Now that everyone has safely returned from our adventures to Machu Pichu and Indie-Yah, where wifi and signal are supposedly luxuries, no doubt we have all heard about Kanye West’s most recent tizzy with his best gal pal Taylor Swift. For those of you who don’t obsess over celebrity gossip, let me briefly fill you in: Taylor got all aggy on Twitter over a lyric from Kanye’s new song, Famous, where he claims they “could have still had sex”, even though, according to Kanye and his devoted wife, Kimmy K, Taylor gave him the all-clear ages ago, which he backed up with video evidence of a phone call between the two artists. Shocking right? Or is it? It would seem that over the past few years, Kanye’s controversial comments about either other artists or himself have placed him at the center of the media’s attention more times than any other celebrity. And, as you can imagine, it doesn’t always make him any more popular.
Recently, I’ve found myself questioning my feelings towards Kanye. You can’t hate him because he is a hip-hop Lord whose music has played a major role in our generation’s upbringing, but you can’t love him because of the unequivocal amount of bullshit that escapes his pie-hole. But is the bullshit actually genuine? Can his arrogance be justified? Or is he just a dim-witted doush bag?
Let’s face it, with the exception of Yeezus in 2013 which was a bit too aggressive and “OKAY WE GET IT” for my sensitive ears, ever since The College Droupout in 2004, Kanye’s discography can be considered as pretty stunning. 7 albums churned out one after the other and 90% of them have been some of, if not the best hip-hop of the 21st century. Even his most recent album, Life of Pablo, stepped up to meet the standards of his first albums like Late Registration and Graduation, which most consider to be his best work. Even though the tone and production on Life of Pablo doesn’t sound as clean-cut as his older stuff (not a bad thing – the freedom that comes with that is entrancing), the beats still have that edge which is audible in all of Kanye’s work. And that’s why his music is so timeless, he keeps up with the changes in modern music technology and production, but always stays true to the roots of old school hip-hop and R&B. Hence his new music sounds fresh but not dope. Not $waggy either. If I can’t persuade you to listen to the whole of Life of Pablo, may I at least recommend listening to Fade, where the groovy baseline wouldn’t sound out of place on Kanye and Jay-Z’s booming album, Watch The Throne, and Ultralight Beam which features a glorious gospel choir and the magic touch of Chance The Rapper. It’s got a lot going on and it’s pretty epic.
A lot of people slate Kanye because of how most of his songs are sampled from others. I can see why people would say that sampling isn’t as demanding as writing your own songs from scratch since it doesn’t require a lot of artistic authenticity, but personally, I believe it doesn’t make Kanye any less of a genius. He reinvents great songs from soul and R&B artists such as Otis Redding, Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield so that our generation can appreciate great R&B. And he does it without tarnishing them, unlike the horrific remixes that you hear spewing out of the charts like vomit from a baby’s mouth (*shudders). Songs like Otis, Touch The Sky and Gold Digger are all inspired by old classics, and are undeniable tunes in their own right that make you scream “GODDAMN HES A GENIUS CRANK IT UP!” So you can sit on your high horse and say “Oh Nancy poo poo it’s so unoriginal”, but Kanye’s ability to select the grooviest songs and groovify them even more is an impressive art form in itself.
Wouldn’t life be all well and dandy if I could leave it there with simply a final word saying, “Keep doing you Kanye, because we love it”. But Kanye is not all well and dandy. As I’ve already said, Kanye actually makes it extremely hard for us to love him, let alone like him. For many, amazing music can’t make up for being a dick, just like Michael Jackson’s music can’t really make up for him being a complete weirdo.
If his arrogance and obsession with constantly making a statement didn’t affect his music, then I’d be 100% team Kanye. To be honest, it’s pretty hilarious, and some of his acceptance speeches at awards shows are absolutely golden, the best being the classic – “Everybody want to know what I would do if I didn’t win…well I guess we’ll never know”. But unfortunately, sometimes he lets it ruin his status as an artist. This was the problem with Yeezus; it was too much of a political rant and lacked the fluidity of his old albums. Having an unconventional sound can sometimes sound quite groovy but Kanye tried far too hard to make it sound like a rebellion against music, and instead it just sounded like a traffic jam in the middle of New York. Also when you have a song called I Am a God and it’s featuring ‘God’, you begin to question the kind of person behind it. It was around the time of this album’s release that Kanye was becoming a bit of a pretentious celeb. He’s always been a bit controversial but particularly so around 2013 when he started dating the notorious Kim Kardashian and began to collaborate with adidas to make one of the most hideous pairs of trainers that, for some reason unknown to me, were hugely successful. All of this came with grand statements, including his 6 minute monologue on The Ellen Show where he compares himself to Picasso and Steve Jobs, and claims that his shoes and his clothes are going to help take away bullying. What’s incredible is that he tries to speak so inspirationally that you actually start questioning whether he’s actually bullshitting you or not. And then it occurs to you that if he really did want to stop bullying by creating cool clothes for kids, then he probably should have considered making them slightly more affordable.
He can talk as much as he wants about making a difference in the world and not caring about anything materialistic, but it’s clear that Kanye is very concerned with the way his creativity is portrayed in the media. And often, the effort that he puts in to his appearance seems more important to him than what he’s actually good at which, duh, is the music. His headlining performance at Glastonbury in 2015 is a pretty good example of this. People at home watching it on TV said that it looked and sounded amazing with the stage set-up and the way his voice seemed to boom across the whole of the festival ground. I’ll throw my hands up and say I was definitely one of those people purely because he opened with Stronger, Power, Niggas in Paris and Black Skinhead which would have been epic. But it was only good for the TV coverage. The people who were actually in the crowd thought it was meh. The lights meant you couldn’t see him, he stopped in the middle of tracks, his cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was dreadful (but made for some hilarious edited YouTube videos)- it was basically Kanye at his worst. Instead of giving the fans what they wanted, he gave them what he wanted which, although brave, turned out to be pretty infuriating. A similar thing happened at Wireless Festival the year before, where the audience started booing Kanye because he went off on a 15-minute rant about the media discrediting creativity (basically justifying himself for when journalists call him stupid). Why waste 15 minutes preaching to a crowd who are drunk on Fosters and WKD and are there to hear hip-hop’s greatest, not a prophet of the Lord?
I apologize for the length of this post/GCSE-structured essay, clearly Kanye is a complex character with all sorts of aspects to explore. I could probably ignore how he chooses to present himself to the media and purely appreciate the music that he creates, because I love the way in which he has recreated hip-hop, and manages to keep on recreating it. Life of Pablo proved that he can still make great music, but some of the presumptuous lyrics suggest there is still the potential for future albums to go wrong (listen to I Love Kanye and you’ll see what I mean). But maybe the arrogance is part of the Kanye West package. Would his music be the same if he had a personality like the more modest and loveable Hozier? Perhaps, but I know, especially as an athlete where music plays a HUGE role in getting in the zone and all that cringey nonsense, listening to Kanye’s music doesn’t half make you feel like a badass. His confidence is transferred in to his music which in turn gets transferred to the listener, so in a way, it is motivational. Not quite the same motivational as Mohammad Ali motivational or Mother Teresa motivational, but it certainly gets the blood pumping.
I guess then, all things considered, you would probably say that I am team Kanye…but not all the time. And if you’re not on the same page, then maybe my lil’ Kanye playlist can help you feel the love a bit more. I probably speak for many fans when I say, we love you as an artist Kanye, but not so much as a celebrity.
As Emma very wisely said in her cracking last post, you are entitled to your own opinion always,
Keep it real,