacks self-awareness.
My take on Kanye is this: I think he’s a genius.
This isn’t always a popular opinion, considering he’s married to Kim Kardashian, a woman famous for many reasons but none of any import. Yet from a musical standpoint, he’s one of those people who was born with an innate ability to understand and create music on a level that most people, including most other rappers, simply can’t match. Rap is an art form that’s typically associated more with lyrics – both in content and in virtuosity in speaking them – than with music, as because of this Kanye is a true standout in his field. As a producer, he does so much more than just make simplistic hip hop beats. He knows how to weave music and vocals together in ways that sound like nothing else that came before it. The first few times I listened through the Yeezus album I was both confused and intrigued. The songs were weird and haunting, but I couldn’t get enough.
Just because Kanye is a cut above musically doesn’t mean he skimps on lyrical content. Thematically, Kanye often stays true to rap’s origins**, with socially conscious messages that, if you really just sit down and read them, are intelligent, poetic, and biting (that last one should be no surprise, considering this is the man who said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” on live TV after Hurricane Katrina). This is a welcome change in an era where mainstream rap music largely talks about women and money, in some form or another. Comparatively, the most well-known socially conscious rap song of the last few years, “Same Love,” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, is far more simplistic – though beautiful – in its message.
As a media personality, Kanye is nothing short of ridiculous. Kanye does what Kanye does. He refers to himself as “God” and seems to really, truly believe it. He wears a leather skirt on his tour with Jay-Z. He gets up on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech to say that Beyonce should have won the award (one of my favorite Kanye moments, because I hate TSwift). People hate him for these things, but this is exactly why I love him. And it’s also why the people who hate him love to hate him. We want our celebrities to be off the wall. Crappy magazines and gossip websites with more flashy gifs than even the worst MySpace page make tons of money off famous people doing and saying crazy things. Kanye embodies what we love about famous people and he does it with a unique brand of swagger. Only he actually has talent to accompany his crazy (ahem, Kim), and instead of just gawking at his insanity, we can laugh at it.
I love this video. Whatever happened toooooo my antique fish tank?
Reading or watching an interview with Yeezy is almost like witnessing a conversation with a manic depressive. He vacillates so quickly between pointed, intelligent commentary and outlandishly vain remarks that sometimes you aren’t sure that it’s the same person talking. But isn’t that kind of unpredictability common amongst creative genius, almost to the point of being cliche? Do we even have brilliant yet utterly normal minds out there in the arts?
I love that I have no idea what Kanye will do next. Another directionally named child with Kim? One of his classic Twitter rants? Another strange yet addictive album? Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.
** Fun fact: I know about rap’s origins because I took a class a few years ago on the history of rap music. So, like with any class I ever took in school, I have forgotten about 98% of the material. It was a fun class though. The teacher lived on a boat.